Summary: Confession and Absolution helps us approach God with humility and confidence.
Did you and your friends ever form a club when you were growing up? Perhaps you draped blankets over the couches in the basement to serve as your clubhouse, and to get in everyone had to speak the password. Well heaven is a club like that. Only those who know and speak the password will get in. You’re expecting me to say that the password to heaven is “Jesus.” And you’re right, sort of. But just saying the name of Jesus won’t get you into heaven any more than having a key to a locked door will get you in if you keep the key in your pocket. Fortunately our Lutheran liturgy, that is, the way we approach God in worship, teaches us how to properly make use of the name of Jesus. We do that in the part of our worship called the Confession & Absolution. Let’s learn more as we continue our sermon series on Lutheran Worship.
Last Sunday we learned about the Invocation. Those are the words the presiding minister speaks after the opening hymn: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those words remind us of where we are (in the presence of a holy God; we’re in his house), and they also remind us of who we are (baptized children of God who can approach God with joy and confidence). But just as children in Canada must take their dirty shoes off after they have stepped inside the house, so we Lutheran children of God also pause after the Invocation to shed that which has dirtied us in the previous week. We leave behind our sins through Confession & Absolution.
The Confession that we spoke this morning from the Service of the Word (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal) started like this: “Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth…” Did you notice how we confess what we are before we even confess what we did? The Lutheran church is unique in this regard. The few other church bodies that do regularly include a confession of sins in their worship don’t begin by acknowledging this spiritual reality that we are sinful from birth, sinful even from the time we were conceived (Psalm 51:5). But why acknowledge this? Because it reminds us that going to church is not like going to an open mic down at La Crema (a local coffee shop). There you show up eager to show off the songs you have worked hard to learn. But when we come to worship, there should be no showing off – no reason to say, “Hey Lord, did you see all the good things I did this week? Aren’t you glad I’m on your team?” To combat such an attitude the Apostle John said in our text: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
“Well no, Pastor. I would never claim to be without sin. Nobody is perfect, but at least...” But at least what? You’re not as bad as others? Remember, this part of the liturgy is called the Confession not the Comparison. Did you notice how John used the first person plural when he said, “If we claim to be without sin…”? He did not say, “If they claim to be without sin…” Likewise in our liturgy we stated: “In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child.” When I approach God during the Confession, my mind should be on me. I should be thinking about how I have sinned and failed God and my neighbor – not about how others have sinned against me and how I hope they’re asking God’s forgiveness. If I think this, then I ought to start my confession by repenting of not having forgiven others!
Yes, we are sinful from birth and what’s worse, we are never shy in proving it! That’s why we confessed this morning: “In countless ways I have sinned…” It’s our practice here to pause after we speak the Confession to privately confess specific sins. Your confession might go something like this: “Lord, I really messed up again this week. When I became frustrated with the world, I didn’t bother to ask for your help. And when that help came from you (even though I hadn’t asked for it), I didn’t stop to thank you. I also struggled with gossip again and I kept entertaining dirty thoughts…” We sin so much in a week that the fifteen or so seconds of silence we take won’t be enough to confess all of our sins, as if we could even remember them all!
But some would say: “You Lutherans are too hard on yourselves!” King David, however, wouldn’t agree. This was, after all, the man who turned his confession of sins into poems (psalms) for everyone to read! David did this because he tells us: “…a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17) God wants us to approach him with humility. He wants us to be like that tax collector in Jesus’ parable from Luke 18. This man would not even look up to heaven but beat his chest ashamed of the sins he had committed. Reminding ourselves in the Confession that we are “altogether sinful from birth” helps us approach God with humility.