Lent 1A

March 03, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 4:1-11

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 32

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Psalm 32 helps worshipers to think about confession in profoundly theological ways. It isn’t itself, however, a prayer of confession. Psalm 32, instead, teaches important lessons about confession.

    Psalm 32 begins with a pronouncement of blessing on forgiven sinners. Yet while similar declarations of blessings fill the psalter, John Calvin suggested that the blessedness expressed by all of the other psalms depends on the blessedness of forgiveness expressed by Psalm 32. God’s children don’t, in other words, experience full blessedness until we experience the blessedness of forgiveness.

    Perhaps that’s why this psalm seems to emphasize the forgiveness of sin in a special way. It refers not once but twice to the blessedness that a forgiven person enjoys. Psalm 32 also refers in three different ways to the lovely shapes forgiveness takes.

    Yet virtually every advertisement, for example, tells us that the beautiful, rich people are the blessed people. Our culture insists that blessedness and happiness depend on physical, emotional, relational and financial well-being. By contrast, Scriptures like Psalm 32 insist those whom God forgives are those who are blessed. Lasting joy and peace come from knowing that, for Jesus’ sake, God forgives our sins.

    Confession of our sins plays an immense role in that forgiven blessedness. But how does our confession relate to our forgiveness? Is it, for example, like a password we recite in order to somehow magically open the padlocked door to forgiveness?

    While Psalm 32 might seem to imply that, the rest of the Scriptures won’t let us think of confession of sin as the tool that manufactures forgiveness. Only God’s grace makes people righteous in God’s sight. So God’s forgiveness is not a matter of punching the right “prayer buttons.” The blood of Jesus Christ, not prayers of confession, washes away guilt.

    So if you and I were to die, we might fret about some things we’ve left unconfessed to other people. Christians, however, don’t have to worry that unconfessed sins will eternally separate us from the Lord. After all, the gospel insists that God graciously forgives all of God’s people’s sins, past, present and future. Nothing, not even the most awful sins, can separate God’s children from God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

    So why bother actually confessing sins? Worshipers confess our sins to God in order to fully worship and adore God. We confess our sins to God in order to more fully glorify the Lord as the God who, for Jesus’ sake, is so both eager and quick to forgive God’s children.

    However, we also confess our sins to God because of the benefit such confession offers. Confession allows us to live in the full comfort of God’s grace, knowing that not even our sins can separate us from our living, loving Lord. Our expressed confession, made in the context of God’s gracious forgiveness, doesn’t just please God.

    It also serves as a kind of tangible reminder that even the dark sins we’re confessing can’t separate us from God’s tender love. Confession of sin is, after all, as James Mayes notes, a confession of faith in God. It’s an expression of our trust that God is a God who keeps covenant, who forgives all of our sins, for Jesus’ sake.

    That kind of confession properly belongs, Psalm 32 reminds us, to some form of prayer. Whether in silence, whispers, spoken words or even songs, we admit to God that we have sinned against the Lord and each other. However, while we know we can’t somehow hide our sins from God, we naturally prefer, with the psalmist, to “keep silent” about them. Yet Psalm 32 reminds us that such silence easily becomes spiritually cancerous. Unconfessed guilt becomes part of us, harming, hardening and ultimately shrinking God’s children.

    So Christians find ways to break our guilty silence in order to confess our sins to God. The psalmist, after all, three times emphasizes expressed confession. “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord . . .”

    If, after all, we claim that we have no sins, as I John reminds us, we don’t just deceive ourselves. By claiming innocence, you and I also make our God who is faithful and just and forgives our sins out to be a liar. That’s why Christians also try to make honest confession with integrity. We easily shelter behind the self-deceit about which verse 2 talks. You and I may try to deceive ourselves, if not God, about our innocence.

    Christians also easily, however, reduce the vital act of confession to a routine, thoughtless habit. It’s so easy to simply mouth the confessional words many of us learned as children without really meaning what we say. So how can we, by God’s grace and Spirit, enhance the integrity and liveliness of the vital act of confession?

