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The Small Catechism, Part V: Confession

 

Audio of sermon here on podcast.

 

First Reading: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

1 Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. 2 “The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. 3 “But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. 4 “And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to david-repentsNathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! 6 “And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: `I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 `I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! 9 `Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. 10 `Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 “Thus says the LORD: `Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 `For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.'” 13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. (NKJ)

Second Reading: John 20:19-23

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Blessing.AbsolutionThe Fifth Chief Part of Luther’s Small Catechism: Confession.

Words of the Psalmist from Psalm 51, expressive of King David’s contrite heart and confidence in God when confronted with the Word of God as recorded in 2 Samuel 12 for his sin against God, and the words of Jesus to His disciples on the night of His resurrection, as recorded in John 20, example, illustrate, and highlight for us what confession is and its centrality in and to the Christian Church.

First, what confession is…

Confession, as a word used in the church and in the world, is often understood in the way of ‘relating one’s sins to a member of the clergy,’ as in, ‘going to confession.’

The phrase, ‘fess up means, ‘admit your wrongdoing.’

This is what many consider confession to mean.

In the church, such a use of the term is not wrong, but it certainly is not the only use of the term.

Biblically, the word ‘confess’ has the basic meaning of “to say the same thing,” “to agree with,” or “to acknowledge.”

Where St. John writes, “If we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9), here we then have to clarify.

To confess, to say the same thing, to agree with, to acknowledge our sins according to Whom—provides the clarification.

A related usage of the word, “confess,” is exampled by John the Baptist, as recorded in John chapter 1, where we read,

“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (Jn. 1:19-20 NKJ).

Here, John the Baptist “confesses” that he is not the Christ, that he is not the Messiah.

The word, “confess,” used in both examples, is identical, that of John the Baptist confessing that he is not the Christ, and that of “confessing sins.”

The “saying the same thing as,” “agreeing with,” and “acknowledging,” either of sins or of John the Baptist in confessing that he is not the Christ also have this in common—that they are not according to self-determination, designation, or definition.

The confession of sins (and what sin is or what sin is not) and the confession of John about his identity (who he is or who he is not), is according to the determination, designation, and definition of Another.

That Other, for John, and for one confessing sin is not self, but God alone.

For John, the One who sent John the Baptist to preach and to baptize was not John Himself, but the Father.  Thus, John pointed to, he confessed, not himself, but Jesus, to be, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

John the Baptist—same said, agreed with, acknowledged—what God made known to him concerning the Christ, who John was clearly not.

In similar fashion, confession of sins has to do with—same saying, agreeing with, acknowledging as true—what God reveals, what He makes known—about our condition and our doing and our not doing.

To confess sin to God is to say that God is right in all of His judgments and that we are rightly deserving of the consequences that God imposes on that sin, even eternal death—as determined by God—not according to our own definition or our own self-determination of how great or little that sin may be in our own eyes.

God declares,

“There is none righteous, no, no one” (Psalm 14/53: 1Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23 NKJ).

With Isaiah the prophet, we too confess, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5 NKJ).

With David we also say, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5 NKJ).

These things we acknowledge to be true, and not only broadly, but also narrowly.

The Law of God, stated by the 10 Commandments, shows this.

We can do nothing to escape.  There is no work around. No isolationism can help. There is no home remedy, vaccine, or cure.

We are at God’s mercy!

Concerning the confession of sins, Luther writes,

“Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” (SC, Confession, Which are these?).

Looking into the clear and reflective mirror of God’s Word, we must admit that, yes, we are guilty.

We are not as God would have us be—not only with each other and in our own stations and vocations in life—but also, and especially, before God.

“Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:10-11 NKJ).

Like David, we say, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).

The very First Commandment condemns us all.

Writes Luther,

“Let everyone, then, take care to magnify and exalt this commandment above all things and not make light of it. Search and examine your own heart thoroughly and you will find whether or not it clings to God alone. Do you have the kind of heart that expects from him nothing but good, especially in distress and want, and renounces and forsakes all that is not God? Then you have the one true God. On the contrary, does your heart cling to something else, from which it hopes to receive more good and help than from God, and does it flee not to him but from him when things go wrong? Then you have an idol, another god.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶28)

Luther also says,

“Thus you can easily understand the nature and scope of this commandment. It requires that man’s whole heart and confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. To have God, you see, does not mean to lay hands upon him, or put him into a purse, or shut him up in a chest.

“We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.

“To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶13-15)

Lastly, Luther states,

“Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.

“On the other hand, you can easily judge how the world practices nothing but false worship and idolatry. There has never been a people so wicked that it did not establish and maintain some sort of worship. Everyone has set up a god of his own, to which he looked for blessings, help, and comfort.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶16-17)

Our hope, our confidence, our hope—is not in God as it should be.

The responses to our worldly circumstances show where our trust and confidence is or is not.

Yet, to the sinner, God gives forgiveness (Acts 13:38).

