Summary: The importance of confession in the Christian tradition.
Sermon for I Lent, Year C
Based on Deut. 26:5-10 & Rom. 10:8b-13
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Confession….When we hear that word, it may bring to mind several things. The first thing we did this morning as a community of faith was to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. But, there are also other types of confession.
For example, as Lutherans, we refer to ourselves as a confessional church. This means that we are guided by the teachings of our confessions, which were written by the reformers back in the sixteenth century, and are found in The Book of Concord. The Bible is also a confessional book, it contains statements of faith, which, in their original context, were confessed by the ancient Israelites and the early Church in public worship. Today, both our first and second lessons are confessions of faith.
The New Testament word for confessing is homo-logy, literally, to say the same thing. (To speak the same words.) Saying the same thing that God says. Giving back to God God’s own talk? Yes God invites us to echo the same word back, to say “yes” to God’s word to us, about us. 1
Every Sunday we participate in this act of confessing our faith. This confession tells us and others who God is, who we are, and what we believe. As we confess, we are participating in an act of loyalty to our God, in whose name we are gathered for worship.
Napoleon is said to have commanded intense loyalty from his troops. A preacher of the era asked one soldier, “Did you men like Napoleon?”
The veteran replied, “Like him? We believe in him. If Napoleon said, ‘God to the moon,’ every man would start. Napoleon would find the way!” 2
Such loyalty is the type similar to that of God’s people when we confess our allegiance to God. Lutheran theologian, Krister Stendahl, once said that the language of confession is really the language of love. It is a language that expresses extreme loyalty to the one whom one loves. Love language confesses things like: “You are the only one for me. I love you more than anyone in the whole world. I will do anything for you.” When we speak the love language of confession, we are telling others of how important our relationship with God really is—we are telling the world how much God means to us. It’s a message that we find difficult to keep to ourselves or to hide—we want to share it with everyone.
To confess that Jesus is Lord to another person means that we are leaving ourselves wide open to becoming involved with that person, for if our words are spoken in honesty, then those very words are an extension of ourselves; they stand for who we are.
There is a funny little story of a young man on a train who asks the older passenger next to him for the right time. The man looks at him but won’t take out his watch and tell him what time it is. The punch line comes when he finally explains why.
“You ask me the time. Suppose I answer you. Then we’ll start talking, and somewhere along the line I’ll show you pictures of my wife and kids. And my daughter is beautiful, and you’ll want to meet her; chances are, you will. Then you’ll fall in love and want to get married. And I won’t have my daughter marrying a fellow who can’t afford a watch!”
When we talk and share ourselves with others the risk of involvement with them is very much there. When we confess Jesus is Lord by both our words and our deeds, the risk of involvement is there. 3
Another very important aspect of confessing is to be familiar with, to know, to understand the content of the confession in such a way that it becomes a living reality.
When the ancient Israelites made their confession in the words of today’s first lesson, they were engaged in the actual reliving of the events cited in this confession. Not just their ancestors, but they themselves were freed, delivered, protected by God from slavery in Egypt; they too, along with their forebears, were given the Promised Land.
When the early Church, along with the Apostle Paul, made the confession of today’s second lesson, that was an actual living reality for them. The confession “Jesus is Lord,” is likely one of the earliest Christian confessions, which, some scholars think, was used at baptisms.
The word for Lord is Kurios. This is the key word of early Christianity. It has four stages of meaning. (a) It is the normal title of respect like the English sir; (b) It is the normal title of the Roman Emperors. (c) It is the normal title of the Greek gods, prefaced before the god’s name. (d) In the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures it is the regular translation of the divine name, Jahveh. So, then, if a (person) called Jesus kurios (they were) ranking him with the Emperor and with God; (they were) giving him the supreme place in (their) life; (they were) pledging him implicit obedience and reverent worship. 4