By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Based on Jonah, chapter 4
If unaddressed, pettiness eats away at us and only grows our anger. It breaks down our relationships with others. But, when we talk to God about our pettiness, God speaks into our lives in ways that help us put things into perspective. God questions Jonah. We do not hear Jonah’s response; perhaps because we are Jonah. How will we respond? Will we come to a place where we rejoice in a God of steadfast love for all or will we continue to respond with petty envy, judgment and resentment toward those who offend or threaten us?
This scripture comes from near the end of the short Old Testament book of Jonah. I imagine we all have some familiarity with Jonah and the whale; but I want to give a brief summary of what precedes this morning’s scripture…
Jonah is an Israelite who is called to be a prophet, one who speaks on God’s behalf. But he is not called to speak to the Israelites; but rather to residents of the Assyrian capital city, Nineveh: to proclaim through the streets of their city the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. For reasons I’ll expound on in a bit, Jonah doesn’t want this assignment and so Jonah naively attempts to escape God’s call by boarding a ship bound for Tarshish, the opposite geographical direction. God, however, is undeterred by Jonah’s resistance. He sends a storm so severe it compels Jonah to confess his fault to the captain and crew. When they reluctantly throw Jonah overboard, he is swallowed up by a whale. He lives for three days inside the belly of the whale where he prays to God and repents. The whale vomits Jonah out on shore and God re-issues the call for Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time he does. As per his assignment, Jonah issues a call for the sinful people of Nineveh to repent to avoid God’s punishment and destruction. They do repent and God forgives them. But these people are enemies of Israel and so Jonah is furious at the part he’s been forced to play in their deliverance. I pick up at the start of chapter 4:
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became hot with anger. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Does it please you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. (Jonah 4:1-5[i])
Bible scholars debate whether the story of the prophet Jonah should be understood as an actual, historical event or as a parable, i.e. a story told to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth. Now I contend that debate distracts us from the real power behind this fish tale for this story challenges us to accept – hook, line, and sinker – a proposal far more offensive than the suspension of the laws of nature. It challenges us to accept that God – our God – can and does extend remarkable, indiscriminate grace and mercy toward those who have offended and wounded us the most.
Today marks the final Sunday in this sermon series on prayer. Father William Barry, author of the book Praying the Truth contends that honest prayer deepens our friendship with God. In the gospel of John, on the final night of his life, Jesus refers to his disciples as “friends,” a term held within the semantic framework of loyalty, intimacy and trust. On the first week of this series I admitted to all of you that I find prayer to be the most mysterious and challenging of all spiritual practices. But Barry contends that, comparing prayer to conversation with friends can help us gain a better understanding of prayer as the building block of our relationship with God.
Sometimes people attempt to turn prayer into coercion or manipulation; as if there were some magical words we could say to get God to give us what we want. But, we know that – in any mature friendship – such an approach is destructive. Friends can tell if our words are designed to control or manipulate them and such coercive speech destroys friendships. Likewise, friends grow weary over time if our talk with them is superficial or disingenuous. Conversely, when our conversations are open and honest, true friends do not object to hearing something they already know or even enduring our raw emotions. True friends share our concerns with us and rejoice in our victories with us. In a healthy friendship, the relationship grows when we speak honestly and listen carefully.
So too in our friendship with God; we need to speak honestly and listen carefully. We need to strive to speak truth to God… without concern that we are telling God something he already knows; without anxiety that we need to pray in a certain way with a certain attitude. Rather, we need to be authentic in expressing our true feelings to God… even the ugliest ones.
This morning we consider talking to God about our pettiness. Now, pettiness is not a big word in the bible and so we need to unpack a bit of what it might have been comparable to in biblical times. In other words, we need to establish some connecting point from bible culture to ours.
In his book, Barry discusses pettiness in relation to envy. Now while that might be true for us today, we generally associate pettiness with something trivial and – in the ancient world – there was nothing trivial about envy. Envy was the most egregious sin; it was a desiring for oneself that which rightfully belonged to someone else; to take from them the things that were rightfully theirs; the things they needed to live.
