Month: October, 2017

500 Years of Formation

 

John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

500 Years ago, something amazing happened. Cairo was captured by the Ottoman Empire, and, finally, the Mamluk Sultanate fell. No? Oh ya, that’s when the Fifth Council of the Lateran ended. No? Of course, how could I have forgotten? Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by our namesake Martin Luther.

At high-noon Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This simple act of inviting the officials of the Catholic Church to debate 95 different areas of church doctrine touched off the largest religious movement in history and here we are today still seeking the truth in its truest form.

Now, I’m not going to ply you with more Reformation trivia, I believe we have done a lot to paint the picture already. But I would like to look a little at its history to make my case that a new reformation might be in order.

We are gathered here today at Redeemer Lutheran Church because one man had the courage to address problems within the church he had given his life to. Back then, it was not Luther’s wish to break up the Roman Catholic Church. As he nailed the 95 theses to the Castle Church door he was not planning to leave the church and start his own.

He simply wanted to reform the church back to the church it once was. The body of Christ who stood for the truth of Scripture and the humility and devotion of its members. He wanted to debate certain issues he felt needed to be addressed so that the Church he loved could find itself once again.

But he touched off a powder keg of emotion that had been swelling up within most of the population. His was not the first call for reform, nor would it be the last. He just happened to nail the right document on the right door which I believe had everything to do with God Himself wanting the same thing. Reform.

Martin was very entrenched in the church. As a professor at Wittenberg College, and Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, he was privy to many of the activities within the church and he didn’t like what he was seeing. As we even see in our churches today, the wishes and wants of man were clouding the picture of what our Heavenly Father wanted his church to be.

The main problem in Luther’s time is that the church had gotten too powerful. And with great power often came great corruption. As it grew, it came to be the main governing body in all of Europe. Even its kings were guided by it politically. By now, the pope was even more political than spiritual. Luther saw this and knew something had to be done.

In those days the church was much different than it is now. Only priests were allowed to read Scripture, thinking they were the only ones who could interpret it correctly. People either attended church or they were excommunicated from it and ostracized from the general population and services often lasted from 4 to 6 hours and in them only Latin was spoken.

The church had a hold of the minds of everyone and with that power, the shallowness of man is bound to surface. Can you imagine the blind trust that was involved? The church could basically make any rule they wanted and the population had no choice but to follow it, fearing the wrath of God if they didn’t.

What upset the church so terribly much was that the Reformation was dangerous in that it threatened to end this grip of power the church had over the people. And that’s what it did. It exposed the problems and corruption within the church that people had been carrying the weight of for so long. The selling of indulgences was just one of many examples of man-made rules established to keep the population in Holy Roman order.

The Reformation brought to light what the populace had been complaining about for years. Martin did much more than most men were doing to expose these problems and, were it not for his determination and bravery under the threat of death, the church would have continued its evil. Only the Spirit of Christ could have given him this strength.

And now we find ourselves in the 21st century, still being reformed, over and over again. In fact, our churches look much different than the churches we all grew up in. If someone had suggested to add drums and guitars to the church service when I was a kid they would have been tarred and feathered (figuratively of course).

I look at the church, however, and I see many of the problems that once plagued us creeping up again but in much the opposite way. I see worship taking a backseat to praise. I see pastors with little or no training running churches with thousands of people in them. I see dangerous teachings and man-made rites expressed freely and passionately. I see the Word of God twisted and turned until it no longer makes any sense except to the person who has shaped it into something that accepts pretty much anything the reader chooses.

Honestly, I think we’ve taken this reformation thing too far and are in need of a counter-reformation back to a Christ centered church that preaches Law and Gospel as a rule. A church that shows praise but not at the expense of true worship. A church that isn’t afraid of liturgy and an unchangeable doctrine based on Biblical principles. A church that doesn’t bend the rules so that it might accept worldly ways. A church with its foundation as Christ and each member focused on their part within it.

Sometimes I think we focus so much on ourselves in worship and praise that we fail anymore to see the big picture of salvation.

