Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Treasure of Confession and Absolution

Ash Wednesday
February 22, 2012
This Lenten season when we gather midweek we will be exploring the blessing of Confession and Absolution. Confession and Absolution is a big thing with Lutherans. We know well that we all are in need of confessing our sins. We know even better that the purpose of that is to receive Absolution, the forgiveness of our sins. What we Lutherans may be losing, though, is the treasuring of Confession and Absolution. Somewhere along the line it fell out of use as a regular part of the lives of Christians. The Confession and Absolution spoken of as the Fifth Chief part of the Small Catechism is something in addition to the general confession of sins and the general statement of Absolution that we do at the beginning of the worship service on Sunday mornings.

It’s what’s usually referred to as private or individual Confession and Absolution. Many people think of this as a Roman Catholic ritual. But it never has been that. It has always been at the heart of Christian life and the life of the Christian Church. If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at that section of the Catechism I would encourage you to look at it again. When it comes to the need for it, some people are unnerved by the thought of going to their pastor privately to confess their sins. This is understandable. For as much public awareness as there is of people’s lives on the internet Facebook and YouTube as well as the tabloids at the grocery counter, we live in a very private society. We don’t want anyone else to know our deepest darkest faults and thoughts. There’s also the fear that the pastor being a human will blab their sins to his fellow pastors, or worse, the other members of the congregation. Then there is simply the question of why it’s necessary. We get forgiven in the Absolution on Sunday. We get forgiven in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the Lord’s Supper. Not only that, we have direct access to God and are granted forgiveness daily. Why do we also need to do it in a private setting to the pastor?

These are real and understandable concerns and questions. The answers might best be seen in the context of why we’re here. We’re here because we’re starting the Lenten season. We’re here because it’s Ash Wednesday. We’re certainly here because of our need, our sinfulness, and in order to receive forgiveness. We’re here because it’s valuable to take time out of the normal schedule of our lives to hear and receive the Word of God; to hear the proclamation of the forgiveness of our sins. All of these reasons why we’re here tonight match up nicely with the value of private Confession and Absolution.

Even as the Lenten season is a season of repentance and meditating on the passion of Christ, our lives need to be lives of repentance. Throughout our lives we need to consider the suffering and death of our Lord and what that means for our daily lives. Individual Confession and Absolution provides this. Even as a setting of being here gives you opportunity for spiritual growth, a setting in which you confess your personal sins to your pastor gives you an opportunity to hear the words of the Gospel spoken to you in a manner that is personal, spoken directly to your situation.

In the Gospel reading Jesus is not directly speaking to Confession and Absolution. But He is talking about righteousness. If we may not see a major need for private Confession and Absolution we certainly can see the need for righteousness. Jesus talks in the Gospel reading about righteousness in a very private way. Do not practice your righteousness in a way in which it is a show. Do not live as a child of God in such a way that others notice it and your focus begins to be on yourself just as theirs is on you. Certainly do not seek to gain favor in the eyes of God by what you do, how you do it, how much you do, how well you do it, and countless other ways you can think of to consider yourself righteous. When Jesus speaks of the practicing of righteousness, as He does here, it’s in the context of the righteousness that He first declares to you.

And this is the treasure of Confession and Absolution. No one likes to admit they’re wrong. No one likes to have to say they’re sorry. But what a treasure this is. It’s a blessing to be able to get it out in the open instead of it staying hidden in your mind and heart. Especially to be able to be before God and confess your sin to Him is a treasure He has given us. If in the recesses of your mind that one sin that keeps plaguing you is still hanging around and you can’t shake the guilt then Confession and Absolution is medicine for you. When you sin against someone and you apologize to them face to face you get to receive forgiveness directly from them. You get to hear from their mouth the words, “I forgive you.”

This is what is happening in private Confession and Absolution. When you go to your pastor and confess your sins to him you are confessing them to God. He’s a person just as you are, but he’s not there simply as another person. He’s there in the stead of God. The vow he made was to hear confession and never divulge it. The reason this is a treasure is because when you’re talking with God all by yourself you can’t hear anything back. It’s true that He speaks to you in His Word, the Bible. But with private Confession and Absolution you get to hear the words spoken by God Himself through His called and ordained servant the specific words of forgiveness to you, for your sin.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What is it that you treasure? What do you hold most dear? God Himself is a treasure. You ought to treasure Him above all else. You don’t, of course. But that’s why you continue to go back to repentance, confessing your sins, asking Him for His mercy. You do this because you know what kind of God you have. You have the God who looks at you and sees the waters of Baptism flowing over you. He sees you and sees you clothed in His Son Jesus Christ, in whom you were clothed in Baptism. When He sees you He can’t wait to tell you these words, I forgive you of all your sins. Now you can see what a treasure it is that God gives when He dishes out His mercy, beginning in Baptism, often in the Lord’s Supper, and with the open invitation to Confession and Absolution. Amen.


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