Today, we don’t think in the same way about envy. However, our modern concept of pettiness and the ancient understanding of envy do share a common connection: both relate to our judgments regarding fairness or justice and a potential nagging anxiety that we could be left holding the short-end of the cosmic stick, so to speak. Of all the honest feelings and emotions this sermon series has explored – things like sadness, fear, success, etc. – likely none has such dramatic implications for our relationships with others as does this morning’s topic: telling God about our pettiness.
As I already inferred, it is essential for us to know the history behind Jonah’s disdain for the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. Assyria was the nation that destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel. In fact, they destroyed them so well, those tribes were lost for all time; wiped right off the face of the map. Just imagine that. We see those interviews sometimes with people whose homes have been destroyed by fires or tornadoes and what do they mourn: the things that are now forever lost to them. They don’t whine about the new leather sofa they’d just bought or their recently remodeled kitchen. They talk about photo albums and keepsakes that have been in their family for generations.
Those ten northern tribes of Israel are wiped out and lost forever and it’s all thanks to the Assyrians. And now, how is God – the God of the Israelites – going to respond? Well, he’s going to give those brutal Ninevites a chance to repent. What? How crazy is that? Jonah wants no part of it. Interestingly enough, Jonah does not reject this assignment because he doesn’t have a good understanding of who God is or what he’s being asked to do. Jonah is running away from this assignment precisely because he does know God; he knows God well enough to know how God is going to act if these Ninevites repent and Jonah cannot bear to consider that option. Now think about it; this prophet we criticize: he knows God well enough to know how God will behave. And he has a very good reason for ditching this assignment… way better than most of us do when we sense God might be calling us to do something we don’t want to do. And, when Jonah realizes innocent bystanders have gotten caught in his avoidance behavior, he comes clean so their lives will be spared.
Thrown overboard, Jonah is lapped up by a fish and spit out on the shore. And Jonah repents, relents and accepts his assignment. He walks the streets of Nineveh calling out God’s threat of destruction for sin and – sure enough – the response is exactly what Jonah doesn’t want. The people repent and God forgives them.
And Jonah is hot with anger.
But this time, unlike at the beginning of the story, Jonah doesn’t run and Jonah isn’t mum. He tells God exactly what he thinks of God’s notorious mercy and grace and if this is how it’s going to be, then Jonah would just as soon die than live… Live with what he perceives to be a gross miscarriage of justice.
Now, one might wonder why Jonah continued to torture himself by sitting there on the edge of town under a hot sun watching this frustrating saga play out. Why not just go home and try to get on with life? But Jonah seems to be finding some warped pleasure in nursing his anger. Our English bible says that Jonah prayed to God but the Hebrew word used here is often translated “judge” or “intervene.” Jonah’s “prayer” is a scathing judgment of how God has handled this situation. Jonah would sooner be dead than have been a party to this nonsense. Jonah is hot with rage.
But at least Jonah is honest and his honesty opens a dialogue with God. God asks Jonah about his rage: “Does it please you to be angry?” In other words, “Is this what you want for yourself, Jonah; to be eaten up inside with anger and rage, resentment and envy?”
And that is what happens when we fall victim to pettiness. We mumble about the new guy at work and how everyone is making a fuss over him. No one’s making a fuss over the good work we do. We grit our teeth when the neighbor who declared bankruptcy last year comes home with a new boat. When our own child is struggling in school, we gripe at our spouse about how our “show-off brother” incessantly brags about his kid on Facebook.
There has been a cosmic injustice. Things aren’t as they ought to be. But, have you talked to God about it? Or, are you afraid to let your passions loose in front of your friend? Jonah sure wasn’t. And God does not chastise him. But God does challenge his mindset: “Does it please you to be angry?”
Then God intervenes, once again, in the life of Jonah by providing a lush bush that grows up quickly and provides cool, refreshing shade. But the next morning, God sends a worm to devour that same bush and Jonah’s body and spirit are ignited once again. Again, he is hot with his rage. And now God’s question is a little different.
