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.

Making Restitution

Rev. Phyllis Kersten

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the Israelites: When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt and shall confess the sin that has been committed. The person shall make full restitution for the wrong, adding one-fifth to it, and giving it to the one who was wronged.””

Numbers 5:5-7

One of my favorite authors is Louise Penny. Her regular cast of characters includes the colorful residents of the tiny Canadian village Three Pines – like the poet who carries a duck named Rosa in her arms wherever she goes. But her main character is Quebec police inspector Armand Gamache.

Gamache shares “four statements” with new recruits that can help them become “great officers and even better men and women.” (A Better Man, p. 14)

The statements? “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help.”

It occurs to me that at least three of these statements – maybe all four – are key to confession: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I need help [from you, God.]” And maybe also, “I don’t know [how to do better, be better, on my own, without you.]”

But today’s text from Numbers talks about more than confession; it talks about “full restitution” needing to be made to the ones wronged. A national conversation has begun in our country about the wrongs done to African Americans – from slavery to Jim Crow laws, to the repeated efforts to deny Blacks the right to vote, to the Southern states rigging rules so that Black World War II veterans weren’t eligible for the education and housing benefits guaranteed by the G.I. Bill, to the sentencing of African Americans to longer prison terms than whites committing the same offences.

How can we Christians participate in this national conversation about making “restitution” today?

Prayer: Lord, teach us to confess our sins and make restitution to those wronged. Amen

Darkness cannot stand

Ash Wednesday: February 17                                                          Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

1 John 1:5-10

9/11/2001—an entire city baptized in the ashes of The World Trade Center. And in the early morning, darkness covered an entire city as the buildings came down, and the body count went up. And darkness cloaked the world.

In the COVID-19 pandemic we have now experienced a 9/11 death count for each and every day the pandemic persisted. Mothers buried children. Spouses watched as their significant other slipped into their eternal rest. Lifelong friends waved eternal goodbye. We buried our dead—and darkness cloaked the world.

In a world of such darkness, it can be easy to become discouraged. Beyond the global pandemic, beyond the international attacks—we have daily personal pandemics and attacks. Depression, broken relationships, missed time, livelihood loss, motivation loss—and so on.

In 1 John 1:5-10, God tells a different story. Using our own reason, thought, or strength—it is easy to slip into darkness. But when we put our trust in God most high—his light breaks the darkness! Where we have slipped into sorrow, through his blood we are rebirthed into marvelous light. This pandemic of darkness, this attack of the enemy—it cannot stand against the Lord! 

This Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge the consequences of darkness—death. But as we receive the ashes, we are reminded that through the work Christ has done on the cross, Light has broken forth. 

So let there be light.

Prayer: Oh, Lord of Light. May you illuminate our path in life. The darkness that we experience in this world is no match for you. Let your light shine upon us, and may it guide our way home to you. In Christ’s name we pray—Amen.