God’s Birth Announcement

Luke 2:1-7 – December 13, 2020

Welcoming babies into the world is such a joyous occasion. One of the first things most people do is spread the news about the new baby. When and where the baby was born, how big it was, whether it was a girl or a boy, and what the parents decided to name the baby are all details that are joyously spread, as soon as possible.

             I wonder . . . what would God’s birth announcement look like?

            In the fullness of time, God’s Son came into the world. Prophesied in many passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, foretold for centuries before His coming. Looking at the Hebrew Scripture passage for today, Isaiah 9, the prophet tells his readers about the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, who is the coming Messiah.

            Throughout the Advent season, we prepare for the coming of this Messiah. Soon we will celebrate the earthly birthday of the Babe of Bethlehem, the Savior of the World, the only begotten Son. Our Lord Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer came into this fallen world as a baby. Emptying Himself of all His vast, eternal God-ness, and being born as a human baby.

            I wonder: what would God’s birth announcement look like?

            I think we have a pretty good idea, if we take a look at the second chapter of Luke. Doctor Luke gives a full accounting of what went on in those days. What an unexpected sort of announcement!

            Let’s look at the parents of the Baby, first of all. The mother, Mary of Nazareth, is not even married yet. Sure, she’s engaged to this carpenter, Joseph, but they haven’t yet been fully joined in marriage. Marriage in those days, in the Jewish culture, was a several-step process.

            We read in chapter 1 of Luke that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and she conceived. Is Joseph the father of this Baby? No. Joseph could not believe this part, until assisted by some heavenly help. An angel came and reassured Joseph that Mary was on the up and up, and that the baby inside of Mary was really the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

            The circumstances of the birth are not quite the typical birth scenario, either. Imagine the birth of a baby today. Chances are that the baby would be born in a hospital, with the latest medical technology available, just in case. Not so for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Not only did she have the baby Jesus in less than optimum circumstances, in terms of hygiene and medical needs, but she was also far from her home as well.

            Mary and Joseph were both far away from familiar people, places and things. They were travelers, like many people in the town of Bethlehem at that time. Luke 2 tells us that there wasn’t any place for them to stay—anywhere. Because of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, the town of Bethlehem was mobbed.

            Since Bethlehem was the ancestral home of King David, that meant there were quite a lot of people who had to be counted who were descended from David. We can see, from the offering that Mary and Joseph offered to the Lord shortly after the birth of the baby Jesus, that they did not have very much money.            

            Bethlehem must have been very crowded indeed, if a woman about to give birth couldn’t find even a room to have her baby in. We could even take it a step further, and draw some definite similarities between Mary and Joseph and some other young, homeless couple going to have a new baby, searching for a place to spend the night.

            I remember a suburban church I attended a number of years ago. One of the smaller trees near the front door to the sanctuary was practically covered with blue ribbons. A sign was posted next to the tree, saying “While celebrating One homeless Family, these ribbons ask us to remember the homeless with us today.” I had never thought about the Holy Family in that way before. Again, it’s God’s unexpected way of announcing the birth of God’s Son.

            While we’re thinking about where Mary had her baby, what about that manger, anyway? Jesus was a descendant of King David, through both His mother Mary and His adopted father, Joseph. A manger is an unexpected place to find a king. I don’t know about you, but I’d expect royalty to be born in a palace, or at least in a nice house.

            And who are the people who first receive this birth announcement? Are they influential members of the community? Leaders of the local synagogues and teachers of the Law of Moses? Those would be the kinds of people who I might expect to have a birth announcement sent to them. But God doesn’t work that way. God does the unexpected, and chooses the most unlikely people to receive a hand-delivered message from the Lord of Hosts.

            God sends a birth announcement in unexpected ways to unexpected people, in many situations, all over the world. When and where the Baby was born, the news that it was a boy, and that the parents decided to name this Baby Jesus—for He would save people from their sins—are all details that the shepherds joyously spread, as soon as possible.

            Again, it’s God’s unexpected way of announcing the birth of His Son. Can you think of someone who hasn’t heard about this birth announcement? We today have the opportunity to spread the news about this Baby born in Bethlehem. And, we can joyously praise God, for Jesus is the savior and redeemer of the world, as was proclaimed so long ago.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Our Redeemer Lives

“Our Redeemer Lives”

Job and his friends - Ilya Repin, 1869

Job 19:23-27 – November 10, 2019

Have you ever thought that God is just not fair? Look at the world today. With natural disasters, wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, torrential downpours, and flooding, some insurance policies still today list “acts of God” as a factor in their settlements.