Hear this portion of the story:
But God said to Jonah, “Does it please you to be angry about the bush?” And Jonah said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” - Jonah 4:9-11
“Does it please you to be angry about the bush?” It sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? So God drills a little deeper. Jonah is grieved about the destruction of a bush. Wouldn’t he expect God to be grieved at the thought of destroying a bustling metropolis filled with people and animals?
You know, the greatest beauty in the story of Jonah is that we never hear Jonah’s answer… because, I would contend, we are Jonah and the question is ours to answer. Will we succumb to pettiness – spiteful, self-absorbed, self-pitying, envious when God’s grace spills over onto the “undeserving?” Or can we allow God to provide us with a different perspective? A perspective that plants the seeds of his grace, mercy and love within us. Do we want to nurse our angers and irritations? Or will we enter into dialogue with God and allow him to challenge the source and the goal of our anger?
I’ve been reading a book entitled, Transforming Our Painful Emotions.[ii] In it, the book’s authors point out that “negative” emotions offer us the gift of self-examination which can lead to transformation and growth. Anger is one of the Church’s historic “seven deadly sins.” Yet it is not the witness of scripture, but rather the influence of the ancient Stoics, that spawned a Christianity that avoids dealing with our negative emotions. Jonah wasn’t afraid to be angry and emotional; neither was Jesus. So why are we sometimes reluctant to be honest with God about our feelings of pettiness, anger, envy and resentment?
Jonah was angry; but anger can sow the seeds of transformation in our lives and those around us. If we can learn to recognize attitudes of pettiness and anger and acknowledge their presence, we can begin to learn from them. Attention to our feelings leads to discernment. Our feelings carry information we need to retrieve. When we are able to acknowledge and honestly process our feelings with a friend we can trust – say God, for example – we can experience personal transformation and change.[iii] Honest communication with God can crack our hearts open to receive the seeds of forgiveness and grace that transform our attitudes toward ourselves and others and bring positive change to our world.
Does it please you when you feel angry, petty or envious toward others? Is it a feeling you want to nurse? Or can you talk to God about it and listen and watch and dialogue honestly with the God who is your friend?
[i] Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version with some word substitutions made by myself to more closely reflect the original Hebrew.
[ii] Transforming Our Painful Emotions: Spiritual Resources in Anger, Shame, Grief, Fear, and Loneliness by Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead; Orbis Books; 2010; see, in particular, pp. 6-7.
[iii] Ibid; see part 2, chapters 3-5, on “Anger: An Emergency Emotion.”
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 10:1-24
Years ago, I attended a funeral service for a father who’d died suddenly, leaving behind two teenage children. A mourner was talking with the son when the son remarked that he knew his dad had been proud of him. But then, after a pause, he added, “I know we’re not supposed to have pride; that pride is a sin.” When I heard those words, they felt like a punch to my gut. Yet I suspect that the sentiment of that young man is not unique. For whatever odd and peculiar reason, many of us have been raised to believe that pride in success has no place in Christianity and certainly no place in the Church. After all, pride or hubris (in Latin superbia) is known historically as one of the seven deadly sins.
This week I’m sharing the penultimate sermon in a six-week series entitled Honest to God, a sermon series considering how prayer is “our conscious awareness of God’s presence; an awareness that is cultivated through honest communication that results in mutual self-revelation.”[i] This series has been based on a book I’ve been reading by Catholic priest William Barry entitled Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God through Honest Prayer. Barry contends, as does the writer of John’s gospel, that God desires friendship with us; a close, honest and intimate relationship. Prayer is a primary way in which we grow in our relationship, our friendship, with God through authentic communication; through the conversation of prayer.
Over this sermon series – and by the way, all of these can be accessed on the church’s website – we’ve considered how we talk with God about different emotions and experiences like our fears, our sins, our sadness. Now the recommendation that we pray about those topics likely takes none of you by surprise. But today’s topic very well may take you by surprise because today we consider talking to God about our success. Yes, our success; those things that cultivate a sense of pride, and – let me tell you – this is a topic I feel really passionate about.
Now, let me give a brief disclaimer: every organization, including the church, has at least a couple folks who like to brag about everything they know and do so well. That is not pride. In fact, any good therapist will tell you that, people who incessantly brag usually suffer from deep insecurities. Such folks, annoying though they may be, merit our compassion for the root of their excessive self-praise is insecurity, not genuine pride. But the rest of us – the vast majority of us, I’d contend – generally find ourselves embarrassed, awkward, sometimes blushing, and on rare occasions even angry when someone in the church praises or affirms our success, pointing the spotlight on something we have done well… which is a pretty curious response when we examine it in light of this morning’s gospel story.
This morning’s gospel is the story of Jesus appointing the 70 to go out from town to town doing ministry that will lay the groundwork for Jesus’ subsequent ministry in those places. Jesus gives them clear instructions and they go out and do what he has asked of them. Then, several verses later, we are told of their return and it’s a joyous occasion. The disciples are excited about the success of the work they have done. They return to Jesus saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Now notice: Jesus doesn’t scold them for “bragging,” he doesn’t try to dampen their enthusiasm. He affirms what they say, building on it as he says, “I watched the adversary fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”[ii] There’s some additional stuff about snakes and scorpions. I didn’t read that. But, the long and short of it is that the work of the 70 evangelists sent in Jesus’ name advances the mission of Jesus which, likewise, defeats the power of evil, the power of the adversary. A win for Jesus; a loss for the powers of evil.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “yes, but, that was different; the disciples were doing something Jesus told them to do” and you would be right. But I suspect we have a far too narrow definition of God’s call over our lives today; a far too limited understanding of what it means for us to do something Jesus wants us to do. Let me say that again. It is absolutely true that scripture states in at least three different places “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord”[iii] and that there is a distinct difference between that vain self-glory versus the pride we experience when we carry out God’s work. But, again, I suspect we have a far too narrow definition of God’s call over our lives today and what it means to do the work of Jesus.
Many of you know that Britt and I were on vacation last week. I am appreciative to Pastor Linda for preaching and for Britt’s and my opportunity to spend a week with family in Pennsylvania. One of the highlights of that trip for me was watching interactions between my nephews and niece and their children; particularly, the interaction between one nephew and his son who’s 3 1/2. My great nephew is just a remarkably confident and contented little boy owing, I think, in large part to his parents. When my nephew would ask his son to do something and he did it, my nephew would reinforce his behavior with these words, “Thank you. That’s helpful.” I know; it sounds pretty basic. But this little boy is learning that his motivation for behaving in certain ways isn’t simply about doing what he’s told or following rules. Even as a toddler, he’s already learning to be motivated by the desire to act in ways that are helpful to others. I was fascinated by these interactions and I really couldn’t get enough of them and I gotta tell ya, I was super proud of my nephew ‘cause I don’t remember my parents or his parents using that approach. I thought to myself, “I am so proud of the effort he has put into being a good parent because it is causing this little person to care about helping others and, frankly, that’s the litmus test.” As I always say, Christianity is about relationship; about a right relationship with God and with others.
So Jesus affirms the work of the 70 he sent out by reminding them that they should rejoice ultimately because their “names are written in heaven,” the domain of God. In others words, what they’ve done has deepened their relationship with God; it has brought them even closer to God.
Friends, not only this morning’s gospel story, but the writings of the apostle Paul are filled with references to boasting or pride. For Paul, it is always within the context of celebrating how he has brought new converts into relationship with God through Jesus and how they have lived out the effects of that relationship by making the love of God in Jesus known within their church and in their community.[iv]
This past week, former presidents Clinton and George W Bush spoke at a graduation ceremony for the 2017 class of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, where a moderator asked “what is the most important quality for a person to possess if they hope to become president of the United States?” Bush quickly responded “humility.” His response was followed by Clinton’s addition: “Realize it’s about the people, not you.”[v] Put those together, friends, and you’ve got gospel.
When we are able to live and act in ways that show the love of God to others, when we are helpful and carry out Jesus’ work, when we use the gifts God has given us to serve others, we ought to be proud of that. Now certainly, we shouldn’t be proud if we act selfishly and do things that simply protect or advance our individual interests. But we need to celebrate – just as the disciples did with Jesus – those times when we do a good job of carrying out God’s work in the world.
