The season of Lent is a time to take a good, hard look into the mirror of God’s Law. It’s never fun to see your blemishes, but if you don’t, you’ll never be able to repent of them. This is incredibly difficult and painful, but when we avoid it, our lives get turned upside down.
I recently came across a story about some kids who broke into a store. Thing is, they didn’t take anything. They didn’t break in to rob the place. They broke in to change the price of everything in the store. They took the label from a $200 iPod and switched it with the one from a $5 box of stationery. They replaced a $10 sticker from a book with one from a 25-cent box of paper clips. Everything in the store got a new price!
But the craziest part of this story didn’t take place until the next morning. The store opened as usual. Employees went to work. Customers began to shop. It was business as usual for four hours before anyone noticed what had happened. Four hours! Some got the deal of a lifetime (a $5 iPod, are you kidding me!), and others got ripped off.
It might seem hard to believe, but the truth is, we see the same thing happening every day. We live in a country with a very distorted value system. Good things, like Christianity, are labeled as evil. And evil things, like the murder of the unborn and government-sanctioned destruction of marriage and family are called good. The most valuable things are extraordinarily devalued (if you don’t believe me, just look at what the average teacher’s salary is), and the most vile and wicked things—things like gambling and pornography—earn millions.
Good is called evil and evil is called good. Even we Christians lose sight of what sin is and blindly violate God’s Law—perhaps us especially so. If anyone should know better, it’s us. When we sin, it reflects poorly on our Lord. If it weren’t bad enough that we have the devil going around switching the price tags on our values, we’ve got the world and our own sinful flesh helping him out.
All too often we fall prey to the devil’s lie that we will find blessing in doing whatever makes us happy. The pursuit of pleasure is ironically the surest path to misery. Pleasure, wealth, and power are no doubt enticing, and used properly, they can be good things. But what appears to be blessing can quickly turn to curse.
Many take the Mary Kay approach to sin. What do women usually do when they find some blemish in a mirror? They cover it up. That might be fine for the skin, but it doesn’t work when it comes to God. The fact is, the blemish is still there whether you can see it or not. The problem with sin is when it gets covered up, it festers and becomes diseased.
David’s unconfessed sin with Bathsheba escalated all the way to the point of murder. The subsequent sins that are required to keep covering up the original are often much more serious than the first. What began as a little ball of snow ends up burying us in an avalanche of deception.
Sometimes we convince ourselves that our transgressions aren’t actually sins at all. We convince ourselves that our favorite sins are perfectly natural and harmless. After all, we’re not nearly as bad as David, who committed adultery and murder. We’re not as bad as the criminals, terrorists, and perverts who make today’s headlines. Maybe not when it comes to your standing in eyes of your neighbor, but in God’s eyes, your sin is every bit just as evil as theirs. This way of thinking encourages a false sense of pride, and we begin to live in denial about our own wickedness.
You might say, “That’s great! Ignorance is bliss, after all!” But not here. St. Augustine said “the best intelligence is when you know yourself a sinner.” Unconfessed sin creates an evil conscience, and you don’t want that. That’s why David said in the Psalm: “For when I kept silent, my bones 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” (vv 3–4).
An evil conscience creates physical, emotional, and spiritual turmoil. It results in a short fuse with others. You have no peace, so the smallest thing will set you off. And worse, there’s no room for God in an evil conscience. Where Christ’s righteousness is lacking, self-righteousness will rush in to fill the void. Confession of sin creates a clear conscience before God and others. Luther put it this way:
“[The self-righteous] get into quarrels with other people and lapse into pride, anger, hatred, impatience, condemning, and slander. Their innocence makes them really guilty, and yet they claim to have done justly and rightly and to have acted fairly. They conceal deeply their own iniquity, for they look at their own righteousness and do not confess their sins to God sincerely and without deceit of the inner spirit. Righteous people, however, do not hide their iniquity, do not become angry, do not grow impatient even when they are wronged; for they do not feel that they can be wronged, since they find no righteousness in themselves,” (AE 14:150).
God doesn’t want an evil conscience for you. That’s why He has called you into His Church through His Holy Spirit and has given you His Means of Grace–Holy Baptism, The Sacrament of the Altar, and His spoken Word of Absolution. The Absolution in particular is extolled in this psalm. There is no greater blessing in this life than the Lord’s Absolution: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
Luther himself called Individual Confession and Absolution “a cure without equal for troubled consciences.” Where else can you go to unburden yourself with whatever evils you have done with absolutely no fear of consequence but only the assurance that Christ’s Word of Absolution will be spoken to you unconditionally? There is no, “Now you need to go and do better.” It’s “Christ has done better for you.”
This is why the Christian Church has always encouraged the use of Individual Confession and Absolution. There you have the option of confessing specifically whatever is troubling you and receiving forgiveness in a very specific, concrete manner (though you are of course welcome to use the general confession there, too). Though today’s confession of sins was general, you did have the benefit of receiving a very specific Absolution. What a blessing Christ has given to His Church, to invite us to verbally unburden ourselves with no fear of consequence and receive Christ’s verbal absolution through the spoken Word He has put in the mouth of His pastors!
Blessed are the penitent. In Christ, God lifts you from the terrible, crushing burden of your sin. He has placed that burden on Jesus, who suffered and died for your life and salvation. In Christ, you have the assurance of God’s steadfast love. David ends the psalm with this prayer, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
Joy is possible even in the midst of the sorrow and pain, not because things are going the way you want them to, but because of the steadfast love and never-failing presence of God, your Savior.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen; adapted from Wohlrabe (CPR 2015)
Wednesday of Invocabit, 2015
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