So here’s what I intend, at this point, to preach on Sunday:

In a few minutes, after the sermon is over and the prayers of the people, we will get to the part of the service sometimes called the General Confession.  It’s intended for us, a a community, to confess our sins.  What have we, as a community, done that has hurt others and fallen short of what God would wish for us?  I suspect that seems an odd notion:  the idea that a community of people would confess their failures to God.  But, if you think about it, it’s probably no more odd that we have a book of “common” prayer which we use to pray together as a community.  Our general confession is part of our common prayer – the prayers we say together.

It’s assumed that we have a private prayer life, and that our own prayer life prepares us for our common prayer together.  Traditionally, in the Anglican Communion, that private prayer was often the Daily Office:  the daily work of reading scripture and praying that prepared us for Sunday morning.

In my experience, we in the Episcopal Church don’t do all that much with prayers of confession.  I suspect that for many of us, the Sunday prayer of general confession may be all we do.  Which is a shame, really.

Maybe it’s because we’re reacting against what may seem to be legalistic requirements, traditionally, that had people making confession every week (in theory) before receiving communion.  It was a setup, historically abused, that seemed sometimes to operate on a pay as you go basis, as though you were buying off God for your sins.  For a price, whether you were talking prayers or land or money, you could buy God off.

Of course, that isn’t what was supposed to happen.  The idea is that we are all sinners.  And it can be fruitful for us, it can help us restore our relationship with God, if we reflect on our failures and shortcomings and think about ways, with God’s help, in which we may be able to overcome them.  When you get right down to it, there’s generally a pattern to our failures and shortcomings that can usually be identified and often be avoided.

And spending time, quality time, with God, in that frame of mind, could go a long way towards restoring your relationship with God.  That’s the real purpose behind the assignment of “Hail Mary’s” and the like:  to spend reflective, quality time with God.  The more you’ve messed up the relationship, the more time you might want to spend with God.

I suspect many of us may not be spending much time like that with God.  And I suspect that our Sunday practice of general confession isn’t taking us very deep into this practice.  It may remind us that we are sinners – that we are less than perfect and can always do better.  But without some kind of practice or discipline during the week where we reflect on our specific patterns (and how we might improve our lives), and without some time to recall specifically what we are confessing, corporately and individually, it seems more like we might be confessing that we might be sinners – and if so, then we are sorry.

That approach doesn’t work very well with spouses or siblings or friends or neighbors.  And guess what?  It doesn’t work any better with God.

“I’m sorry if anything I’ve done might have made you feel bad or damaged you,” just doesn’t cut it!  I suspect, at one time or another, every one of us here has tried that approach.  And it didn’t work.  Did it?  It didn’t heal or restore the relationship.

Healing a relationship requires us to name and own what we have done, to work to change the patterns of behavior that caused us to behave that way, and to do what we can to make the injured party whole.  Frankly, it’s a lot of work.

You’ve heard people in twelve step groups talking about working the steps? — taking years to work their way through the steps?  That’s a process of working out your repentance (actually written by and Episcopal Priest who was part of the early AA Community).

It’s an up and down, back and forth process …

Two steps forward, one step back, another step sideways …

And without some real attention and discipline, it really tends not to go anywhere.

But it restores lives.

It heals relationships.

It brings people in touch with their “higher power.”

For us, that probably means God.

I’d like to encourage you, this morning, to take the idea of confession and repentance seriously in your own life.

Some people work the steps.

Some people have a spiritual advisor or friend with whom they discuss their patterns of living and how they might want to change them.

Some people take a day, each week – say Friday evening – and reflect on how they’ve lived and what they’ve done the past week – and what they might want to do differently.

Whatever you do, it’s probably useful to write out what you discover and what you intend to do.  It makes it seem more concrete and more real.

And when we get to the confession this morning, unless I really mess up, I’m going to give us some real time, so that we can reflect on what we have actually done that we need to confess, and take to God, and ask God to help us change in our lives.

Because it isn’t as though there is any question in my mind that I am a sinner.  I know I am.  The question is if I’m willing to spend the time and energy to look honestly at my life.  And confess those things I have done and left undone that, really, I’d like to change.  So that I can invite God in.  And let God work with me in my life.  So that by the Grace of God my life can change for the better.  And the lives around me, that my life touches, can also change for the better.  And I can truly live as a child of God.

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

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