Tag Archives: confession

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C

The Love of the Father

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisee for eating with sinners. He responds to them with this famous parable of the prodigal son:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘   (Luke 15:11-19)

The younger son realize that he had greatly sinned against his father and heaven. He felt so ashamed of himself that could not ask for forgiveness. He only hoped that his father would take him back as a servant. He was not prepared for the Father’s greeting upon his return:

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   (Luke 15:20-24)

This parable illustrates how eager our heavenly Father is to forgive us when we return to him and confess our sin. What could easily be lost here is that God not only forgives, but he removes our shame and disgrace.

There was a time in the wilderness when God removed the disgrace of the children of Israel. Reading from Joshua:

When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.   (Joshua 5:8-9)

We not only need God’s forgiveness. We need him to lift our shame and disgrace so that we might have a fresh start. How many of us today know that God will to remove our disgrace if we let him. We hear people say: “I know that God has forgiven me but I cannot forgive myself.” God does not want us bound by the past. He wants to circumcise our hearts so that we might start over. It is time to allow him to do that for us.

Let us look at another side of God’s love and grace. There was an elder son in the parable that had not rebelled against the father in the same way as the younger son:

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”   (Luke 15:25-32)

The two sons were quite different, but they shared something in common. They had the same father, of course. But they both failed to understand the father’s love. His love was unconditional. It does not need to be earned. Had both of these sons had a deeper relationship with the father they might have understood that. We need to draw closer to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Now is the time look deeper into his heart. God wants to celebrate with us today. There may have been a time when we were lost, but now we have been found. Can we join in the celebration, or are we too busy keeping score on others? Let us move on from the old person to the new. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Are we counting trespasses? If so, then we are not very good ambassadors for Christ. Paul goes on:

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

It is time to be reconciled to God. God will remove our sin and offer us righteousness by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us not look back. Let us go forward in newness of life.

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Tuesday in the First Week of Lent

Effective Prayer

Jesus cautioned us not to pray like the heathens:

Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.   (Matthew 6:7–8)

Do we often order God around in our prayers as if He needs our explanations and directions? Rather, should we not use God’s word in place of our words? His word accomplishes great things:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.   (Isaiah 55:10–11)

Should we not ask the Holy Spirit to direct our prayers? In that way our purpose becomes God’s purpose. Our prayers will be in agreement with the prayers of our Lord Jesus, who intercedes for us at the right hand of God:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.   (Romans 8:26)

In order to pray with discernment, however, our hearts must be prepared for prayer. We cannot pray effectively if we have unforgiveness in our hearts. Jesus has given us a guideline for prayer. In any prayer, we must begin with a humble and forgiving heart. Jesus said:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.   (Matthew 6:14-15)

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective..   (James 5:16)

We must humble ourselves before God with repentant hearts, rather then approaching him with a haughty spirit. If so, we have access to the very throne of grace, because Jesus has paid the price for our sins. It is not that we have to get behind the veil. The veil was torn apart the moment Jesus dies on the cross.

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Ash Wednesday

ash-wed-pictureRemember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we do not need any formal type of confession because our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus we may be missing the point of confession. From John First Epistle:

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.   (1 John 1:8-9)

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Ash Wednesday offers us an opportunity for fasting and repentance. Perhaps we should take it?

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Confession of Saint Peter

The All Important Question

In today’s readings we examine the most important question in all the world. From the Gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   (Matthew 16:13-16)

How fitting it is to have the Confession of Peter observed within the Season of the Epiphany. Peter was first among the apostles to confess that Jesus is the Messiah. The Apostle Peter’s earthly testimony compliments the heavenly one. At the baptism of Jesus God the Father spoke from heaven, testifying that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Peter’s testimony was quite remarkable. At a time when there was much confusion and speculation about who Jesus was, Peter had come to a clear and concise conclusion about Jesus’ identity. He did not do so by his own reasoning alone, however:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 16:17)

We remember that Peter not only confessed Jesus as the Messiah, but later he also denied Jesus. Just before the crucifixion Peter proclaimed that he would never leave or forsake Jesus. But Jesus knew better. He understands the frailties of human beings:

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  (Luke 22:34)

Jesus gives us this warning concerning our confession:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

Peter discovered that he could not continue in the Faith on his own strength. He needed the strength that only God could provide. We remember that Jesus forgave Peter and restored him after the resurrection. Our confession is important. Our continual confession is all important.

In Peter’s own words:

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

Today many people are confused about who Jesus is and what may be His place in history. Many biblical “scholars” have disputed the person and ministry of Jesus. Yet, we have God’s testimony and Peter’s testimony recorded in Holy Scripture. What will be our recorded testimony? How will we confess Jesus before men? At a time when Christians are being persecuted we will need God’s help to build and strengthen our faith as He did Peter. This will be all the more true for the troubling days ahead.

Nonetheless, who do we say Jesus is?

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