A lot of criticism leveled against churches today is that churches are all talk and no action; or that they really don’t offer people practical advice for how to live. But friends, how can we do that if we don’t celebrate success? How can we do that if we don’t talk together and don’t talk with God about the things we do to be helpful and to carry out Jesus’ work in the world? If I try to thank you and affirm you for using a talent God gave you to serve others and you act embarrassed or downplay it or just plan refuse to receive it, how will others learn that serving God – succeeding at God’s work in the world – is something worth celebrating? Father Barry points out in his book on prayer that, “If the disciples had felt inhibited in telling Jesus how happy they were about their successful mission, they might not have had this chance to hear Jesus’ own joy at what they had done in his name.”[vi] Like the disciples, I believe Jesus wants to praise and celebrate our success when we do his work in the world.
Surveys show that the Christian practice of worship is now declining in value in America at an alarming rate and I wonder: could some of us raised in the church be partly to blame. Perhaps there is a connection between our failure to praise and celebrate the good that God is and does and our failure to celebrate and praise one another when we have succeeded at carrying out God’s good work in the world.
It’s time to praise success. It’s time to speak to God and one another of the blessing and joy it is when we can do God’s work well… whether that is about how we raise our children to be loving and helpful; whether that is about careers in helping professions like teaching or medicine; or whether it’s about serving the needy through the Church or other community not-for-profits.
Do you talk to God about your successes? If not, why not? The disciples did and Jesus didn’t scold them. Jesus celebrated with them and reminded them that the good work they’d done defeated the power of evil and brought them closer to God. Do you talk to God and to others about your successes? When you are able to be open and welcome the appreciation of others for using your God-given gifts to help others, you serve as an example to others; you make Christianity something tangible and meaningful and real. When you have served God well, celebrate that success – that joy – with God. Do you talk to God about your successes? Jesus gave thanks to his heavenly Father over the success of the 70 and no doubt he gives thanks when we serve him well also.
[i] Praying the Truth: Deepening Your Friendship with God through Honest Prayer. By William A. Barry, SJ. Loyola Press; 2012. pp. 1, 7
[ii] Luke 10:18. NRSV.
[iii] See Jeremiah 9.24; 1 Corinthians 1.31; 2 Corinthians 10.17
[iv] See, in particular, Romans, chapter 5 and 2 Corinthians, chapter 10.
[v] Taken from an NPR News article, July 13, 2017, by Vanessa Romo
[vi] Praying the Truth (see above); p. 37.
Rev. Linda Dolby
1 John 1:1-2:2
This summer Pastor Tracey is preaching a series of 6 sermons based on a book by Trevor Hudson called “Questions God Asks Us.” Since she is on vacation this week, she asked me to fill and preach for her on the topic from the book – Telling God about our sin.
Not my favorite topic. Nearly 50 years ago Dr. Karl Meninger wrote a book titled “Whatever Became of Sin?” In it, he explains that problems of the day were caused by our tendency to not name our sins. He called the country to confession. Then, in 1969, came a book called “I’m Ok, You’re Ok,” which told us well, basically, that we’re ok. No need to grovel or naval gaze, because, well, we’re ok.
Here’s my dilemma: On the one hand, I do agree that confession is good for the soul. We need to be honest to God and ourselves about our sin. Sin – which I define as anything breaks our relationships with God and one another – is a part of who we are. The world today says to us through the media – “Be all you can be,” “turn your scars into stars,” and “be happy, be positive, don’t be a negative Nelly.” Phrases that all deny our sin, our brokenness.
On the other hand, too many people become bogged down thinking about their sin, their brokenness that they believe they are no good or that God could never love them.
I was volunteering this week as the front desk receptionist at Lafayette Urban Ministry (or LUM). Every afternoon, from 2-4, people who need to sleep at the shelter that night come to LUM to receive a pass that will grant them shelter for that night. As you can imagine, we get an assortment of people – some more interesting than others.
This week there was a man who was quoting the Bible and urging his fellow guests to attend church. One man said, “I can’t go to church. If I went to church the building would fall down.” I joined in and said that I’d been a minister for almost 40 years and I had never seen or heard of a church building falling down because of who entered it.
