Confessions at Lent

Confessions at Lent

 

Text: Psalm 51:3

 

“I acknowledge my transgression; and my sin is ever before me.”

 

We need always to repent. Lest we should forget that church in her wisdom has set aside the season of Lent which began with Ash Wednesday this past Wednesday and continues through to Psalm Sunday. It is a time that reminds us to confess our sins “with a humble, lowly, penitent and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same by His infinite goodness and mercy.”  Psalm 61 is a commentary upon David’s admission of guilt when Nathan confronted him. “You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife.”  Many have regarded this psalm as a model confession. From it we learn that our Lenten confession must be thorough, humble and hopeful.

 

We notice the thoroughness with which David describes his sin. To do so he makes use of three words, transgression, iniquity, sin. He admits he has transgressed, rebelled against the known will of God; he has been guilty of iniquity, depraved lustful conduct; he has sinned, been in error, wandered from the right path and missed the true goal in life. there is no pretense. No half measures. He is ruthlessly honest about himself. He uncovers his past and brings into the open all his faults, failures, and shortcomings.

 

In public worship we weekly confess our manifold sins and wickedness in general terms, that is what the prayer of confession we do in unison is all about. But when we examine our conscience in the privacy of our own company, generalities serve no useful purpose. We must identify our own sins; search our hearts and minds and conscience to uncover those secret faults which perhaps no other mortal eye can penetrate. Our half-hidden pride, our self-centeredness, our frequent resistance to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our broken promises and resolutions, our hurried half-hearted prayers, our greed for material gain, our lack of charity, our unfriendliness, our desire to get our own way, our malicious prejudices, our unwillingness to forgive. Our confession must be thorough. Nothing must be left out, nothing overlooked.

 

Secondly, there needs to be confessional courage. It is not easy to admit one’s faults. It takes courage and humility. David had both. The physical courage he displayed before Goliath was but the counterpart of the moral courage and humility of his later confession. The Psalmist tells us David showed his courage and humility in three ways.

 

  1. First, by confessing that he and no one else was answerable for his sin.

 

It took courage to say, “I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.”  The use of the pronouns I, my, and me shows that David was prepared and anxious to admit that he was personally responsible for his own sins. He did not seek to shift the responsibility on to someone else. No one was to blame except himself. He did not try to excuse himself. He did not plead any extenuating circumstances.

 

How futile it is to plead as many do, “Circumstances were against me; my upbringing was all wrong; my environment never gave me a chance; I never thought I acted on the spur of the moment.” How futile, for that way leads only further along the path of self-deception.

 

  1. David recognized the true nature and meaning of sin. That is why, although he had murdered Uriah, sinned against Bathsheba, and wronged Joab, he could still say, “Against you, you only have I sinned,” because he realized that finally all his actions were offences ultimately against God. it was God he had wronged. It was God’s purpose and will he had outraged. He had acted basely against other human beings, and in so doing had violated the commandments of God. he had set himself up in opposition to God. That is the ultimate meaning of sin: it is a direct blow at God himself.

 

  1. David acknowledged not only the true meaning of sin but also the root cause of sin. Everyone has a natural disposition and tendency toward evil, for we are all born into a condition of life in which our full union with God is broken and impaired. For this condition we are not personally responsible. We only share in the universal handicap it entails. The vain belief that human nature is all right and that mankind is decent at heart has been shattered by two world wars and by subsequent events since then. We have learned that good is not natural to humankind. Good is supernatural, for humankind needs the grace of God before we can attain the good we desire. Everyone of us has been shaped in wickedness.

 

Thirdly there is absolution. This is one of the most encouraging truths of our faith. Far from filling David with despondency, it saved him from frustration and disappointment. He has been enabled to face the future, chanting with hope and confidence, “You shall purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; you shall wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” In figurative language borrowed from the ceremony of cleansing lepers, he thinks of God as the only one who can absolve him from his offenses. He faces the future with the sure understanding that God will grant him that peace of mind and pardon for which his soul craves; for he knows no one else can help him. once man recognizes that vain is the help of man, even if that person be himself, he either abandons all hope or throws himself in complete trust on the mercy and forgiveness of God.

 

In Lent we learn to do precisely that, knowing that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” but if we confess our sins thoroughly, humbly, hopefully, as David did, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

 

So in closing here are some thoughts for our journey through Lent:

 

As we move through Lent we have doors to open, doors of penitence, doors of self-examination, doors of obedience and doors of new purpose. In doing that we need to recognize what confession involves. It involves admission of our guilt, sincere regret for our sin, restitution, when possible, determination to do better, and belief that God can help heal the wounds caused by our errors. In recognizing confession we also have to deal with the problem of guilt. We need to recognize that guilt is part of the human situation, it cannot be ignored. The modern world uses devices to make guilt unreal as there is a tendency in our age to offer despair as an effective strategy to eliminate guilt. As Christians we know there is a solution, that is to face the reality of guilt we can know we can find God’s redeeming love.

 

Prayer: O God, our Father, forgive us for everything which has spoiled our lives, for everything which has spoiled our work; forgive us, O God, for everything which has spoiled our pleasure; forgive us, O God, for everything which has spoiled our home life; forgive us, O God, for everything which has spoiled the peace of our fellow beings and our relationships with our fellow humans; forgive us, O God, for everything which has spoiled our witness for you.

Grant us a true repentance for our sins. Grant that at the foot of the cross we may find our burdens rolled away. And so strengthen us by your Spirit that in the days to come we may live more nearly as we ought, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen