“Writing the Perfect Sentence”
Romans 3:21-26; 1 John 1:5-10
Rev. Phillip Blackburn
February 10, 2019
Have you ever paid someone to lock you in a room? I have! A few weeks ago the Blackburns went to an Escape Room for the first time. This is a newish sort of thing and if you’ve never been, here is the premise. You are locked in a room and you have an hour to “escape.” Now, I know what some of you are thinking, you are thinking, “my whole life is an escape room, why would I pay for the privilege?” Regardless, it is a thing and I have done it before. In the room are a series of clues that will help you to escape. So, as you gather the clues and put them together you get yourself out of the room and are set “free.” The clues are hidden all over the room, tucked under lamps and inside locked boxes. They are in pictures on the wall and things hanging from the ceiling. The hard thing is that until the very end, when you find one clue, you are led to another clue. Still, I think you get the idea if you’ve never been. You are basically spending an hour inside of a puzzle.
I feel like sometimes maybe, just maybe, our faith life can feel like this. Hopefully, we aren’t trying to escape from faith, but we are trying to figure out what can feel like a puzzle. Over the course of our lives we find clues that we can feel often lead us to newer and more complicated puzzles. For some of us the process of living a life of faith is invigorating for other frustrating and for still others it eventually can feel futile. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of faith, and you should know that even though you are in a church people are still all over that spectrum, you are here today and perhaps, just perhaps, we can help get a clue to this life. It’s a good day for that because in this passage from 1 John there is a big, big clue to living the life of faith and getting closer to God.
To be fair, this clue is not exclusive to this passage. On the contrary, it is all over the Bible, but today, in the Escape Room that is 21st century America, the clue proves elusive to many of us. To get to into it, I want to focus on just one sentence of our passage; verse 9. Here it is, “When we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Did you hear it? Confession of Sin. That is a big clue for solving the puzzle that is lived Christianity. Now, you may be thinking, what a letdown Phil. I know we are supposed to confess our sins. Or you might be thinking, I don’t really have anything to confess. On either count, you would be incorrect so let’s spend some real time with this idea, and to do it we are going to take this passage not quite word by word, but close.
The verse begins with “when we confess our sins.” I remember one time a friend told me about a large Presbyterian church in the Kansas City area. They had gotten together and cut out the prayer of confession from their liturgy. Why did they do this? They had explained it clearly and concisely to their pastor, “we are good people, we don’t have anything to confess.” Uh oh. I feel one has to be spectacularly lacking in self-awareness to think they have nothing to confess and for a whole church to arrive at that belief is troubling to say the least. But it is where we have arrived as a culture. And since we have arrived there we need a fairly constant reminder that confession is key to our faith.
As 1 John reminds us, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. We lie to ourselves. We are sinners. It is not a real uplifting thing to say, so we don’t like to say it, but it is the truth. We commit sins all the time, big and small, as individuals and as a society. These sins linger in our lives and in the world and it is vital that we identify as many as we can and put them before God and before one another. Don’t forget the pronoun that begins this verse. “We.” We do this together, as a body and in so doing we recognize our corporate accountability.
But why do this? What is it that confessing our sins does for us? How in the world will talking badly about myself and my society draw me closer to God? This is where we turn to the rest of verse 9 to understand what sort of clue to the puzzle is staring us in the face. Confessing our sins unlocks some important things about God and our relationship with God. Confession tells us two things about God and it tells us two things that God does. Without confession, 1 John implies we are blind to these attributes and actions of God. We cannot see them. So what are they?
First, let’s talk about the two things confession tells us about God. God is faithful and just. Oftentimes when we hold on to sins and keep them bottled up, we do so because we feel they are unforgivable. We feel that whatever we have done, if brought to light, will cause irreparable harm. These words from 1 John, however, that when it comes to God this is not true. God is not wrathful and disproportionate in his anger. No. God is faithful and just. We do not have to be afraid to confess and when we are able to confess in freedom to God, it opens us up to examining our sins in a completely new way. While there is no promise that our wrongs will be forgiven by those around us, we can begin from a vital starting point, the God to whom we confess is faithful and just. This means that when we confess to God, no matter what we have done, God will not leave us. God is faithful. And it means God will not shower suffering upon us because of what we have done. God is just.
Confession opens to us the true character of God, just as confession reflects the character of one another. Tasha and I were talking about Jeff Bezos, the gazillionaire founder of Amazon, this past week. I myself no longer use Amazon because I have troubles with the business model, but that is another story, but I share that to say I don’t view him sympathetically. But I did this week. Bezos, if you don’t know, was blackmailed by the National Enquirer. Welcome to America in 2019. Bezos, rather than pay, went public. But I find what he did remarkable. He simply released the threatening emails he had received which included graphic details of photos the Enquirer would release if he did not comply with their wishes. These revelations were humiliating for Bezos, and he just put them out there, and he said “if I cannot stand up to these things, who can?” This act of confession, of bringing shame out into the light, reveals a small fleck of Bezos’ character. And it does the same thing for us and God. Confession reveals the character of God because we learn that when we confess God does not leave us and God will still treat us fairly. Confession is directly related to character.
And then it is related to God’s works. We often wonder why God does this or doesn’t do that. We ask lots of action related questions of God. This is a big part of the work we do in the faith escape room. We look for clues which will help us understand. Confession reveals two things that God does. God forgives us our sins and God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. One of the hard things about being alive is that there are no do-overs. All of us wish we could go back and do certain things in our lives differently but our human condition offers us no such means to do that. God, however, does.
First, God forgives us. What does forgiveness means? It means that our sins won’t be held against us in a relationship. It’s important that you understand that you don’t need to be afraid of coming before God because you know that God will forgive you. Forgiveness is in fairly short supply these days because everyone is so angry and because, let’s be honest, sincere confessions are also in short supply. This is not true of God. Confession unlocks forgiveness as sure as the key on your key ring starts your car. There is no question about this because forgiveness is part of the true character of God.
And so is cleansing. When you go to clean up a mess, what is the ultimate goal? Think of a time a kid made a mess. When you went to clean it up, was the goal to leave a small remnant of said mess so you could always hold it over the kid’s head? So that for the rest of their lives you could point to the stain on the carpet and say, “remember when you did that?” Of course not, the goal of cleaning something is to make it like it never happened. This is what it means when we say God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The nature of God is to take our sins and erase them. It is the natural follow up to forgiveness and this is accomplished through Jesus.
Faith is a hard thing. I know it. It has peaks and valleys, it waxes and wanes. Today some of you feel remarkably close to God and others feel distant. But in this puzzle that is the life of faith confession is one of the big clues we are given. Do you see what it does? Confessing our sins opens the door to our experience of the true nature and character of God. You don’t have to be afraid. God is faithful and just. Your sins won’t define you. God forgives and cleanses. We cannot control how people in this world will react to our worst sins but we do know how God will respond. And knowing this, living into it, embracing it, draws us closer to God and to one another. When we confess our sins God, who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Confession opens the door to the Gospel. Put the key in the lock and turn.