It hurts me to say that many of our churches are no longer places of moral leadership but, rather, have become bastions of political correctness no longer governed by Holy Scripture but bowing to the whims and wishes of the world. We’re so afraid to offend someone that we forgo God’s Holy Voice due to the crying’s and complaining’s of those who have invested nothing in the church.

We have replaced Sola Christus, by Christ alone, for a God of our own design.

We have replaced Sola Gracia, by grace alone, for worldly acceptance.

We have replaced Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone, for a twisted up version that has become a shell of itself to better suit the world.

We have replaced Soli Deo Gloria, by glory to God alone, for the glory of mortal men.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need a new reformation that brings us back to Christ, Sustained by His grace, propped up by His Word and enveloped in His glory. We need to come back to reverence and the teachings He has given us, not for our own glory but for his.

I look back on my life and I see how God is still forming me to be the person He has called me to be. Some of the forming was difficult, especially when I resisted His gentle touch. Some of it was glorious as He brought me into new ways of serving Him.

Well, just as He formed me, He is forming you. But you can be sure that His ways of formation will not change. His Holy Spirit and His Holy Word have remained unchanged as a solid foundation of faith. His love has not diminished, His grace is still always with us, His peace still resides in our hearts and His mercy is unending. Never does He look back at what a mess we have made of things and wish He had never been in relationship with us. We know this because he still works in our hearts to reform us into His image, every day.

He wishes His church to focus on this kind of change and not the kind of change that changes His holy plans. He still directs through His word with the same emphasis as he did when He inspired the writers of the Gospel to write it. He still calls us to be one body under Christ focused on Him above all other things and He still calls us to be separate from the world, to be in it but not of it.

Yes, I believe it’s time for a new reformation back to the understanding that God is unchanging but ready to make Godly changes within us. I yearn for the time when our common faith will bring us to a greater understanding that we are stronger together than we are apart. I pray that God will continue to challenge the faithful to resist the worldliness that has crept into our sanctuary’s and that the truth will shine its light so very brightly that the whole world can’t help but to take notice.

For that to happen, it will require us to be in the front lines of the battle, unashamed of the faith we profess. It will challenge us to stand up for truth even when it’s no longer fashionable in the world. It will ask great things of us, some we never thought we were capable of, but, together, we can make that kind of kingdom difference in the world. The only thing holding us back is our attraction to things that are not of God.

We look at our little church and its only understandable to wonder how we can start this reformation process ourselves. To that I remind you that Martin Luther was just one man who was courageous enough to speak the truth and, because of that, the whole Christian world changed. With God with us who can stand against us.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Free from the world and its enticements, free from the sin that binds us. Free to stand up for the truth proclaimed and practiced by the people of God. Stand up for truth as a disciple of Christ and lean not on your own understanding. Together, let’s start a reformation revolution.

Martin Luther showed what standing up for the truth could do. Trust in God to work in you just as He worked in Him. Amen

What It Means To Be A Christian

 

Mark 10:42-45; Romans 12:9-21

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

A young woman fresh out of nursing school goes to a concert where a madman starts shooting the crowd from a hotel nearby. Like everyone else her first instinct is to run but then something stops her. Behind her are people in need, people who have been shot, people who are dying. So she turns and runs back into the danger zone in the chance that she might help those who are suffering despite the gunfire raining upon them.

A man who has just lost everything in a hurricane grieves over his loss, but instead of wallowing in his grief, he takes the only thing that survived, his boat, and he works to rescue others who have just endured a similar fate.

A fire fighter runs toward the one remaining tower at the World Trade center where people are running for their lives in the chance that the second tower might suffer the same fate as the first. Instead of running with them, the brave fire fighter runs against them into the tower doing all he can to save as many people as possible despite the immense danger.

I believe that it’s during these times of tragedy that we see God the clearest because, it’s during these times, people go against their human instincts because they have been overridden by their spiritual ones.