Then he said, “I can’t go to church because I have all these tattoos.” – and he did up and down his arms, around his neck. He went on to say “people in church are judgmental, they don’t want me to be there.” And I just said, “Not all churches are that way,” but I think he really didn’t want to hear it because he was too busy judging himself as unworthy to enter God’s holy sanctuary.
Here’s the way out of the dilemma, in the words of 1 John:
“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.”
The truth is we all sin. The truth is if we confess our sin, God will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Ah, but you may be thinking, “If God knows everything, if God is omniscient, then why do we have to tell God at all? God already knows the truth about me.”
Well, yes…but. Until we are truthful to God about ourselves, that sin stands in the way between you and God. It’s as old as Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden, not wanting to tell God about their wrongdoing.
Once there was a little monkey who climbed high up into a tree. When he got up there, he found a hole in the tree. In the hole he found a mirror. Oh what fun it was to look at himself in the mirror. To move the mirror around to see how it caught the sun. It was the marvelous thing he’d ever seen. He wanted to take the mirror home and show all the other monkeys its wonders. The problem was when he was holding the mirror, he couldn’t get his arm out of the hole. He was stuck. He had a choice, to stay high up in the tree with his marvelous mirror or to let go and go home.
That’s who we are friends. We’re all little monkeys holding onto our mirrors, our sins, our brokenness and we are stuck.
Turn, if you will, to page 766 in the back of the hymnal, to Psalm 32. Do you see verse 3? “When I did not declare my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long” What is standing between you and God?
I know. Some of us are afraid of God. Some of us are hanging onto an image of an angry, judging God who is holding the Book of Life and writing down all our wrongdoings, I grew up with that image.
But life became so much better when I was able to see, to know, to experience that God is love.
You know what I think happens when we die? I believe I’ll get the pearly gates and God will be there, holding me. Together we will watch a movie of my life. And when I see the things I have done wrong, I will feel such shame. And God will say to me, “It’s ok, I forgive you, you are mine.”
Psalm 32, verses 5 and 6: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; then you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Do you remember the book by Victor Hugo (which became a Broadway show and movie) by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables?” Hugo describes the fall, the actual moral disintegration, of Jean Valjean, a common laborer who is sentenced to five years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. The ravages of his time in prison, which is stretched from five to nineteen years, have, as Hugo describes, withered his soul.
Once released, Valjean's descent continues, as no one will give him work or even sell him food or shelter because of his criminal record. Hopeless and exhausted, he stumbles into the house of an old bishop, who greets him courteously and treats him as an honored guest.
Valjean, though, steals the silver plates from the bishop's cupboard and flees into the night. The next day the police arrive at the bishop's house with the captured criminal and the silver. Valjean, naturally, is utterly dejected at the sure prospect of returning to prison.
Confronted by the man who returned his generosity with treachery, however, the bishop astonishes both the thief and his arresters: "I'm glad to see you," he says. "But I gave you the candlesticks, too, which are silver like the rest and would bring two hundred francs. Why didn't you take them along with your cutlery?"
As Hugo narrates, at the bishop's astounding words, "Jean Valjean opened his eyes and looked at the bishop with an expression no human tongue could describe." The bishop looked at him with the eye of the heart and did not see a thief, but a man, created in the image of God. And because of this Valjean is transformed. In that moment, Jean Valjean dies...and is reborn, and much of the rest of this long and turbulent novel is the story of the new reality which Valjean both lives and gives as a result of his encounter with transforming grace.
“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Not an apology, a simple “I’m sorry,” but confession, a profound this is my sin.” True confession allows the brilliant light of God’s holiness to fall on our sins, so that not one of them is hidden in the darkness.
I John says it this way: “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.”
Confession walks in the light of God’s truth about ourselves and our sins. It agrees with God. “These sins are terrible, I did them, I mourn them, I want to stop them. I don’t want to be merely forgiven for my past. I want to become pure and holy like my God.” If we do that, God is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us. May it be so. Amen.
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