Saturday, February 26, 2011

Too Embarrassing...

I read with interest a brief conversation in which a Roman Catholic asked an anonymous priest to hear his confession.  "Why don't you go to your own parish?" the man was asked by the priest.  "Oh, Lord, no.  It has been a while since my last confession and my sins are too embarrassing to say to my own priest..."

Ahhhh, but that is the point, isn't it.  Sin is always embarrassing.  It shames us and stains us.  What is the worth of confessing sins that do not embarrass us or cause us shame or burden us with guilt?  This is a good thing when sin creates such a stir within us, a panic of shame and guilt.  That is the good work of God within us.  It is the solid voice of the conscience in which the Law still speaks and the heart is still wounded.  When this happens, we are made ready for grace.

The problem is not with sin that embarrasses us.   The problem is when our sins no longer embarrass us.  The problem is when we can slough off our shame and dust off our guilt and go one with nary a prick to remind us we are the walking wounded, the living dead.  When this happens the voice of the Gospel is silent to us because our hearts remain hardened to God's voice.  If we cannot hear the prickly voice of the Law, we surely cannot hear the sweet sound of grace and mercy.

During the confession on Sunday mornings, I instinctively beat my chest and with bowed head confess that I am by nature a sinner, that I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone...  At that very moment I feel most unworthy of the name given to me in baptism, of my place as child of my parents and husband and father in my own home, and of the office I wear as Pastor to these people.  What others do not know, I do know and it is the most uncomfortable feeling that there is.  I know the hidden sins that are there even if I do not see them.  I know the secret sins that are known only to God and to me.  I know the public sins that people could stand up and shout out loud right then and there.  It is a moment of self-awareness that I wish I could escape but one that I must endure if I am to find release and peace.

When I make private confession, not often enough, by the way, I am almost unnerved by the prospect of speaking out loud those things that continue to trouble my heart even though I have heard absolution over and over again.  Shame, guilt, and embarrassment are the currency of sin and we cannot find peace until we are prepared to spend them honestly in confession to the Lord.  But we are never left there.  What the Law has cut open, grace excises.  What the Law has exposed, grace heals.  What the Law has laid  bare, sin repairs and covers over.  That is the healing power of the absolution, a sacramental word that does not speak about forgiveness but delivers forgiveness to the wounded, bleeding, dying sinner until he is gone and only life remains -- the new life that is ours in Christ.  This is no mere second chance but redemption paid for with the priceless blood of our Savior so that it may be full and free to you and me.

No, the problem is not with sin that embarrasses, shames, and guilts us... the problem is when it fails to do this.  Then we are in deep trouble for the conscience designed by God to bring us to our knees has been held captive to the lies we tell ourselves and to the illusion of freedom we get when we hide behind explanations, justifications, and qualifications...  Grace always heals but for it to heal, the Law must prepare the wound.

And for those who want consolation without the shame and embarrassment of confessing before another person, there is also an app for that.  You can confess to your I-phone and receive techno absolution without the unpleasantness of having to enumerate those sins out loud.  A couple of clicks on the touch screen and it all goes away.  But of course, a confession app is hardly what the Lord had in mind in Matthew 16, 18, and John 20.  But that has never stopped us before so take a look and see if it "works for you."

I remember a Lutheran who said to me that she could never go to private confession because it would be too embarrassing to admit her sins to a Pastor.  Is is more embarrassing to admit them to a Pastor than it is to God?  To those against whom we have sinned?  Now, there is something wrong with that picture... wrong, indeed.

I think the movie was called "Heaven Help Us."  The setting was a Roman Catholic boys school in Brooklyn in 1965.  The boys were lined up for confession.  Kevin Dillon's character is the typical big man on campus.  He checks the cheat sheets of the boys going to confession and tells one of them, "You can't say that."  But, of course, we can.  We should.  The truth is not our enemy.  Denial is.  Where sin is truly spoken, there grace speaks greater still.


Anonymous said...

John W. Kleinig in his book GRACE
UPON GRACE (CPH 2008) points out that
"all Christians with spiritual
sensitivity are quite aware of
Satan's basic strategy to get them to
sin and use their guilt to undermine
their faith in Christ."

It is possible that a Christian's
conscience can be used by Satan to
demoralize him or her to believe that
forgiveness is no longer possible.
Overly dramatic and emotional
pre-occupation with our sins is not
healthy, it is better to quickly
confess them and gratefully accept
Christ's gracious forgiveness.

Anonymous said...

The New Testament speaks of 2 types
of grief/sorrow over sin.

Godly grief that works repentance and
turns to God for His gracious
forgiveness. It culminates in eternal
life in heaven.

Worldly grief that manifests itself
in self-pity over the painful
consequences of sin. It culminates in
the weeping & teeth gnashing in hell.

George said...

not that I have first-hand experience with it, but I think you might be unfair to the iphone app. I believe that it is intended to facilitate self-examination prior to confession.

Perhaps if people used this, or Luther's catechism question regarding which sins to confess, their experience of confession and absolution would be deeper.