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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