Many people throughout the world live with debilitating illness or long-term disabilities. We may know several of them, personally. We may even be some of them, with illnesses like multiple dystrophy, polio, lupus, fibromyalgia, ALS, and complications from AIDS; not to mention the disabilities we see Jesus healing on a regular basis—people who are blind, lame and mute, to mention just a few.

Yes, there is a whole lot of bad and awful going on in the world. Many, many people think—and outright say—that God is just not fair. Do you ever feel that way? I know I have.

Job definitely felt that way; he expressed his feelings openly in the book named after him, in his discussions with his friends as well as his discussions with God. This book squarely brings up the question: is God fair? I ask again: is God fair? Job wanted to know. I think, so do we.

If people want comfort, they turn to the Psalms, or the Gospel of John, maybe parts of Isaiah, or the encouraging sections from the letters in the New Testament. Not the book of Job.

Perhaps you only know Job as a character in the Hebrew Scriptures who was very rich, and then through a horrific series of circumstances and through no fault of his own, had everything taken away. How many here know the basics about Job? And…that is about it? Oh, there is a sort of postscript to this book, where Job gets all of his wealth returned to him, plus additional children are born to him and his wife, but that does not come until the very ending of the story—a real happily-ever-after ending.

In the middle of Job’s disputing and arguing with his friends, the middle of his traumatic loss, paralyzing grief, and horrid debilitating physical condition, Job is really hard-pressed by his circumstances.

Plus, Job’s so-called friends are ostensibly there to try to comfort and help Job out. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down! Essentially, his friends wag their fingers in Job’s face and tell him to confess his secret sins. He is repeatedly, verbally beaten up by these three.

Poor Job slogs through his desperate life, one day at a time, one hour at a time. He goes through all manner of crap, from his circumstances, his health, and the people around him. Can we blame for saying, “God is not fair!”

Coming closer to home, we might consider the holiday tomorrow, Veteran’s Day. This day is set aside to remember veterans, and honor all veterans everywhere for their duty and sacrifice for our freedom. As we remember the horrors and deprivations of armed conflict throughout the world, what can you and I do about it? I feel powerless, puny and insignificant in the face of such things as conflicts and wars. Maybe you do, too. We also might say, “God is not fair!”

Seriously, I know I have thought God isn’t fair, sometimes. I suspect you have, too. Or, one of your loved ones has, or one of your close friends. If we assess the world today, it is enough to make even a sensible person throw up their hands and walk away, shaking their head.

Earlier in chapter 19, Job says that he repeatedly cries out to God, but God just doesn’t answer! The commentator James Limburg has the heartrending paragraph: “Job’s further complaints: and it is all God’s fault! Job says his life is miserable. He finds no support from family or friends (verses 13, 14, 19, 21). Even little children do not like him (18) and his wife finds him repulsive (17). Job is certain that God is behind all of this (13, 21, 22).” [1]

If we are looking for a poster child for miserable, suffering humanity, Job is definitely a finalist. But, wait. In the midst of all of Job’s cries for help and his complaints to his friends and to God, we have this shining jewel of verses in 19:25-26. What does Job say? I will read it again, so we can all savor the words: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;“ I’m amazed at Job, having the gumption and the perseverance to make this proclamation. What a statement! James Limburg says about these words that this is “Job’s declaration of faith: I know that I have one who will rescue me from this mess!” [2]

We all agree that Job complains! He kvetches and complains to his friends and to God. Yet—Job does not quit. Some people we know may very well feel like quitting, and Job certainly was a candidate for throwing in the towel, yet—Job makes this shining declaration of faith.

In this unexpected verse he talks about a Redeemer. In Jewish usage, this term might be used for buying back a field or a person sold into slavery. Perhaps in modern terms we might “redeem” a musical instrument or piece of jewelry from a pawnshop. This same Hebrew word (go’el) is used in Exodus for God redeeming God’s people from slavery in Egypt, or in Psalms for God delivering an individual from death. God is the Redeemer! God will save Job! [3]

We might feel captive to our debilitating illness, or our desperate continuing situation, or shattering emotional state. It might seem like no one could ever reach down and help us out of the deep, dark pit we are in. Just like Job. Yet—God can reach down. God can save us. God is our Redeemer, just as God was Job’s Go’el, Job’s Redeemer.  