    Perhaps it helps to always try to remember what the sins we’re confessing cost our Lord Jesus Christ. As we confess our sometimes careless, sometimes-deliberate sins, we consciously remember that Jesus Christ gave up heaven’s comfort and glory to pay for them. As you and I confess both what we’ve sinfully done and left undone, we consciously remember that Jesus experienced lifelong rejection in order to pay for them.

    As we confess our sins of lust, lying and lovelessness, we contemplate images of the soldiers mocking and torturing Jesus for our sins. Jesus endured all of his agony so that we might know the joy of forgiveness that we experience when we confess our sins. Our heavenly Father abandoned his only Son so that we might know the peace that he graciously gives when we confess our sins.
    We can also deepen the vitality of our confession when we, as C.S. Lewis suggested, find ways to talk about our own sins the same way we describe others’ sins. When we talk about other people, after all, we don’t usually sonorously intone about their general sins of commission and omission. You and I naturally talk about their concrete sins like racial prejudices and love of money.

    We need to use such blunt, traditional words, not when we’re talking about others, but when we talk about ourselves. Other people, after all, aren’t alone in needing to admit that they’ve neglected needy people and dishonored their parents. You and I learn to confess that we’ve done all that . . . and more.

    Finally, however, as a fellow pastor notes, we also need to see and plainly admit that all of life is vulnerable to the ravages of our sin. You and I live in a society that, if it recognizes any sorts of religious values, claim they have nothing to do with our daily lives. Our culture insists that religion has nothing to do with politics, business or anything but what happens on Sunday.

    Christians, however, need to see life the way God sees it – as an interconnected whole. We remember that God is just as interested in what happens in living and bedrooms as is in what goes on in Sunday School rooms. So we share God’s interest in what happens as much in our kitchens and on our job sites as much as in what happens in churches. So Christians also confess the sins we commit in those places in order to know the renewed joy of his forgiveness.

    Yet Christians remember that sin doesn’t just stain individuals. Sin permeates society, including some of its institutions and structures. So we learn to confess the church’s sins of neglect of both the poor and creation. We also learn to confess society’s sins of things like racism and any kind of prejudice that reduces people to anything less than image-bearers of God.

    Illustration Idea

    You’ve probably heard people claim, “confession is good for the soul.” Yet n what concrete way is confession “good” for souls? Dr. James Pennebaker was a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. In the November 1, 1997 issue of Psychology Today he writes, “If we define ‘soul’ loosely as who you are, how you feel about yourself, and how healthy you are, then confession is good for the soul.”

    Pennebaker claims that confession, what he and other scientists call “self-disclosure,” can greatly reduce feelings of shame or guilt. Studies of criminals, for instance, show they act far more relaxed after confessing their crimes – despite the resulting punishment that awaits them.  Pennebaker, however, also points to the apparent physical benefits of confession. He claims he has found that confession may actually boost immune systems. It may do things like spur production of white blood cells that attack invading microorganisms.

    Yet if confession is good for the soul, then perhaps we can also finally say that the Internet is also good for the soul. After all, confession has woven its way even into the World Wide Web.  DailyConfession.com claims to be the place “where you can actually confess the sins that you would never admit to your priest, or your mother for that matter . . . It’s the only place in the world that you can go to truly confess your sin (or sins), your transgressions, your humanity, in complete anonymity.”

    Of course, we wouldn’t want to get too religious about getting all this stuff “off our chests.” So this site is deliberately secular. It claims to equally represent all views “without regard to race, creed, religion or political posture.”

    Perhaps even better, DailyConfession.com also insists those who use its site to confess may remain anonymous. At the same time, however, it presents their confession “to the entire planet, for the whole world to read.”

    So why would anyone want to anonymously make a confession about which everyone surfing the Web could learn? What would people expect to gain from such reading such a “confession”? It’s little more than moral voyeurism, where some people morally expose themselves to others who morally peep at them.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 5:12-19

    Author: Stan Mast