Naming Sin

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Palmer

Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive. (Luke 17:3-4)

I’m not very good at rebuking people. Sometimes I yell at my kids when they misbehave, and I’ve had a lot of practice lately at censuring my political opponents in the abstract. But it’s hard to imagine myself rebuking an individual member of my community face-to-face, naming their sins, and asking them to repent. I’m much more comfortable skipping to the forgiveness part. 

When I look at where the Greek word for “rebuke” appears in the Gospels, though, a pattern emerges. The disciples and members of the crowds sometimes rebuke other people, but Jesus almost never does. He rebukes demons, devils, and unclean spirits that are hurting people. He rebukes the wind and the waves when they’re threatening to overturn the boat carrying the disciples. He rebukes a fever that’s afflicting Simon’s mother-in-law.

The kind of rebuking that Jesus does in the Bible, in other words, isn’t about individuals and their relationships with each other. It’s an existential showdown with the powers and principalities that cause harm. It’s a casting out of sin and danger that has just one purpose: making people well. This leads me to believe that when Jesus tells us to rebuke each other for our sins, the stakes are high. Skipping to forgiveness too quickly won’t loosen the grip that sin holds over the world. Sometimes repentance is a group endeavor.

Prayer: God, help me guard against the temptation to live with false peace, give me the courage to name and rebuke sin, and thereby deepen my capacity to forgive. Amen.

It doesn’t matter why…

Linda Street

So, he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
(Luke 15:3-7)

In this parable, it is usually assumed we are the lost sheep and thus have confidence that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will come find us when we wander off.  Although we are thankful that this is true, several questions come to mind.

What is up with this sheep???  Was it in denial about the dangerous reality of the world away from the flock?  Was it looking for greener pastures or a more comfortable setting?  Did the sheep take membership in the flock for granted and get left behind? Did the sheep have an argument with another member of the flock and march off in a huff? Or perhaps it was a black sheep and the rest of the flock shunned it??  Ouch…

Hmmm, I wonder—did the lost sheep really want to be found? 

Truth is, no matter why the sheep got lost or if it wanted to be found, the Shepherd never gave up. Similarly, no matter what sin we have committed or whether we want to be found, Jesus continues to call us by name.

And —a note for the flock.  Who was keeping an eye on this one who got lost?  How did the whole flock not notice that someone was missing?  Maybe there is room for repentance here as well?  Fellow sheep, we are accountable for each other.  Especially in COVID times.  Let’s keep an eye on each other.

Prayer: Loving Shepherd, help us to look out for one another and to continually search for the lost. Amen.

Sheer Grace

Rev. David Kluge

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.  The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:29-32)

No one likes the tax collector. This was especially true in our Lord’s day. Tax collectors were viewed as collaborators with the Romans who occupied their land and were notorious thieves. So why, as the Pharisees asked, was Jesus associating with Levi and his friends? Jesus certainly did not condone what Levi did in his selfishness. Levi was, in Jesus’ words, a sick man. He was as sick, if not more so, than the leper and paralytic Jesus had just healed. How to bring about change? That’s the question.

The approach taken by the Pharisees is all too familiar to us. It’s easy to stand back in our pious self-righteousness and condemn others for their sin. It’s easy to see the “speck” in our brother’s or sister’s eye but fail to see the “plank” in our own eye. (Matthew 7:3-5) But that approach only alienates.

In the verses preceding those of our text Jesus healed a leper and a paralytic. Both were acts of sheer grace and brought about a dramatic change in their lives. It is then that Jesus calls Levi saying, “Follow me!” That call too was an act of sheer grace and turned Levi’s life around. For most of us our call came with the waters of our baptism. That too was an act of sheer grace.

Prayer: Gracious and loving Lord you have called out of darkness into your light. May your love for us be the driving force in our lives to the end that the “sick” of this world may, like Levi, be led to a new and better life in your Son. In his name we pray. Amen.

Turning away from Whiteness

Valerie Stefanic

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3)

Here in Matthew, Judas has accepted money in return for his betrayal of Jesus, his master, friend and savior. The good news is that once he realizes the true depth of what he has done, and that his actions would lead to the certain death of his beloved Jesus, he was overcome with feelings of genuine guilt and great remorse. He was sorry for what he’d done. To no avail, he tried to turn it around by offering to give the money back. Ultimately, his guilt and remorse led him to kill himself.