John 10:11, I am the good shepherd, The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

John 15:3, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

As we bring an end to our study of Luther’s Small Catechism, we are going to attempt to sum it all up by talking about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. What is expected of us? How far are we to go in order to live a life worthy of the calling we have received?

Some opportunities, such as those above, are driven by greater things than us. On our own we would always preserve ourselves. We’re selfish people born into a sinful world. But in times of great need, something else grabs us, believer and non-believer alike, to do things we would never do on our own. I believe that’s when God takes control when His people are suffering.

In our Small Catechism, there are rules for every Christian to follow if they hope to do what Christ has called us to do. Citizens are to submit to the authorities by giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Husbands are to treat their wives with respect and wives are supposed to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Parents are asked not to frustrate their children but rather bring them up in the Lord.

Children are called to obey their parents. Workers are to treat their bosses with respect and a sincere heart. Employers and supervisors are not to threaten those below them. The young are to be submissive to the older. The widow is to put her trust in God alone and everyone is called to love their neighbor as themselves. Imagine what this world would be like if we were to follow these few simple rules.

Together we make up one Christian family with God as our Heavenly Father. This name we carry, is also a title. The title Christian should be one that warrants respect. It should be one that can be trusted and looked up to. Unfortunately, that title has been tarnished by too many who want to claim the name but not live up to the responsibility it carries.

I have told my kids on occasion when they would go out for the night with their friends to remember the name that they carry because something done in that name doesn’t only affect them, it affects the whole family. If my son chooses to lead the life of a thief, he tarnishes the whole family name. If my daughter decides one day she’s going to cheat someone else out of something, it affects us all.

So it is with the greater family name we carry, that of Christian. God says in Revelation 3:15, talking to the church in Laodicea, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

God has no use for someone who is Christian in name only, who think it is enough to come to church on Sunday and forget about their role as Christian the rest of the week. He would rather have you deny Him  than lead someone astray by your actions while in your words you claim his family name.

The title Christian has become an expression that covers a wide range of religious ideas and social behavior, some of it unflattering. It has been so stretched, in fact, that it can cover anything from rationalistic modernism to uncaring bigotry, depending on who’s describing Christianity and why. It has been used in equal measure with everything from worldliness to self-righteousness, from coldly ritualistic to over-the-top emotional. No longer is there a definite definition in today’s world because, together, we have served to blur the picture.

Why do you call yourself a Christian? Is it because you honestly live the life you have been called to live or do you carry the name because it makes you feel better about yourself. When people think of you with that family name do they see that it fits you are do they think you’re a hypocrite? There is a lot of power in a name, especially if you claim, based on that name, to have the higher moral ground. If you carry this family name, others will expect something greater from you. Are you prepared for the opportunity to claim that name in a righteous way?

Here is a little bit of trivia for you that even surprised me a little when I looked it up. The title of Christian is used only three times in all of Scripture. Then it was defined as a follower of Christ and it had already  become a name of power and responsibility.

The first time it is mentioned is in Acts 11:26 where it tells us that the disciples of Christ were first called Christians at Antioch. Antioch was an important city in the Roman empire about 300 miles from Jerusalem. It was the headquarters for the Apostles and for Paul’s missionary journeys. We can imagine all the leaders of the church discussing this very topic asking, “If we are going to call ourselves Christian, what does that mean?” I would think the conclusion would be something like we read in our New Testament lesson for this morning in Romans 12

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice

with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 

Now, this is how Christians are to act, but can you claim the name just because your actions warrant it?

Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”

What really make the Christian a Christian? Of course it is because you have chosen to follow Christ in faith and truth. That means a Christian is someone with a personal relationship with the Lord. A life full of redemption and forgiveness. A life of purpose and praise. If you truly live up to this family name it means you understand that you are saved by the blood of the God’s Son full of grace and mercy. It means you have been born again through Baptism into an everlasting life of peace and love. It means that you trust in the power of Almighty God to save you.

