The season of Lent is the preparatory time leading up to the celebration of Easter. It is generally not considered to be a positive season by a penitential one, that is, Christians are urged to think of their unworthiness in light of Christ’s awesome sacrifice. Indeed, the season of Lent ends with the remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday.
However, in today’s culture, both secular and religious, Lent has become simply another season indistinguishable from every other. Even the Friday fish dinners, once a Lenten tradition, now run the entire year. Perhaps it is time to reclaim a bit of the church year liturgy, and especially the focus on our much needed confession and repentance as Christians who should always live in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Why is it so difficult for us to confess our sins? We know that we are sinners; this is pretty much acknowledged by everyone. But when it comes to actually saying the words specifically we refuse to do so presumably because we somehow think that this makes us universally responsible for everyone else’s sin. Confession is resisted often with the words, “I’ll say I’m sorry if he says he’s sorry.” We may have done wrong but we weren’t the first nor the last, and we see no need to confess without first hearing another apologize for their failures.
We are seeing this play out again in the public arena. Our Governor, Mr. Cuomo, has been accused of sexual impropriety by, at last count, five different women who formerly worked for him. He has made no real apology or confession but instead has denied that he did anything wrong. This is just the latest in a number of similar cases over the years involving politicians from both parties, the most recent being Donald Trump. I have no inside information to acquit or convict anyone, and that is not my point. Instead I would like to compare this lack of confession to two individuals who responded differently and in a truly Christian manner.
The first would be Jimmy Carter who prior to his election granted an interview to a reporter from Playboy magazine. In it the topic of adultery and lust was brought up and he quoted the words of Jesus, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). As you can imagine he was pressed on this topic and he confessed that although completely faithful to his wife he would have to say that he had lusted in his heart. My how his true and simple Christian confession was then used against him. Yet he spoke truth, truth that every man knows in the core of his being. But who has the courage to confess?
My second illustration is of a friend and fellow minister who many years ago was accused falsely of inappropriate sexual advances in the workplace. The reported allegation was not related to his role as a minister and took place at another office where he worked. There was an investigation that ultimately cleared him of all wrong doing, but prior to this being confirmed he went to every home in his church and sat down with the family members and confessed not what he was accused of, but what he knew was in his heart. He too had been absolutely faithful to his wife but spoke these same words of Jesus to his church people that Jimmy Carter had done before him. What a humbling task he took upon himself so that the name of Jesus might be glorified and not slandered.
This principle applies in almost every situation. Before we can address the sins and failures of others we must acknowledge our own. Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in our own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). So it is appropriate before speaking about religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of marriage, racial injustice and human rights, or any other public issue to first say, “I need to confess my failures in doing consistently what I know the Christian gospel teaches. I have sinned.”
In doing this we stand in a long line of Christians who knew that on a weekly basis they needed to confess in words like these: “Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. O Lord, have mercy upon us.” (Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer of Confession).
This Lenten season let’s learn how to confess our sins and how to live repentant, humble lives before a watching world.
See you in worship.