I would like to quickly add: Job was a realist. Job came right out and said he might die first, because he said his skin—his body—could very well be destroyed first before he was redeemed. Nevertheless, Job had the confidence to say “yet in my flesh I will see God.“ As James Limburg says, “Job expresses his conviction that there is One living who will eventually rescue him from the suffering and mess his life has become. As that One once rescued Israel, or the exiles, so the Redeemer will one day put Job’s life back together.” [4]

Does anyone doubt that this Redeemer can put our lives back together, too? In part three of the well-loved oratorio Messiah, the soprano soloist begins with Job’s words “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” I fully agree that the other Scripture passages Handel used in this part of the Messiah explain Job’s words so well.

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.  
(I Corinthians 15: 20)  
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  
(I Corinthians 15: 21-22)  
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  
(I Corinthians 15: 51-52)  
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.  
(I Corinthians 15: 52-53)
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  
(I Corinthians 15: 57)  
If God be for us, who can be against us?  
(Romans 8: 31)  
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.  
(Romans 8: 33-34)  

Where part three of the Messiah began with Job’s words “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” is there any way more fitting and more glorious to close this meditation on Job’s shining declaration of faith than the way Handel finished his oratorio? The words of Revelation 5:12-14:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom,
and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
Amen.
 
(Revelation 5: 12-14)  

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=735

Commentary, Job 19:23-27a, James Limburg, Pentecost 24C Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid.

(Many thanks to James Limburg, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN, for the use of his excellent commentary article on this passage from Job 19.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday

“Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Mark 11:1-11 (11:9) – March 25, 2018

            Have you ever been at a really big celebration? I mean a public celebration—like a ticker-tape parade, a celebration of a world championship, or the visit of an A-list celebrity? Something really, really big?

            From all the descriptions of the Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry in all four Gospels, that’s kind of what we are looking at today in our scripture passage. The celebration is really big, the Rabbi Jesus was a big-name celebrity, and this special entry into Jerusalem was a first-century type of a ticker-tape parade. Except with palms!

            Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the situation: It’s almost Passover, the most important religious observance of the religious year. A great number of faithful Jews from near and far come to Jerusalem, in pilgrimage, in commemoration of the Exodus event.

Jesus comes, too. He publicly, intentionally enters Jerusalem, even though the religious leaders are not pleased with Him or what He has been doing for the past few years. Jesus’s disciples must have known about the prophecy of an entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was clearly a scene with “Messiah” written all over it.

And, Jesus does not sneak into the city, all hush-hush. No! He comes in with a parade! With crowds of people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus had been planning this entry in to Jerusalem for some time. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, we can already see that He intended to do this thing. But here in our reading today from Mark, we see a concise account, relating what happened. Little additional information. We can see that from the other Gospels. This way of telling the account reminds me that Mark did not waste much time. He wrote mostly for a Roman audience, who had little time or inclination to wade through genealogies (like Matthew) or background information (like Luke). I think of Mark as the journalist of the four Gospel writers: “just the facts, ma’am.” And, Mark’s use of “immediately!” carries us right along from one situation to the next.

Except, our Gospel reading today is a culmination. We follow Jesus right into Jerusalem at this most holy time of the year—either the Jewish Year or the Christian calendar. With the entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus was certainly reminding everyone of a prophecy from Psalm 118.

What is the meaning of those cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” If we look at Psalm 118, we’ll find these words written by the psalmist. This was the usual Passover greeting one person would give another, except with the addition of the word “King.” And just to let you all know, the majority of the crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning understood what they were quoting—they were intentionally welcoming someone they hoped would be their Messiah, their King! Someone who would save them from the awful situation they were in.

            There was a disconnect between the people and their limited understanding, and what Jesus actually was going to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself by rushing on to later in Holy Week. We are still here on Palm Sunday. And everyone is still excited to welcome the Rabbi Jesus—their hoped-for Messiah—into the city. They are hoping He will save them from the Romans and maybe, possibly, become their King. Except they had an earthly King in mind.

