Ash Wednesday 2017: Confession
A homily by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
Psalm 51:1-12 & Luke 5:17-25
Tonight begins the season of Lent: 40 days of preparation leading to Easter. Lent has been a part of the worldwide church’s calendar since the Council of Nicaea 1800 years ago, though I suspect many among us tonight are unaware of the purpose of Lent. The purpose of Lent is to get our hearts and minds prepared for the magnificence of Easter. Easter is the be-all-to-end-all celebration of the Christian year. Easter is what makes us Christians, disciples who have been raised to life by Jesus Christ. Easter is not just a yearly celebration or a reason to hunt eggs and eat candy; Easter is God’s final and eternal declaration that death no longer has power over the world. Such a staggering and power declaration cannot and must not be taken lightly. Lent is like a farmer who goes out and turns and fertilizes the soil of their fields; without this care and attention nothing will grow.
Tonight I invite you to take a journey with me through these 40 days of Lent, as we prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. On this journey I want to think with you about crossroads. We all have them. We all know how difficult they can be. Sometimes we are lucky enough to come to a crossroads where there are only two paths to chose from. At other times, though, there may be many different ways to go, each with a different outcome. Crossroads are not unique to people in 2017—every person in history has faced them, including characters in the Bible. Looking particularly at characters in the Bible, I want to think with you on the choices they made and the result of those choices. I hope from their experience we will learn more faithful and honest ways to face our own crossroads, as we grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ.
We start this series on crossroads with David. David was the greatest king in Israel and the poet of the Psalms. His story has been told many times. David was on the roof of his house one day enjoying the cool air when his eyes wandered to a rooftop nearby where a woman named Bathsheba was bathing. David’s heart soon followed his wandering eyes and he wanted Bathsheba as his own. As king of Israel, David could have whatever his heart wanted. So he sent some of his men to bring Bathsheba into his house. Even after finding out that Bathsheba was married to one of his military leaders, David pursued a romantic relationship with her that resulted in the birth of a child. In order to cover his great sin, David cooked up an elaborate plan to make it look like the child belonged to Bathsheba and her husband. When the plan failed, David devised another scheme that put Bathsheba’s husband directly in the line of fire on the battlefield. This time, the plan worked, and Bathsheba’s husband was killed. However, David’s troubles were just beginning.
David’s beloved friend and companion, Nathan, learned of the elicit affair and David’s murderous plot against Bathsheba’s husband. Nathan was inspired by the Lord to confront David. Nathan told David a story of a rich man who stole a lamb from the flock of a poor man. David’s anger towards the rich man was so great that he exclaimed, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die!”. “You are the man!” Nathan replied. David was crumpled. Nathan was not talking about some imaginary man who stole from another, but about David and how he stole Bathsheba and her husband’s life. David’s sin deserved punishment, so the Lord promised to raise up trouble against David his whole life, to lay a sword before the house of David that would never go away.
David’s response to Nathan’s shocking revelation of the affair was a simple confession: “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan answered David’s confession by saying, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” And the child David conceived with Bathsheba did die. David went on later to write, “Have mercy on my, O God, according o your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
Just like David, all of us have allowed our eyes to wander and our hearts to follow quickly behind. Maybe it was for the partner of another. Maybe it was for the possessions of another. Maybe it was for a different lifestyle or appearance. Maybe it was for a substance or drink to help you forget. No matter what it was or is, great damage and harm is on its way. Lust denies the dignity of the person doing the lusting and the person lusted after and destroys relationships. Coveting the possessions of another gives us permission to do whatever we must to get what they have. Chasing after a certain appearance or lifestyle denies the life given to you by God. Filling up on substances and feeding addictions reduces us to nothing more than an order to be filled by those who will fill those orders at any cost. Particularly for those who live in the grips of addiction or physical violence or abuse, there may be no other place for the eyes and heart to go, no escape.
But also like David, we have a choice. We can chose to pursue the lusts and the desires and the fancy things and the path of death, or we can chose to purse the path of confession that leads to life. We must not kid ourselves; the choice really is just that simple. If we go after whatever catches our eyes, if we chase all the things we want, if we reduce other people and this world to just objects to possess, we will have a lot of nice things, but we will not have life. If we take the road of confession, admitting to God and one another that we have failed, that we have sinned, that we have made the wrong choice…that is life. Confession is the act of laying before God the ugly and open wounds of our very existence, so that God, like the Good Samaritan, can pour ointment on them, dress them in clean bandages, and heal them. That is exactly what God does when we confess; when we cry out for a clean heart and a new and right spirit, God is the generous giver.
So what does it look like to chose the path of confession when we come to that crossroads?
It is a matter of admitting that we have fallen short of the glory of God and are in desperate need of God’s mercy.
It is a matter of admitting to God and one another that we seek the cheap thrill and the good feelings more often than we seek deep, honest, and compassionate relationships.
It is a matter of recognizing that we’re intelligent and gifted, but that our ingenuity and gifts are not enough to heal the irreparable damage we have done to one another and the earth.
It is a matter of naming those times when we have confessed to be followers of Christ in this building, then gone into the world and acted as anything but.
It is a matter of recognizing that we have supported policies and structures that abandon the mentally ill, shun victims of abuse, and protect abusers.
It is a matter of giving up our prejudices, our love for discrimination and bias, our fondness for partisanship, and our love of being right, to see that people are hurt, people are desperate, people are dying.
It is the daily act of taking our eyes and hearts off of the destructive things of this world and putting them exactly where they belong: on and in God.
The profound result of such confession is that God hears us and wipes our sins away. We will have to live with the consequences of our choices, of that we can be sure. David certainly did. But we will be in a right relationship with God, and from that we can eagerly pursue right and good relationships with one another and with all of creation. At its most basic level, sin breaks relationship: between you and me, between you and God, between you and me and everything God has created. David’s sin threatened his relationship with God; it destroyed Bathsheba and Uriah’s marriage; and caused the death of a child. His confession to God stopped the destruction right where it was; even though David had to face the consequences of his choices for the rest of his life, he knew there was a better way. And knowledge of that better way, of God’s way, laid for him a path into the future of peace, love, and holiness.
Isn’t that what we all want? Peace, love, and a life that is pleasing and acceptable to God?
Tonight, consider the place of confession in your life. Offer your confessions not because you are afraid of God, but because you know God’s mercy and abundant love. Offer your confessions not because it is an obligation, but because it is your duty as a follower of Christ. Offer your confessions because you want every aspect of your life and everyone in it to be right with God. Offer your confessions and God will create in your a clean heart; God will put a new and right spirit within you; God will not cast you away or take his spirit from God; God will restore to you the joy of your salvation and you will be sustained by a willing spirit. So it was for David. May it be so for you and me. Amen.