As I read this verse and definition of repentance, as a black person, my mind cannot help but turn to the subject of racism and the idea that America needs to repent of racism. The continuing racism in this country has its roots in a financial decision, much like the decision that Judas made to accept money in turn for his betrayal of Jesus. America’s founders used kidnapped Africans as a resource to build this nation and expand the wealth of its founders and their descendants.

Policies that systemically and purposefully inhibit the growth of black people continue today.  We need repentance. Whites need to acknowledge the issue and openly admit that it was/is wrong. They must lean into it with empathy and feel true remorse for what has happened at the hand of their ancestors. White people must also unite along with blacks to change the direction and the narrative. Alas, white Christians need to act more Christian than white.

Prayer: My Father in heaven, I am thankful that of late, many white people have been awakened to the plight of black people in America. I pray that this movement continues and that more people are able to truly repent and to be willing to participate in actionable ways to change the narrative. I pray that ALL Christians continue to aspire to truly be like Christ; loving, accepting, merciful and uplifting of the downtrodden.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  AMEN.    


This week we turn our minds toward repentance which involves sorrow for our sins, a turning or change of direction, and a resolution to not repeat the sins of our past.

Rev. Michael Costello

Come, let us return to the Lord, for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth. (Hosea 6:1-3)

These words from Hosea need context. In chapters 4 and 5 the prophet makes clear that God was not pleased at how far Israel had strayed from God’s ways. Israel’s prospects were grim if they continued their sinful path. God said that he would return again to his place until Israel acknowledged their guilt and sought his face (5:15).

The Hebrew word used for God’s return in chapter 5 is used again at the beginning of chapter 6 when we read: “Come, let us return to the Lord.” In God’s own return Israel is given the opportunity to return themselves—to repent.

The exhortation that begins the Ash Wednesday liturgy reads, in part: “God created us to experience joy in communion with him, to love all humanity, and to live in harmony with all of his creation. But sin separates us from God … who does not desire us to come under his judgment, but to turn to him and live.”

The clarion call in Hosea is for each of us, too. Especially during Lent we return to God, acknowledging our sin, turning—repenting—toward the new life given to us in Jesus Christ. It is, after all, through his death and resurrection that God, in the words of the Te Deum laudamus, has “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.”

Prayer: Too often we stray from your will, Lord God. Help us return to you, forgive our sins, and strengthen us in faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Forgiveness: Completed.

Rev. Peter W. Marty
St, Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa
Editor/Publisher of The Christian Century

Are any among you suffering? They should pray.  Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. (James 5:13-16)

A couple decades ago, an English theologian published a book on the power of forgiveness. The title is what’s memorable to me: The Joy of Being Wrong. It’s hard to picture being wrong as intrinsically delightful in and of itself. There can’t be joy in trampling another life through offense or cruelty. What constitutes the actual joy of being wrong is confessing that wrongness to another. The admission to someone else that we have messed up is what’s liberating. To pull some dank reality out of an inner recess of the human heart and expose the musty truth to fresh air—that’s how we free up a relationship with God. That’s how we get right with our friends and lovers.

Ancient Jews knew only confession to God. Christians see value in confessing sins to one another in addition to God. But what counts ultimately is that we trust God to forgive unconditionally. We don’t confess our sins in order to be forgiven; we confess them because we are forgiven. Notice how often Jesus pronounces forgiveness to guilty people prior to them cleaning up their act or pledging to repent.

The writer of James reminds us that forgiveness doesn’t follow confession; it precedes it. “Anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven,” he writes. “Therefore [or, in light of such divine love, and with all defenses down] confess your sins …”

Prayer: O God, teach us to know, in Jesus Christ, that because you love us we can be comfortably honest in confessing our sins. Amen.

The Healing of Relationships

Wendy Will

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:4-6) NRSV

There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life. (Matthew 3:6 from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message)

It’s ok.
No worries.
Forget about it.

Have you ever confessed a sin, apologized for something and heard one of the responses above? Growing up in my house, I never did. All I remember hearing my parents say was, “You are forgiven.”

After talking about what I did wrong, admitting my sin, I was forgiven. Being forgiven is a BIG deal! My sin wasn’t ok or couldn’t just be forgotten. And it was a worry, a worry for me!  But forgiveness, that made my relationship with my parents right again.

All that practice of confessing my sins, then and now, has helped me realize what is really important- a relationship! A relationship with God!

Confession is an act of invitation. I want you in my life, Lord. God’s forgiveness sets me free to go and live in God’s light, to live a changed life.