To the fearful, God gives courage (John 14:1, 27; Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 1:7).

To the doubting, God gives faith (John 14:1;2 Corinthians 5:7).

To the uncertain, God gives confidence (Psalm 118:8; 1 John 3:20-21).

To the anxious, God gives peace (John 14:27; Philippians 4:6ff).

To the weak and the weary, God gives Rest (Matthew 11:28).

To the speechless, God gives voice (Psalm 51:15; Ezekiel 33:22; Matthew 12:22; 15:30-31; Mark 7:37).

God gives His Word that we believe, and places that Word on our tongue to say what He Himself makes known.

Confession of sin is acknowledging what God says of our fallen condition, what God says of us in our fallen condition.

We are sinners, sinners in the state of death and dying, hopeless of ourselves before Him.

“To God’s mercy we cling.  Our sins before Him we bring.”

God is right and true in His judgments.

We are not blameless before Him.

Yet, He does not forsake us.

This, too, we confess, agree with, same say, and acknowledge: God is God, the gracious, merciful God, who out of love for sinners, out of love for you, individually and collectively, sent His Son Jesus to be your Savior from sin, death, and hell.

Even as confess God to be true according to His Word in condemning sin, our sin, all of it, so we also confess to be true God’s mercy and forgiveness because of Jesus the Christ.

“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NKJ).

Instead of you suffering the eternal consequences for your sin, Jesus suffered all in your stead on the blessed cross.

Whatever you face today or in days to come in no way and in no sense compares to what the Lord Jesus has delivered you from—to the where of your promised inheritance in Him.

This, too, we confess before Him and before one another.

We acknowledge our sins before God, all of them, even those we don’t know, for against Him have we sinned, as well as against our neighbor, from whom we also ask forgiveness.

We also and especially believe God’s promise in Christ, “Your sin is forgiven.”

The Word of absolution, also spoken by the pastor, is full of import.

That Word delivers to you the very Word of God spoken.

Not only are these words for you publicly, corporately, on Sunday morning–they are also for you privately, too.

Before the pastor you may confess sins for which you are troubled.

We call this private confession, private absolution.

This is different from the Roman Catholic churches, where one is told to do in order to be forgiven, or because of obligations’ sake.

For the Christian, the main thing in the confession of sin privately to the pastor—or corporately as in the Divine Service—is not your part.

It is the absolution, “For you is the forgiveness of sins.”

These words mean something.

They are life.  They are salvation.  They are reason for joy.  They are reason to rejoice.

Thus, do we also confess,

“I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC, Confession, Office of the Keys, What do you believe according to these words).

The church is just about doing this: proclaiming God’s forgiveness of sins in and through Christ.

This continues to be her message and it is in this that she remains faithful—confessing, same saying, agreeing with, acknowledging to be true—what God says. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty, everlasting God, for my many sins I justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, who won for me forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant me a true confession that, dead to sin, I may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may be ever watchful and live a true and godly life in Your service; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen. (Lutheran Service Book, inside front cover, Before confession and absolution).

 

Audio of the sermon here on podcast.

 

 

Confession & Absolution

Large Catechism (Tappert Edition)

A Brief Exhortation to Confession (28-35)

28 Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the pope’s command at any point, but you will compel yourself and beg me for the privilege of sharing in it. 29 However, if you despise it and proudly stay away from confession, then we must come to the conclusion that you are no Christian and that you ought not receive the sacrament. For you despise what no Christian ought to despise, and you show thereby that you can have no forgiveness of sin. And this is a sure sign that you also despise the Gospel.

30 In short, we approve of no coercion. However, if anyone refuses to hear and heed the warning of our preaching, we shall have nothing to do with him, nor may he have any share in the Gospel. If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it. 31 For here the compulsion must be inverted; we must come under the command and you must come into freedom. We compel no man, but allow ourselves to be compelled, just as we are compelled to preach and administer the sacrament.

32 Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. Those who really want to be good Christians, free from their sins, and happy in their conscience, already have the true hunger and thirst. They snatch at the bread just like a hunted hart, burning with heat and thirst, 33 as Ps. 42:2 says, “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.” That is, as a hart trembles with eagerness for a fresh spring, so I yearn and tremble for God’s Word, absolution, the sacrament, etc. 34 In this way, you see, confession would be rightly taught, and such a desire and love for it would be aroused that people would come running after us to get it, more than we would like. We shall let the papists torment and torture themselves and other people who ignore such a treasure and bar themselves from it. 35 As for ourselves, however, let us lift up our hands in praise and thanks to God that we have attained to this blessed knowledge of confession.

