“The 2 Parts of Confession”
2 Samuel 12:1-10,13
March 21, 2007
So far on these Wednesdays we have covered the 10 commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer and Holy Baptism. Today, perhaps the least known of the 6 chief parts of the Catechism: Confession.
As we said when we came to the Apostles' Creed, the word “confession” really means “same-saying”. That is, when we confess the Creed we are same-saying what God has already said about himself.
But mostly, when we think about the word “confession”, we think about confessing sin. As in, admitting or honing up to some deep dark secret. “I have a confession to make” is usually a warning to brace yourself before someone bears his soul. “True confessions” implies people divulging little-known and often embarrassing facts about themselves.
In the Church, we speak of the confession of sin, mostly as that part of the public worship service in which we recite a liturgical paragraph outlining our sin and guilt. And this is a very good thing. We need to say, and say publicly, that we are sinful and unclean. We need to confess that we are sinful in thought, word and deed. That we sin by what we do, and what we leave undone. That we sin against God and against our neighbor. Sin, sin, sin, and more sin.
When we make such a confession, we are also same-saying. But instead of same-saying about God what he says of himself, when we confess sins, we are same-saying about ourselves what God has said about us. “Yes, God, I am a sinner, as your word clearly shows”.
Confession of this type is no small matter. Some people are quite offended by the idea that the Church asks them to say they are “poor miserable sinners”. Perhaps others chafe at the temporal (or present) and eternal punishment such confession admits we deserve. It's never easy to admit you are a sinner. Take David, for example.
King David was a man's man. A veteran of many battles, who had ascended to the throne of Israel at last. But David was also a ladies' man, and when he fell into sin with Bathsheba she turned up pregnant by him. David had her husband Uriah put to death in a cover-up attempt. But you can't cover-up your sins from God. The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to call David out for this sin.
Nathan craftily told David a parable about a man who stole another man's beloved lamb. David, the king and final court of appeal in that land, thinking the story was for real, prescribed in his righteous anger the death penalty for such a sinner. And when Nathan boldly turned the accusing finger at David, “You are the man”, we can only imagine the gasps in the royal court. Nathan had dared to say what many probably knew but knew better than to say. But now the king's sin was out there on the table, publicly for all to see. And David had a choice again.
He could have responded with a harsh rebuke of his own, even putting the prophet to death. “How dare you insinuate such a thing against me, the king! Take him away! To the dungeon!” Nathan knew this was a possibility.
But David was a man after God's own heart. So instead, David went the route of confession. Nathan said, “David, you sinned” and David said the same. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he confessed. And implicit in that was the admission that he deserved the punishment of death he just prescribed.
But now we come to the second part of confession. For as our Catechism says, “Confession has two parts”. Only the first part is the admitting of sin. The second part is the Absolution. That is, the declaration of forgiveness.
Upon David's confession, Nathan said (and said immediately), “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.”
Nathan functions much like the pastor does, who announces God's forgiveness in Christ. “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, I forgive you all your sins”. Those words, those beautiful words of absolution really say the same thing, “even though you are a sinner, you will not die.” You will not die. For the one who won forgiveness has died in your place, and as he now lives so too shall you.
David was forgiven, and we are forgiven, only for the sake of Christ. Jesus Christ who as the Lamb of God sacrificed himself to take away the sins of the world. Jesus Christ, who won God's forgiveness for David's sheep-stealing, and who won God's forgiveness for all us sheep who have gone astray.
Confession – Christian confession assumes both the confession of sin, and the forgiveness that is God's response. It couldn't be any other way. In fact, the whole point of confession is getting to the forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins”. That’s his plan.
The point of confessing is certainly NOT to catalogue every single solitary sin we have ever committed. This was Luther’s burden as a monk, when he spent hours trying to pin down every sin in his life – but the more sin he confessed, the more sin he found to confess. God’s forgiveness in Christ is certainly bigger than our catalogue of sins – complete or not.
However, as the Catechism states, we should confess before God all sins (even those we are not aware of). But before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts. That means, if a particular sin is troubling you – your pastor’s door is always open to hear that confession. But remember that confession has two parts. Your pastor stands ready to – publicly OR privately – offer and announce to you Christ’s own forgiveness. That’s our job.
We’ve really gotten away from private confession in our Lutheran churches, and it’s a great loss. Some people don’t even know that we Lutherans have private confession available. Still, we would never command or demand it, thus making a new law - but we offer it as another gift from God by which sinners may find the consolation of the Gospel.
And know also that your pastor is bound by solemn ordination vows to never divulge the sins confessed to him. As with God, they are gone – as far as the east is from the west. Another has said that when it comes to confession of sins, the pastor’s ear is a tomb. The sin that is confessed dies and is left behind there. You may even be surprised to know that there is an order for individual confession and absolution found in the hymnal, on page 292. Check it out sometime.
Confession has two parts. First we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness. All this is for the sake of Christ. What a powerful gift of God. Let us treasure and use it always. Amen.