In Mark’s Gospel, we hear no mention of children. As one of my commentators says, this was an adult-inspired and led event. She suspects children did get into the act, but they were joining the adults. [1]  Remember the palm processions featuring children, on Palm Sunday? Either at this church, or at other services you may have attended over the years? This is not strictly biblical. We ought to make the palm procession intergenerational! That is truly what the impromptu parade was like. And then, when children participate with their parents, grandparents, other adults and leaders of the church, children can understand that this is a very important parade. And, a very important thing in the life of Jesus.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the rambunctious crowd calls out for the coming kingdom of their ancestor David. Messiah was supposed to be related to David, and Messiah’s coming was a time of peace on earth. But, the coming of Jesus causes a division. It causes anything but peace on earth.

The theologian Tom Mullen makes this statement about his denomination (Society of Friends or Quakers): “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, you work for peace.” [2] So it was for the Rabbi Jesus—the Messiah Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Even though we want to follow Jesus in peaceful ways, Jesus and His message created division, tension, and crisis—as seen by the violent reaction of the religious leaders.

But thank God, Jesus is more powerful than any division, any tension, any crisis. Jesus entered the city not as an earthly King, not as a conqueror, not to set up a nationalistic empire, but as the True Redeemer of Israel. And not of just Israel, but also of the whole world. This Holy Week is where all of the prophecies focus to a fine point, and reveal the Rabbi Jesus as not only the Messiah and King, but also as the Suffering Servant. The Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world.

As we remember this Passover time, this Holy Week, we can thank God that our Lord Jesus did enter Jerusalem. As a King, as a Messiah, yes! But also as our Redeemer and Savior. Praise God, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior, just as much as He was Redeemer and Savior for that crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. In the first century, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Praise God, He came to save us, today, too! Amen! And amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/year-b-palm-passion-sunday-march-29-2015.html

Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, 2015. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] Mullen, Thomas, Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences (Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1983), 50.

Transforming Creation

“Transforming Creation”

isa-35-word-cloud

Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 – December 11, 2016

Expectation. Anticipation. Sitting on the edge of one’s seat in excitement. That sounds like we just hardly can wait another minute for a long-expected, awaited event! Can you think of events which were so exciting for you? A long-awaited trip to a far-away place, a well-deserved promotion at work, or finally celebrating a wonderful wedding or a significant anniversary. Can you remember being so excited about these things that you were sitting on the edge of your seat in preparation and anticipation?

“O come, O come, Emmanuel.” This is a familiar hymn we sing in the month of December, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It is an Advent hymn, full of hope, preparation, and expectation about the Messiah’s coming. Are you sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for the arrival of Christmas, of the Baby born in Bethlehem? Or, is this just another ho-hum, not-so-exciting occurrence for you?

We all know the Messiah is long-expected. Time and again in the Hebrew scriptures, we hear the prophets declaring their marvelous news, that the Savior and Redeemer of Israel is coming. The heir to King David’s throne is coming to reign over Israel. But, this week, this passage from the prophet is a little different. We turn to the prophecy from Isaiah 35, starting at verse 1: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” Here, the prophet is talking about what will happen in the future.

Here, the prophet talks about all creation: the wilderness, the dry land, and the desert. Large parts of the land of Israel was parched, inhospitable to both humans and animals. Here, in these verses, we hear about what is going to happen to the land, to creation itself.

As Dr. Michael Chan, one of my commentators, said, “The general theme is that desolate, dry places will be transformed into paradise. Those who live in desert environs can appreciate the transformative power of water on the desert. Overnight, even a small amount of rain can change a dry desert into a vibrant landscape. But Isaiah’s poem moves far beyond the natural consequences of water on the desert. Creation itself will “be glad,” “rejoice,” and sing (verses 1-2). Creation’s praise joins human praise, in recognition of God’s marvelous work.” [1]

Death Valley, a large desert area in southern California, has wildflower blooms every year. Once every ten (or so) years, Death Valley receives an unusual amount of rain from storms that are way out of the ordinary. This causes what is known as a “super bloom,” as happened in spring of 2016. For a number of days, the valley was covered in an unusually huge amount of wildflowers. [2] Talk about anticipation for the coming of the Messiah! Thinking of the super-bloom in Death Valley gives us a foretaste of what we read here in Isaiah, certainly.

Looking at verses 3 and 4: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.” The prophecy not only refers to creation, it also is talking to the people of this world, the people of our God. According to commentator Dr. Chan, “Like so many other texts in Isaiah, Isaiah 35 confronts fear with promise: “Here is your God … He will come with vengeance … He will come and save you.” In switching to the second person, the prophet leaves nothing to chance, making sure that his audience knows that this message is ‘for you.’[3]

But, what was the situation of these people of Israel? A huge group of them were in exile. Israel was occupied territory, and the occupying forces had been the strong, conquering forces. They took a large number of the people as prisoners back with them to Babylon, to force the good behavior of the whole nation of Israel.

