(Galatians 6:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)
Sun, July 31, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White
A couple had two mischievous little boys, ages eight and 10. At their wits’ end, the parents contacted a pastor for help. The pastor asked to see the boys individually. The eight-year-old was sent to meet with him first. The minister sat the boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is God?”
The boy made no response, so the pastor repeated the question in an even sterner tone, “Where is God?”
Again the boy made no attempt to answer, so the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy’s face, “WHERE IS GOD?”
At that, the boy bolted from the room, ran directly home, and slammed himself in his closet. His older brother followed him and asked what happened. The younger brother replied, “We are in big trouble this time. God is missing, and they think we did it!”
It seems to me that the whole idea of confession is usually a laughing matter, and not something we do regularly as Christian adults. But something may be missing in our walk with God, and our Church, if there is not much sharing hurts and speaking God’s blessing to one another, one on one. The final chapter of Galatians says, 1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.
Hearing someone talk about their sinful troubles, and responding with the word of Jesus is a gentle business. And it must happen among us. It is not only between the individual and God.
Dallas Willard wrote: Confession is a discipline that functions within fellowship. In it we let trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures. This will nourish our faith in God’s provision for our needs through God’s people, our sense of being loved, and our humility before our sisters and brothers. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, 1988, p. 187)
But it is Deitrich Bonhoeffer who taught so wisely about confession and forgiveness in the church fellowship. And did so in the 1940s. Today, I really take a few pages from him.
About the ministry our friends have to hear our confession and speak forgiveness, Bonhoeffer taught:
Our friend has been given to us to help us. He hears the confession of our sins in Christ’s stead and he forgives our sins in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my sister or brother to confess, I am going to God. (Life Together, 1952, p. 112)
Galatians 6 says, 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. The breakthrough to real community, true fellowship, comes through confession. A problem kept inside us keeps us isolated. To keep our secret, we keep a wall up between us and others.
When a sin is shared with a brother or sister in Christ, it is revealed and judged as sin, and loses so much of its power. The forgiveness of Jesus is spoken to us by another human being. So the fellowship bears the burden of the sin, instead of it being hidden and weighing us down alone.
It is a matter of love. Of loving one’s neighbour. When Jesus spoke once of giving His disciples a new commandment, what did He say? I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:33-35)
[Perhaps now is a good moment to share the story I skipped last Sunday morning. Let me tell you Kierkegaard’s parable, ‘The Costume of the Actor.’
Consider for a moment the world which lies before you in all is great variety; it is like looking at a play, only the plot is vastly more complicated. Every actor on stage is acting differently from each other character in the play. Each unique character that comes on stage is different from the actor playing the part – but we, the audience don’t get to see that. Here, we see only what role the individual plays and how he or she does it. It is like a play.
But when the curtain falls, the one who played the king, and the one who played the beggar, and all the others – they are all quite alike, all one and the same: actors.
But just suppose that some evening a common confusion comes over the whole cast so they think they really are the parts they were playing. Wouldn’t that be an evil enchantment?
Likewise, suppose we, in our day-to-day lives, suddenly got confused, and thought we were the roles we play. The Pastor, loved by everyone. The wise, humorous senior citizen. The dutiful and mature teenage cadet. The intelligent tourist from a very special place in another nation.
Alas, but is this not the case? We seem to forget that the distinctions of earthly existence are only like an actor’s costume. Yet we tend to want to attach the costume tightly around us, so it can’t be taken off, and no glimpse is seen of the real person inside. Kierkegaard says, But alas, in actual life one laces the outer garment of distinction so tightly that it completely conceals the interior… and the inner glory of equality never, or very rarely, shines through, something it should do and ought to do constantly. (Works of Love, pp. 92-96) ]
What great love and community God gives us, if we but remember who we are, and if we see one another as equals before our God of love! We are equal sinners; we are equal saints – before God. May we be free to see and to love one another. Fred Beuchener wrote: Even the worst among us is precious. Even the most precious among us bear crosses.
It is an amazing ministry that is needed – this hearing confession and speaking Jesus words of forgiveness and healing. In 1 Peter 2:9 we read: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
You are priests to one another. That’s why we say we believe here in the priesthood of all believers.
It is by sharing our sin and pain with another person that we can be most certain. When we meet God in the face of a person, we must let go of trying to control our prayer and how God responds.
Why is it easier to confess our sins to God than to a person right beside us? God is holy and sinless, after all; our brothers and sisters are sinners. Perhaps, when praying, we have simply been confessing our sins to ourselves, and giving ourselves absolution. Not been meeting God at all. Self forgiveness just won’t do it. One can experience God hearing us when someone hears our confession. Then we know we are not just talking to ourselves. The wrong gets brought into the light.
When Richard Foster was a young pastor, he had read in the Bible about the ministry of confession, but had never experienced it. He did not feel there was anything wrong in the least – except one thing. He longed for more power to do the work of God. He felt inadequate to deal with many of the desperate needs that confronted him.
Pastor Richard had many positive experiences of the Spirit of God, and he kept praying. He got the impression that something in his past was impeding the flow of God’s life in him.
He planned to spend some time, over three days, prayerfully reviewing his life, pen and paper in hand. Day one, he invited God to reveal anything during his childhood that needed either forgiveness or healing or both. Things that came to mind he wrote down, after a ten minute silent meditation. Day two: same plan, for his adolescent years. Day three: a ten minute or more time on his adulthood.
Then he went to a dear brother in Christ with whom he’d planned to share. Slowly, sometimes painfully, he read his sheet of paper, adding only those comments necessary to make the sin clear.
When Richard was finished, he started to put the paper away. Wisely, his counsellor/confessor gently took the piece of paper. Without a word, he took a wastebasket, and, as Richard watched, he tore the paper into hundreds of tiny pieces and dropped them in. That powerful, nonverbal expression of forgiveness was followed by simple words of absolution – you are forgiven, in Jesus’ name.
Next, his friend, with the laying on of hands, prayed a prayer of healing for all the sorrows and hurts of the past. Richard Foster says the power of that prayer lives with him to this day.
(Celebration of Discipline, 1988, pp. 149-150)
Foster planned and chose wisely. It is important for us to be wise, even guided by the Spirit of God, in finding the right person, at the right time, to hear our confession. One who is ready, prepared, spiritually mature enough, and who also has someone to hear his or her confession.
Perhaps, if we need more of this to happen in our lives, in our Church, we start in small ways. Some of our groups function as small sharing groups: the Men’s Fellowship, Ladies Bible Study, Women’s Missionary Society, and so forth. The spiritual friendships we develop there can lead us to holy moments of sharing and blessing one another.
It is a great mercy of God when this happens. It is an amazing ministry of God’s people. Our God so loved the world of people, that Jesus was sent to deal with all these hurts and harms of ours. Richard Foster wrote: Remember the heart of the Father; he is like a shepherd who will risk anything to find that one lost sheep. We do not have to make God willing to forgive. In fact, it is God who is working to make us willing to seek his forgiveness. (Celebration of Discipline, 1988, p. 153)