Psalter for Today: Psalm 32: 1-5
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
We don’t really like talking about confession very much, do we? Oh, we come that one day a year and get ashes on our forehead and then quickly wash them off that night. We’d rather just assume that the whole notion of the cross just covered all sins past, present, and future so that we can talk about things that are more to our liking–love, grace, acceptance, even forgiveness. And the language of iniquity and confession is so archaic to many, not really part of our mainstream thinking about what church and faith should hold. (I suppose it doesn’t hold a lot of attraction for our “feel good” society either.) And so, to be honest, we sort of just look at our “light” side, so to speak, burying the dark and the unmentionables behind closed doors, keeping our sins and transgressions hidden from sight hoping maybe, just maybe, they’ll just somehow evaporate and go away. Maybe if we quit talking about them, just take them off the table, they’ll just slip away unnoticed. The words of the Psalm sort of haunt us though. Keeping silent is not the same as reconciling. Silence should be revealing rather than something that hides. Burying one’s transgressions and shortcomings just takes too much of our life and too much of who we are to handle. (And they usually eventually get exposed anyway!)
This season of Lent brings up a lot of discussion about sin and confession. Have you noticed that? We also hear quite a bit of farming and gardening language, don’t we? We hear words like “fertile ground” and “new growth”. We like those. They give us hope and a chance at new life. But even the most inexperienced of gardeners knows that plants do not grow and flower without a little preparation, without a little room. I am feeling that right now each time I look at my sad flowerbeds that are still full of winter brush choking out most promises of growth or life. (And the little tornado that shot through them a couple of weeks ago did not help!) There are a few apparently detrermined plants peeking through or trying desperately to scale the dead branches of their former selves. They are literally begging for me to help them. We are no different. We need room. We need to clear the underbrush and all that is choking out our life. We need to recognize and acknowledge those things in our life that separate us from God and separate us from who we are before God. From that standpoint, acknowledgement of sins, confession, is life-giving.
The French philosopher, Simone Weil once said that “all sins are attempts to fill voids.” You see, I think we’re a lot like those growing plants. God left us a little room for growth, a little breathing space. But emptiness is hard to hold, hard to maintain. And over time, it is easy for things to seep into that space that do not belong, things that choke out life for us. It is imperative for us to know that, to acknowledge those things, so that we can then let them go. That is what confession does. It’s not a matter of wallowing in guilt or proving one’s remorse. Confession is the clearing. It once again leaves room to grow. It frees us to be who God calls us to be.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think God is standing back waiting for us to confess our sins so that forgiveness can be handed to us. This is not a barter system or even a divine reward system. I believe that God has already forgiven us, is already making that space ready. God does not demand our confession like some sort of callous judge. The confession is for us. It is the way that the door opens again. It is the way that we make room again. Silence denies that open door. Silence denies the grace that God is always and forever offering. Repentance is a way of beginning again. It doesn’t change what has happened. It doesn’t erase the consequences or the hurt or the change in one’s life. It just once again makes room to grow. The fact that we don’t talk much about confession anymore is not short-changing God; it is short-changing us. Oh sure, there will always be those wonderful parts of who we are that peek through like fledgling plants. But think what life would look like if you got rid of all that underbrush, if you truly allowed room for God to work.
Providence watches over each of us as we journey through life, providing us with two guides: repentance and remorse. The one calls us forward. The other calls us back. Yet they do not contradict each other, nor do they leave the traveler in doubt or confusion. For the one calls forward to the God, the other back from the evil. And there are two of them, because in order to make our journey secure we must look ahead as well as back. (Soren Kierkegaard)
On this first Sunday of Lent, what are those things that you have buried in your life? What needs to be done to reconcile so that you can begin again?
Grace and Peace,