 I can get carried away by freedom. Recently I found a piece of advice that is helpful. It reads:” Pause before responding to people or situations, giving My Spirit space to act through you.”

May those words bless you, too.

Prayer: Gracious God, I am thankful to be your forgiven child. Create in me a clean heart that I may grow stronger in faith and love to reflect you in my thoughts, words and deeds. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

A Painful Necessity

Deb Schmidt-Rogers

When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked prevail, people go into hiding.  No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:12-13)

How often have you tried to cover your tracks? It might have been the small white lie about eating the last piece of pie, or it might have been something bigger like a promise that the check really is in the mail. Sadly, over the years, I have had both of these lies come out of my mouth.

What is it about lies? Don’t they just eat at you, once told? The only way that I have been able to feel better after a lie is to confess. Oh sure, confessing to God in prayer is, frankly, the easy part. It is the confessing to the one harmed that is difficult. The public acknowledgement of our failures is hard, painful and necessary. The asking for forgiveness provides the opportunity to begin again.

I often find Lent hard, painful and necessary.  Truth…I am not a fan. The notion that many of my friends do this “giving up” of something, the music which is Alleluia-less, the focus on the days leading up to Jesus death – none of it brings me much joy.

And yet Lent provides great opportunities to reflect, to pause, to grieve, to confess, to pray, to begin again. Lent is the journey we travel, and like all journeys it has moments of discomfort, of struggle and of chance.  May you take a chance on confessing anew to ones you have wronged.

Prayer: Forgiving God, we thank you for your endless ability to listen to our sins, to enfold us in your love and to hold us through the painful necessity of confession. We ask you to sustain us through these forty days of Lent, and to provide us reminders of what waits at the end. In your name we confess, Amen.

Trusting the Rope Between

Rev. David R. Lyle

But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips.” For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me.  I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. …

Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me; make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation.  (Psalm 38:13-18, 21-22)

I entered the last semester of college with an unfulfilled physical education requirement. Not being interested in bettering myself at badminton, I signed up for rock climbing. Twice each week we would go to the climbing gym to practice on indoor walls. It was enjoyable, but it only sort of prepared us for the real thing. On a sunny Saturday morning in May, we found ourselves on the Appalachian Trail, staring up a sixty-foot wall of real rock. Harnessed and roped in, we took turns attempting the various routes up the face. More times than I care to remember, my foot slipped. I fell. But I never fell far, thanks to the diligence of my climbing partner. It was good to have someone on the other end of the rope.

Our sin leads us to hide from one another. With the Psalmist, we fear that a slip of the foot will lead others to rejoice in our misfortune. So, we carry our sin within, falling ever further. The act of confession is the intentional partnering with another in the act of discipleship. The foot slips are inevitable; confession is trusting the rope between us, the vine of grace that is our risen Lord. On our own we will fall. Trusting a fellow disciple with our sins, we find ourselves lifted up by the grace of Jesus.

Prayer: Gracious God, uphold us by your Spirit. Turn us to one another, that we may support each other in the life of forgiveness. Amen.

Life-Draining Muteness

Ed Mason

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is covered.  Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”” (Psalm 32:1-5)

David doesn’t name his particular sins for us in Psalm 32, but, in verses 3 and 4, he names the devastating effects of his unconfessed sin—he was wasting away, dried up, cut off. How often, like David, have we been silent, or mute, before God, our fellow human beings, and even ourselves, regarding our own sins, individual and collective?  How easy it is for us to lapse into that life-draining muteness before God, others, and ourselves regarding our sins, especially under the cover of our “noisy” world, full of never-ending tasks, anxious concerns, ever-streaming news and entertainment, and ever-present screens, all diverting and shifting our attention away from God.

During this time of Lent, like David, may we intentionally place ourselves apart from the clamoring noise in our lives, to spend quiet time before God for us to name, confess, and turn away from, our sins, both individual and collective. In so confessing, we can be confident that, like David, we will experience the liberating happiness of the forgiveness of our loving God, who, through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, yearns to forgive us our sins and to empower us to live in union with God and God’s people. 

Prayer: Loving God, work in us that we may turn away from the noise in our lives that so often diverts and distracts us from you, so we may draw closer to you.  Help us not be muted before you as to our sins.  Draw us, through the Holy Spirit, to name, confess, and turn away from, our sins, confident that you, Loving Father, forgive us our sins through Jesus Christ, our Lord, and empower us to live lives of love for you and others.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.