So, the prophet encourages his listeners “to be strong and not be afraid no matter how bad things look at the moment because God will come to their rescue.” [4]  Just think of how so many of them felt, being prisoners of war in a foreign country.  As you can imagine, life for them was lousy. The prophet urged the Israelites to be strong because God will always have the last word. It does not matter, not for the people of Israel, not for us, either. God is in the process of overcoming, and the end result will be a wonderful thing.

May I point out that though we are not prisoners of war like the people of Israel, we face lots of really hard situations in our lives. Personally, in my extended family, we are facing a difficult and sad situation right now. Especially hard on my husband and his sisters. Their elderly father is gradually dying; slipping away. Yes, it is particularly tough for me and my whole family right now. And yes, God is a refuge and strength for our family, a very present help in times of our trouble and difficulty.

This is a challenging time of the year for many people. Carolyn Brown so helpfully reminds us that “many congregations have become sensitive to people for whom it is hard to rejoice at this time of year.” [5] Since her ministry focus is on children, she mentions that this group includes children as well as adults. Imagine how difficult, how confusing, even overwhelming the holidays can be for children, sometimes. (And for adults, too.)

“Children face the same problems that daunt the adults, but do so with different twists.  For one thing, they lack the experience of many Christmases that the adults can draw on to keep a sense of balance.  For another, they feel that as a child they should be totally into the season.  It feels even more unfair to them than to the adults that they are not going to have special gifts or fun family gatherings or decorations.” [6]

I am going to our sister church, Epiphany United Church of Christ, to assist for their Blue Christmas service this coming Wednesday. And, Pastor Kevin will assist me here at St. Luke’s Church for our Blue Christmas service a week from tomorrow, on Monday, Dec. 19th. Often- times, people get overwhelmed by the holidays. Perhaps they have lost a loved one during the past year, and this is the first Christmas with that empty chair. Perhaps there has been some other significant change or major move in their lives. No matter what the event or grief or situation, sometimes people need a refuge, they need a quiet gathering for support in this very busy time.

May I say that Isaiah’s promise is for us—all of us. No matter how hard things seem at the moment, we know that God will eventually win and God’s peace will come to the whole world. God will send joy to us all, despite the difficulties we all go through, on a daily basis. Knowing that, we can be strong and patient.

We can praise God for the witness of the prophet: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;” Do you hear? Creation will be transformed, both the world and the people therein.

We can look forward to that, when Christ comes again in His glory. Soon and very soon, we will see Him face to face. We can sit on the edge of our seats as we await this wonderful, marvelous event. Praise God! The Messiah, the King is coming. We all can sing, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” and really mean it, truly wait with anticipation and excitement.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Michael J. Chan, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3118 

[2] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160302-death-valley-super-bloom-wildflowers-weather/

[3] hael J. Chan, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3118 

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-third-sunday-of-advent-december-15.html

[5] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-third-sunday-of-advent-december-15.html

[6] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-third-sunday-o

f-advent-december-15.html 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

 

Confess Sins, Accept Forgiveness

“Confess Sins, Accept Forgiveness”

1 John 1-9 if we confess our sins

1 John 1:8-9 – June 19, 2016

Have you ever seen a small child when he or she knows or realizes they have done something wrong? Sometimes, they gasp. Their lower lip may tremble. Sometimes they might start crying. The realization that they have made a big mistake sometimes overwhelms them.

Does this picture sound at all familiar? I do not care whether it’s children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. When a small child realizes they have done something wrong—well, that can be the saddest time in the world for that young person.

Sound familiar? I suspect it ought to. This awful feeling affects not only small children, but it can trouble grown-ups. It can happen to you or to me, too. The realization that nothing is the way it ought to be? Affecting, heart-rending, deeply sad. Sometimes feeling like the bottom dropped out of the world!  And, get this: it’s all my fault.

If we look at our Scripture lesson for today, we will find exactly that. The older Apostle John tried to get his readers to see this, in the first verse of our reading today. I will read both of these stirring verses from 1 John, chapter 1. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

And, we are on the next line of the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission. “Empowered by the Holy Spirit . . . To praise God, confess our sin, and joyfully accept God’s forgiveness.”

