Going Deeper 2/11/2019

From our Gospel reading from chapter 5 of Luke’s Gospel, Peter’s interaction with Jesus after the miraculous catch of fish: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  …  Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."  When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
The point I would like to make this morning relates to Step 5 of AA’s 12-Step program: We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  We have already focused on admitting and confessing our sin to God and to ourselves in the ongoing process that we call repentance, an encounter with ourselves and with God similar to Peter’s.  We recognize and repent of our sinfulness, and then hear our Lord say, “Do not be afraid.”  Guilt and fear give way to joy and gratitude, and our transformation continues.
However, this step of admitting to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs… well, that’s a different matter. For those who’ve grown up in protestant churches, we probably don’t have much of a history of confessing our sins to another person.  We confess our sins in our private and public prayers to God, and we gather together for a time of liturgical “Confession and Absolution” in preparation for worship, but unless we grew up Roman Catholic and did private confession to a priest, most of us have probably never shared the exact nature of our sinful brokenness with another human being, even with a pastor.
As some of you know, this wasn’t the case a generation or so ago among Lutherans.  Prior to receiving the Sacrament, which for a long time was typically only offered quarterly or maybe monthly, church members were expected to privately confess their sins to their Pastor in order to be ‘rightly prepared’ for Holy Communion.  But that practice is long gone.  And even though Confession is considered to be one of the seven sacraments of Catholicism, it is estimated that only 2 percent of Roman Catholics go regularly, and three-quarters go once a year or never.
So, what happened to private confession?  Does the instruction in James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” no longer apply?  When in John’s Gospel we read that the resurrected Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” was that just for them, or was it for what would one day become an institutionalized church and its priests and pastors, or was it for all of God’s children in all times and places?
Perhaps once the gift of granting absolution was taken over by the institutionalized church and its representatives, private confession lost its meaning.  Or maybe it was lost when it became just another good work to be done, just another motion to go through.  Most likely it was a combination of things.
A question we must ponder is whether or not this is something that needs to make a comeback.  In Psalm 32, attributed to David, we read these words: When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.  Keeping our knowledge of our sinful brokenness can be very unhealthy.  There’s little doubt about that.  
But what does it mean to say “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”?  Yes, this does mean sharing our heart with God through repentance.  In another Psalm, David cried out “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”  In the first letter of John, we read that “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  So yes, this is something we can do directly with God, with no intermediary needed.
Yet on the other hand, we do have the words of Jesus shared a few minutes ago: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”   So it is apparent that confessing our sins to someone else is a good thing to do.  After all, God does work powerfully through other people.
Last week I showed a video of Rocky Balboa’s very intensive training in preparation for his big championship fight with Apollo Creed.  Today I want to show just two pictures from the Rocky movies.  First, a scene from Rocky II where a bunch of kids—and eventually adults as well—start running with the now-famous Rocky as he trains for a rematch with Apollo Creed… (spoiler alert) a fight Rocky wins.  Secondly, look at this picture of Rocky in the corner of the ring listening to instructions from his manager, Mickey.
Like the fictional character Rocky, we—in real life and real time—need others.  We need those who will run the race with us, cheering us on, supporting our fight, and participating with us in our transformation.  We need to have people in our corner to encourage and inspire and instruct us all along the way. 
And it also seems to be a very important part of the healing and transforming journey for us to have someone we can share our heart with, even the exact nature of our wrongs.  And this is an honor each of us can hope to experience—to be the kind of person others can come to and be honest about their struggles, perhaps even the details.  But what kind of person can experience such an honor?
As I’ve shared with you before, if we perceive God as an angry and very demanding being who is prone to become very disappointed with His children, it is hard for any of us to come clean and to be honest with God.  On the other hand, when we perceive God as our Abba-Father, who is in truth slow to anger, patient, loving, gracious, showing steadfast love and desiring not only our eternal salvation, but also that we experience healing, peace and fulfillment in the present, we can much more easily and honestly approach what the Bible describe as His “mercy seat.”
The same must be true of us as God’s children.  If we recognize the importance of private and personal confession for the health of God’s family members, then we must seek to have the same heart as our Father, which grows within us as we experience His love and grace more and more profoundly.  After all, loved people love people and forgiven people forgive people.  So when others know they will be received with kindness and grace, they will be able to share the exact nature of our wrongs with us and receive the healing God wants them to experience.
I will close with this quote from Richard Rohr: Nothing new happens without apology and forgiveness.  It is the divine technology for the regeneration of every age and every situation.  The “unbound” ones are best prepared to unbind the rest of the world.  That’s us!  Amen.