Friday, September 16, 2005

Getting Real on a Friday Night

I have a confession to make. So to speak.

I was recently in an online conversation on a Lutheran forum with someone who felt that we Lutherans have a tendency to focus too much on our sinfulness, instead of on the joy of Christian living. The regulars, myself included, responded with the usual party line about the Law being a mirror that shows us our inability to get it right on our own and our need for God, and how regular confession is a reality check that keeps us from becoming too cocky and complacent -- from forgetting who we are and who God is.

Good, righteous talk. But, as in many other areas of my life, I talk a better game than I play.

Following the Daily Office , you do a lot of confessing in the course of a week. Sometimes, especially if I'm preoccupied (which is a lot), confession can become slapdash and cursory, instead of a thoughtful self-examination.

The confession in the Friday Evening Prayer refuses to let me off the hook by mumbling generalities. It's more than a mirror; it's a hall of mirrors, and every time I turn my head from one mirror I am confronted with another:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

I don't know about you, but each item in that litany of ways that we mess up with God and mess up with one another stings me almost palpably.

But that's not the end of the song.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;

Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,

That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

"Accomplish in us the work of your salvation." It's a comforting reminder that we are a work in progress, like a piece of stone or wood slowly being shaped into a sculpture -- or, as a sculptor might put it, a work of God's art slowly being revealed by the Great Sculptor. Perhaps those stings of conscience are just the taps of the divine tools reaching down into our true selves: "I know you're in there; let me help get you out."


Cathy said...

You may find King of Peace's blog entry of interest.

His Sunday posting is on forgiveness.

Tom in Ontario said...

I do the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness every Sunday except for white Sundays, not to give the people ample opportunity to beat their breasts and think about how lousy they are, but so that I get the opportunity to "declare to them the entire forgiveness of all their sins." I don't think confession is good for anything unless it is immediately followed by absolution.