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True Confessions

By Dan Baumgartner on
Dan Baumgartner
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Apr 27 in Musings
The title sounds like a tabloid headline near the grocery store check-out stand, doesn’t it?  But that’s not what I’m thinking about.  On Tuesday night our elders and staff met for our monthly Session meeting. As I plan the agendas for those meetings, the goal is to spend roughly half our time on “business”- looking at finances, talking about property issues, approving baptisms, hearing ministry updates. The other half is for what I call “content”- times for prayer, small group discussion, bible study, worship, leadership development. Most months this includes a section called “Going Deeper,” because I want our leaders to wrestle regularly with things that stretch their own faith. At our Session meeting Tuesday night, we spent some time looking at a short passage from the book of James, chapter 5. The line that received most of our attention was in verse 16, which says “Confess your sins to each other...” 

In current American Christianity, that three-letter word “s-i-n” often gathers dust on the shelf. We think it has been overused. Or that it turns people off. Or that it makes us sound judgmental or too negative. This is not a new development.  It’s been going on for years.  Way back in the free-loving, free-living 1970’s a respected psychiatrist named Karl Menninger wrote a controversial book called “Whatever Became of Sin?”  “Where has sin gone?” he asked.  “Is it no longer involved in our troubles?”  Menninger chided the preachers of his day for not preaching about sin.  He argued that redefining sin as just a cultural taboo or a social blunder or a regrettable lapse missed the mark entirely.  He pleaded for the reinstatement of the word “sin” describing a quality…that signified a breaking away from God, and from other people, an act of alienation, a deliberate stepping over a line with self-pride as the driving force.  Menninger felt that he couldn’t deal with issues of mental health and ignore moral health.  That was 45 years ago. Whatever became of sin?
James 5 says “Confess your sins to each other.”  Really?  Wouldn’t it be enough if I simply was honest with God, and privately prayed my confessions?  Thankfully, we always have that available to us. But the truth is that sometimes we need a brother or sister in Christ to help shine the light on dark places in our lives. We need to hear ourselves tell another human being that we have messed up, that we have disappointed ourselves and the Lord. That we have sinned “in thought, word and deed.”  We need to reflect on how we participate in sin imbedded in our institutions and systems. And importantly, sometimes we need to hear a human voice remind us that because of the deep love of Christ displayed on the cross- our sins are forgiven.
On Tuesday night we talked about how awkward it is to verbalize our failures to another person, and how it requires a lot of trust and confidentiality. Awkward, yes. And absolutely essential. This is a practice that goes much deeper than simply going to church. This is how the community of Jesus does life together.
So despite the bad reputation, s-i-n needs to stay in our vocabulary. If there is no sin, there is nothing to confess.  If there is no sin, we don’t need forgiveness.  If there is no sin, the idea that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins becomes irrelevant. Whatever happened to sin?  Oh, it’s still here. Big time. The only question is what we will do about it. James has good advice: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
See you soon,
       Pastor Dan

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