The second time we find the title Christian in Scripture comes in Acts 26:28  where Agrippa says to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

King Agrippa was the great grandson of King Herod. This Herod was the one who had the babies killed in Bethlehem in his search for the Christ child. Agrippa had Paul come before him to face the charge of treason for preaching the Gospel. But instead of trying to beat the charge, he did to Agrippa the very thing he had been accused of, he preached to him the Gospel message. Instead of giving a defense, he gives a witness.

Paul shows us here that some things are of most importance. To him, the thing that ruled over every other thing in his life was to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

His example should be our own. The news we have is too good to keep to ourselves. It should excite us so much that we can’t help but to tell others. Few can claim this kind of excitement.

For most, the world tarnishes the message in a sea of speculation. How can someone believe in an almighty God when sin is everywhere? We shout to God that life is unfair and because of that we’re going to hold back on our sharing. We do this because we fail to truly understand sin and its effect on the world and, in doing this, we dampen the light that shines from the very person who came to save us from that sin.

In truth, we should be shouting the message of our salvation from the rooftops. Paul had that kind of excitement for Christ. Even facing death he could not help but share the Good News of Jesus Christ. That is an excitement we should all pray for and that is the message we should never be afraid to share.

Our final passage comes from 1 Peter 4:16 here it says, “Yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” 

We look at our world and we see the great family name of Christian being drug through the mud of unbelief and rejection and we do little to stop it. As Christians are persecuted and disregarded for their faith, we turn a blind eye hoping we will never be among their rank.

What have we become? What must Christ think of us when we do nothing? How could we have fallen so far when all the world around us is infected with self-glorification?

This last message is harder than the first two because it expects us to go to those places we fear to tread. When we are called to defend the faith, our anxiety rises, our palms become sweaty and our stomach tightens. When we are called to go beyond our comfort zone to share the truth, we hide in our safe zones hoping someone else will do what must be done.

When someone brings up faith, we are ashamed to admit we have it. “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

You have all been called to a holy family and you all bear the family name that is above all other names. As a member of this family you have been promised forgiveness, grace and mercy from the Creator of the universe. Because you carry this name, your life will never end because sin can no longer claim us because of what was done by Jesus Christ on the cross. These are gifts that outrank any other gifts you could possibly receive. Don’t let this title be tarnished by your actions but rather glorify God in all you do and say.

Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Have you claimed you place at the family banquet? If so, be proud of the name you carry as you show that pride in all your ways. Our God is ready to give you the keys to the kingdom, if you are willing. Trust in Him to help you to live up to the name of Christian. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

What Is The Lord’s Supper?

Text:  Luke 22:14-20

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please pray with me…

As we move along in Luther’s Small Catechism, we come to a section that has become something that separates some denominations rather than its original intention to unify. I’m speaking of the Lord’s Supper. In Luther’s time the vast majority of the church pretty much accepted that those who participated in this Sacrament also participated in the eating and drinking of Christ’s own body and blood. In fact, the early church had charges of cannibalism levied against it from those who didn’t truly understand.

For many centuries, and in many different parts of the world, The Lord’s Supper was celebrated with great frequency and thanksgiving, even daily. Many of our earliest church leaders such as Cyprian who was beheaded for his faith in 258 A.D. and Chrysostom, one of the most popular and celebrated of the Greek church fathers who died in 407 A.D. wrote of the “daily sacrifice” of the Lord’s Supper and encouraged a daily partaking of it because of the word’s “Give us this day our “daily” bread spoken in the Lord’s prayer. To them it was with great excitement and humility that they underwent the supper of Christ’s very own body and blood and they wanted to take advantage of it as much as they could.

But, as with so many things in the church, many people started thinking too much. They lowered God down to their level, taking the power of transformation and transubstantiation away from God, calling the Lord’s Supper merely a celebration of remembrance rather than an actual supper of Christ’s true body and blood. Since it didn’t make sense in the worldly world because it’s not something we could do, they snatched the glory of God away, forming Him into our image, changing the supper’s true meaning and beauty into something easier to understand and grasp on to. Now, in a majority of churches, the bread and wine is just that, bread and wine, and the unity with Christ in the most intimate way has been reduced to a ceremony of tribute from us to God rather than the beautiful gift it is from God to us.