Confession & Absolution

Large Catechism (Tappert Edition)

A Brief Exhortation to Confession (20-27)

20 Further, no one dare oppress you with requirements. Rather, whoever is a Christian, or would like to be one, has here the faithful advice to go and obtain this precious treasure. If you are no Christian, and desire no such comfort, we shall leave you to another’s power. 21 Hereby we abolish the pope’s tyranny, commandments, and coercion since we have no need of them. For our teaching, as I have said, is this: If anybody does not go to confession willingly and for the sake of absolution, let him just forget about it. Yes, and if anybody goes about relying on the purity of his confession, let him just stay away from it. 22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

23 If all this were clearly explained, and meanwhile if the needs which ought to move and induce us to confession were clearly indicated, there would be no need of coercion and force. A man’s own conscience would impel him and make him so anxious that he would rejoice and act like a poor miserable beggar who hears that a rich gift, of money or clothes, is to be given out at a certain place; he would need no bailiff to drive and beat him but would run there as fast as he could so as not to miss the gift. 24 Suppose, now, that the invitation were changed into a command that all beggars should run to the place, no reason being given and no mention of what they were to look for or receive. How else would the beggar go but with repugnance, not expecting to receive anything but just letting everyone see how poor and miserable he is? Not much joy or comfort would come from this, but only a greater hostility to the command.

25 In the same way the pope’s preachers have in the past kept silence about this wonderful, rich alms and this indescribable treasure; they have simply driven men together in hordes just to show what impure and filthy people they were. Who could thus go to confession willingly? 26 We, on the contrary, do not say that men should look to see how full of filthiness you are, making of you a mirror for contemplating themselves. Rather we advise: If you are poor and miserable, then go and make use of the healing medicine. 27 He who feels his misery and need will develop such a desire for confession that he will run toward it with joy. But those who ignore it and do not come of their own accord, we let go their way. However, they ought to know that we do not regard them as Christians.

Large Catechism on Confession, 1-7

Large Catechism

A Brief Exhortation to Confession (1-7)

1 Concerning confession, we have always taught that it should be voluntary and purged of the pope’s tyranny. We have been set free from his coercion and from the intolerable burden he imposed upon the Christian church. Up to now, as we all know from experience, there has been no law quite so oppressive as that which forced everyone to make confession on pain of the gravest mortal sin. 2 Moreover, it so greatly burdened and tortured consciences with the enumeration of all kinds of sin that no one was able to confess purely enough. 3 Worst of all, no one taught or understood what confession is and how useful and comforting it is. Instead, it was made sheer anguish and a hellish torture since people had to make confession even though nothing was more hateful to them. 4 These three things have now been removed and made voluntary so that we may confess without coercion or fear, and we are released from the torture of enumerating all sins in detail. Moreover, we have the advantage of knowing how to use confession beneficially for the comforting and strengthening of our conscience.

5 Everyone knows this now. Unfortunately, men have learned in only too well; they do whatever they please and take advantage of their freedom, acting as if they will never need or desire to go to confession any more. We quickly understand whatever benefits us, and we grasp with uncommon ease whatever in the Gospel is mild and gentle. But such pigs, as I have said, are unworthy to appear in the presence of the Gospel or to have any part of it. They ought to remain under the pope and submit to being driven and tormented to confess, fast, etc., more than ever before. For he who will not believe the Gospel, live according to it, and do what a Christian ought to do, should enjoy none of its benefits. 6 What would happen if you wished to enjoy the Gospel’s benefits but did nothing about it and paid nothing for it? For such people we shall provide no preaching, nor will they have our permission to share and enjoy any part of our liberty, but we shall let the pope or his like bring them back into subjection and coerce them like the tyrant he is. The rabble who will not obey the Gospel deserve just such a jailer as God’s devil and hangman. 7 To others who hear it gladly, however, we must preach, exhorting, encouraging, and persuading them not to lose this precious and comforting treasure which the Gospel offers. Therefore we must say something about confession to instruct and admonish the simple folk.

LUke 18:9-17, The Tax Collector and the Pharisee

The tax collector’s need was nothing but God’s compassion and mercy. He had nothing else upon which to lean. He was without hope and without help. The world could do nothing for him. He was a sinner, an outcast, a publican—the one that no one wanted to be with or around—the one that no one wanted to be like.

Yet he recognized and acknowledged his lost condition. And on the Lord alone he sought help and pardon and peace for his transgressions—for all that he had done wrong and for all that he had not done right. He turned to the Lord alone for forgiveness, entrusting and commending himself to God’s mercy for salvation from his sin. And there—and only there—he had it.

The tax collector, Jesus says, Went down to his house justified. The other, however, the self-righteous Pharisee, did not.

The self-righteous Pharisee was not at all like the tax collector. He didn’t even see himself as a sinner before God, let alone the sinner, as the humble tax collector had. Instead, he actually thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.

Rather than humble himself before God and demonstrate a true faith by seeking God’s compassion and mercy according to His Word and promise (for this is what true faith does), the Pharisee instead demonstrated crass unbelief and idolatry by rejecting any need for forgiveness or further kindness from God. It was as if the Pharisee believed that God was to thank him for being as he was, that God should reward him for what he did, that he himself was God’s gift to the world.

Lk18.9-17, Pentecost 22, 2010C.pdf

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