I am going to depart a little from my usual sermon format, and ask: what do we do every week in our worship service, right after the opening hymn? After our prayer of invocation, where we ask God to be with us in our worship service, we move into the prayer of confession.

Why on earth do we need to confess our sins before God?

Ah! That is where John’s reminder of our sinfulness is helpful. Remember, the Bible came first. Scripture was written to be helpful to believers, and to offer praise, and to admonish and correct our behavior—when we needed that. Afterwards, people started to set down a formal worship service. Especially in our Protestant tradition several hundred years ago, they always had a formal confession of sins—just like the Apostle John mentions here.

Each of us—every worshiper here today—sins. Every day. It doesn’t matter who we are, or how good we are trying to be. Each of us makes mistakes. It is like someone using a pencil. That is what erasers are for. To erase wrong or messy writing, and to correct mistakes, like in arithmetic at school.  We all have sins, or mistakes, or errors in our lives. And what’s more, we admit them to God. We tell God all about them.

Let’s look at the first sentence in our prayer of confession today. “Merciful God, who has compassion on Your sinful children.” Right here, this has several deep theological ideas! We are saying that God is merciful! God is not unforgiving, or uncaring. Instead, merciful. Full of mercy toward each of us. The Lord has compassion on each of us, too! God feels with each of us.

The next part of the prayer: “You sent Your son Jesus Christ to be the Savior of the world.” Ah! Here is the Gospel, the Good News. This is why God sent Jesus! God knew the terrible mess humanity was in, and God had a solution: to send God the Son—in the flesh, made as a human—to become one of us. To be our Savior, and save us from our sins.

Some years ago, I knew a practically perfect person. He was a stickler for perfection, for writing precisely, for trying to act appropriately at all times. He used to joke that he thought he made a mistake once—but he was mistaken. (He understood his tendency as a perfectionist, and gently laughed at himself.)

This is where our Scripture reading is helpful. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Except—the New Testament says that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (In the letter to the Romans 3:23.)

We continue with the prayer of confession: “Grant us grace to lament our sins; help us by prayer and meditation to repent and turn to You.”

If you recall, I often repeat this verse from 1 John as the weekly assurance of pardon: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.”

Sometimes in our confession of sins, we have a time of silence for personal confession. In addition to the prayers written in the bulletin each week, from time to time I provide space in our service for each of us to come to God silently in prayer, a quiet time to come with personal things that are particularly burdensome. And, did you hear what John said in this verse? “God IS faithful and just, and WILL forgive us our sins.”

The next sentence in our prayer of confession today: “Give us a true longing to be free from sin. Thank You for Your abundant love and forgiveness.”

Praise the Lord! Did you hear? “God will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness!” Those are the words of John, written in the first century. Moreover, they are still true today!

Just like dirty clothes are cleaned in the washing machine, especially when we add some laundry detergent, so we are cleansed from our sin. My mother had a wringer washer in the basement. I used to go downstairs and wash the clothes for the family. I put water in the washer, added the detergent, and turned on the agitator. Scrubbed the clothes, and then wrung them out into each of the double sinks, rinsing, and then rinsing again. I saw firsthand how this business of washing clothes worked. How the soapy water got so dirty. How the clothes got rinsed clean.

That’s us! When we come to God to confess our sins, correct the mistakes we have done and said, it’s like God has cleaned us in a washing machine. Sure, sometimes I feel like I have been in a washer from time to time. Been agitated by the machine, and then put through the wringer. I bet you can relate, too. Some people go through the wringer more often than others—and how!

 However, we come out the other side as clean people. We receive God’s abundant love and forgiveness!

The final words of the prayer of confession: “We pray these words for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Redeemer, amen.” Jesus is the only Redeemer. Not ourselves. Not saints, or good works, or some television minister, or prayer book, or other holy practice. Our Lord Jesus is our blessed Redeemer. We are indeed redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, as our closing hymn tells us.

The assurance of pardon is what follows this confession of sins. This is not a half-hearted assurance. This is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” or “fingers crossed!” This assurance is complete. As Jesus said as He died on the cross, “It is finished.” The work of redemption is completed. Praise God! Just as what John said in this verse: “God IS faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.”

Shortly, we will sing a hymn all about forgiveness and redemption. I close this sermon with a verse of this wonderful old hymn, written by Fanny Crosby:

“Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.” —Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)