In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, we practice this most blessed Sacrament as our early forefathers did with the same emphasis and reverence as they had. For proof of Christ’s true body and blood we turn to the Word of God.

All three mentions of the Lord Supper in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke clearly state that Jesus took Bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.” This “is” is written emphatically, in other words it doesn’t mean it represents or it stands in the place of but that it actually is Christ’s body, made so by our Savior’s own blessing, literally the very Word of God.

We find more proof in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, where Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

The explanation found on the LCMS website states, “Paul clearly says here that we all “partake” of “BREAD” when we receive the Lord’s Supper – even as we also partake and “participate in” the true body of Christ. And he says we “partake” of the wine (the cup), even as we also partake in the true blood of Christ.”

Also in 1 Corinthians we find this in 11:26 where Paul says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Here again Paul expressly states that when we receive the Lord’s Supper we are “eating bread” and “drinking the cup,” but he goes on to say those who eat this bread and drink this cup are also partaking of the true body and blood of Christ. So “real” is this participation in Christ’s body and blood, in fact, that (according to Paul) those who partake of the bread and wine “in an inwardly manner” are actually guilty of “profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (LCMS.ORG)

So, what was meant to unify the church into one body has separated us because of human attempts to make the divine more manageable. Luther was very convinced of the true presence and lost many followers because of it because the age of trust in the church was coming to an end. Like today, people started dumbing down the Scriptures to fit their own ways of thinking.

Yet, Luther remained steadfast in his beliefs and relied on Scripture to support those beliefs. He wrote that the Sacrament of the Altar “is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”

And, he noted, this belief comes with a warning found in  1 Corinthians 11:27,29 which says, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord….For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon themselves.”  This is why, at Redeemer, we are very careful to instruct people in the proper way to receive this most precious blessing.

Another thing the early church was accused of was that they had the  belief that Christ was sacrificed over and over every time we ate and drank the Sacrament.

Luther is quick to point out that this sacrament does not mean that Christ is sacrificed over and over every time we partake of it. He says, “The body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament are the one perfect sacrifice offered to God once and for all on the cross and are now distributed to us in the Sacrament together with the blessings and benefits which this sacrifice has won for us.” Again, thinking that Christ must be sacrificed over and over is limited human thinking. Christ died once for all. In the Sacrament we are blessed with the same blood that stained Calvary’s cross and the same body that hung on it for the sins of all. If Christ were to give His people the most precious of gifts, it would be a part of Himself and that’s what He chose to give.  Hebrews 10:14 says, “By a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” 

And where does this power of transformation and blessing come from? Is it because we believe? No. Is it because we did something to honor God? No. It’s because of God’s Words proclaimed as a blessing over it. It is wholly a gift from a loving God to the adopted children He has created. Just as in Baptism, people have tried to hijack the Sacrament to be about us but Scripture clearly shows that it’s all about Christ and what He is willing to do so that we might be saved. Can you imagine a greater gift? To simplify it to meet our worldly standards in any way tarnishes its true meaning.

This gift is so much more than many can even comprehend, In the blessing of the elements of bread and wine it recalls Christ’s words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Luther says this shows us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

When we approach the altar, these are the promises that should be foremost in our minds, that the chief blessing of the Sacrament is the forgiveness of sins of which Christ won for us by His sacrifice. It’s value to us should be almost overwhelming because of the greatness it imparts.  Colossians 1:22 reminds us of this saying, “He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.”  That is the blessed gift we receive every time we participate in His body and blood at the railing. We kneel lost and condemned but raise holy, blameless and above reproach before God.

This is what we must remember so that generation after generation might benefit from the same blessing. Again, Luther says about the words, “In Remembrance of me, “Christ commands in these words that His Sacrament be celebrated in the church till the end of time as a living proclamation and distribution of His saving death and all its blessings.”

Each time we participate in the Sacrament of the Altar we also receive the blessings of life and salvation. Luther says in the Small Catechism, “We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved.”

In this Sacrament Christ gives us victory over sin and hell and strength for a new life in Him.  1 Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” As one church we partake because all receive the same blessed gifts. It’s a cause for celebration.

Luther asks the question, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? Instead of trying to explain it in my words, I’ll let Luther explain it himself. “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the Words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “Forgiveness of sins.”

As we said briefly before, it’s the Words that bring the power. Just as Christ’s blessing during the first Passover meal gave that meal power, so do those same words affect our Lord’s Supper today.

In this church we will always rely on the Word of God to bring power to the Sacrament of the Altar. This is not a man-made power of tribute but a God induced power to forgive and bring new life. But only through faith do we receive these most precious gifts. After all, what good is a gift if someone puts no faith in it?

 Luke 11: 27-28, Jesus was speaking very important lessons to those who were following Him. Getting lost in the moment, a woman in the crowd raised her voice to Him saying, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed.” Jesus calmly turned to her and gave credit where it was due saying, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”

You have now heard the arguments within our doctrine to give credit to God’s Word in its literal translation. When Goes says something is, we have no choice but to take Him at His Word. To do anything else would be to paint our worldliness into the picture complete with its shortcomings. Do we know how the transformation takes place, no, because it’s by divine appointment and we are not divine. But we take God at His word faithful that we receive the blessings he has promised.

Today as you receive His true body and blood I want you to ponder in your heart the gifts you are being given. May His forgiveness and mercy continue to bring you new life through the blood he has shed. Amen.

The Beauty of Confession

 

John 20:19-23, Isaiah 55:6-13, 1 John 1:5-10, Psalm 32

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

This morning we’re going to approach something critical to every Christian, the great gift of confession. I call it a gift because, without it, there can’t really be any kind of absolution. They say when a person wants to get better as an addict, they must first acknowledge that they have an addiction. So it is with our addiction to sin. If we want absolution, we must first be willing to admit that we have a problem.

If anyone was an expert on confessing sin, it was Martin Luther. “In the monastery, Luther spent up to six hours a day confessing his sins to a priest. But later, he would always remember sins he had forgotten to confess. Questions nagged at him. If only confessed sins were forgiven, what would happen if he forgot one? What about all the sins he might have committed in ignorance?” (Christian Communicators).

Martin often referred to the confessional as a torture chamber for troubled souls. He saw it as necessary but distasteful. He said later, “In the papacy I so tortured and spoiled myself by confession and making satisfaction that I looked for foreign sin, which I had not committed; because of my remorse I never had any rest nor a clean and peaceful heart.”

And, today, people still struggle with confession because it’s such a chore for our human nature. No one likes to admit they were wrong. If they did, my confessional would be worn out from the knees placed upon it. I bet most of you didn’t even know that I have a confessional in my office.

Martin understood this. He said, “All people are so minded that they do not want themselves and their dealings to become publicly known. All can bear to have us say that God is benevolent, and who in the world would deny that God is just and always right? Yet people cannot bear to be rebuked. No one wants to be a killer, thief, or miser before the world, nor be stained with gross vices. Who, then, is the man who hates the light? All of us! For not one of you would want his story written on his forehead.”

Yet he is the same man who said, “When I urge you to go to confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.” Though he found it distasteful, he knew that only by confessing our sins could we ever hope for the forgiveness we cherish or the relief from guilt that we treasure.

I need to make a confession of my own. I’m not real fond of it either. Every night I start by confessing my sins and, some nights, when my day has been especially bad, I resist going to bed for that reason.

Yet, every time I do so, it releases me from the tension that I once carried and I sleep peaceful in the knowledge that my forgiveness is assured.

As he read Scripture, Martin Luther’s attitude toward confession changed radically. Though he still found it a burdensome chore, he finally had found the beauty in it. He saw that, properly used, it had great value. Listen to these words from the same man who once spoke of confession as torture, “When you feel in your conscience that you are guilty, be very, very careful not to contend with either God or men in an effort to defend or excuse your sin. Rather, do this: When God points His spear at you, do not flee from Him; on the contrary, flee to Him with a humble confession of guilt and plea for pardon. Then God will draw back His spear and spare you. However, the farther you try to flee from God by the denial and excuse of your sin, the closer and more hostile God will follow and press you. Therefore, nothing is better and safer than to come before God with a confession of guilt; for so it comes to pass that while God conquers us, we also conquer through Him.”

There is an old Scottish proverb that says, “Confession is good for the soul.” And so it is. No one knew this better than King David.

It is He who said in our Psalm for this morning, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Let me explain what prompted David to write these words. This was soon after Nathan had approached him concerning his grave sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murdering of her husband Uriah so that David might take her as his wife. Nathan was blatant in his condemnation and it brought David to his knees in confession and remorse. Soon after these events took place, David wrote this Psalm. In the heading, it is referred to as a Maskil of David. The word maskil carries the idea of a lesson or a teaching, so right up front we learn that David has written this to teach the reader something. That lesson was the value of confession. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

From our New testament lesson, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John was writing this letter to combat the beginnings of a movement called Gnosticism, which was spreading rapidly throughout the 1st century church.

They believed that they had such a high relationship with God that they were above the command of God. They believed they had a higher knowledge than others, so much so that those who didn’t follow them were condemned. It’s sad that there are still some churches today that teach similar messages. These are the lies John wrote to combat.

Let’s look especially at verse 9 of the text, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The basic idea is pretty clear. If we confess our sins, our God is faithful and just to forgive them. But if we take a deeper look, we separate for study the word, “faithful.”  Numbers 23:19 reminds us that, “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill?”

But, just as God is faithful to forgive our sins, no matter how many or how terrible they are, we Christians are called to do the same. If God is faithful to forgive ours, we too must do the same towards others. If God is faithful enough to forgive even our most deviant sins, we too are not to put a limit on what is forgivable and what is not.

Some find forgiveness even harder than the confession itself. John understood what the Gnostics didn’t. He understood that we all are in need of confession because we all fall short. He is saying, essentially, that there is no special wisdom that gives us a get out of jail free card concerning sin. Confession is vital because forgiveness is vital. The two cannot be separated because we feel were above the law or that we possess some special insight above all other people. The truth is that we all fall short of the glory of God, even those who think they possess some greater knowledge or prophetic gift.

So, we should cling onto confession for the wonderful gift that it is. James 5:16 says that we should “Confess our sins to one another….that we may be healed.” Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

The benefits of confession are many. In our catechism is says we should confess, “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God looses and absolves him from his sins.

Confession offers refuge with the certainty that forgiveness is ours from a faithful and just God.

Confession loosens the grip of guilt and shame so that we might rejoice in the relationship we have with our Father in heaven. Confession capitalizes on the grace of God to lift us from darkness into light toward the understanding of His mercy.

The cold truth is that we are all sinners and none of us want to share our weaknesses through confession. Some would rather bear the guilt and shame just so that don’t have to go through the trial of knowing that others know how weak and sinful they really are.

This is how people slowly collapse under the weight of their own making. Confession rids us of this. It begins the process of reconciliation. It approaches things honestly and with integrity, not under shadow and restrained. It starts the process of forgiveness and opens up the doors we have hidden behind because of our unwillingness to let people in.

Jesus Christ urges you to trust in what He has done for you enough that all our closets may be empty of the sins you have stored in them. He wants you to trust in His understanding and love. He wants you to place all those unconfessed sins at His feet so that you might be free to come to Him in worship and praise for all He has given you. He wants you to confess your sins to others so that His words might bring you comfort.

My door is always open to you and God’s absolution is always eagerly waiting to be given. Trust in God to take away even your greatest sins. Do not let them rule your life any longer. Come to God in confession so that He might give you the freedom He has promised you. Amen.