Holy Trinity Sunday
June 19, 2011
Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20
The Dance of the Liturgy: Confession & Forgiveness
I keep hearing it over and over again. Why would anyone want to come to church with us when it’s just the same old, boring stuff? Some of us have come to love our form of liturgical worship, and some of us merely tolerate it. The worship committee and I though that it might be worthwhile to look closely at the structure of our worship so that we can re-engage with it. So I invite you to sit back, take a deep breath, open your heart and mind to look more deeply at our worship and reflect on what it has meant over time and what it means to us now.
First of all, public worship is meant to be public. That is, that it is meant to encompass the needs and heart of a community. But it is a dance as we bring ourselves individually to become part of the Body of Christ in this place. Every worship is different because who is present in each worship is different. Did you know that it matters if you are not here? Another cannot take your place. The gift you are is meant to be part of the Body of Christ when we gather. So if your gift, your call to minister, your smile, your prayer, your voice is not here, we are poorer for it. Something is missing without you.
Public worship is never meant to take the place of your own prayer and praise, or the love that you bring to your friends, family, work, community-building in Prineville and the world. Public worship is the time to celebrate what has been going on in your Christian life. It is a time to lift up our work, our concerns, our hope for those we love and for the whole world together. Like tiny streams making a mighty river, the drops of love and concern we bring to our gathering begin to change the world by joining them together in God’s power and in God’s love. As we shape worship around our lives, it shapes our lives as we go forth from it. It doesn’t happen alone, it happens when two or three, or two or three dozen, or two or three hundred are gathered together.
As you can see from the insert in the bulletin, the structure of our worship is very like that of the early church. They followed a pattern they knew from temple gatherings. It also is a dance: from gathering to hearing and listening; from eating and drinking as God’s invited guests to carrying our gifts and God’s Spirit out again into the world.
Today I’d like to focus on Confession and Forgiveness: We use three kinds of confession at the beginning of worship: a Kyrie asks for mercy, Thanksgiving for Baptism acknowledges God’s power to change our destiny in our washing, and confession and forgiveness uses petitions to confess our sin and hear absolution. The Book of Leviticus clearly enumerates what the sins are that people can commit against God and each other, and what the price is that they must them pay to redeem themselves and get right before God and the community once again. Once a year, the confessed sin of all the people was put on the head of a goat who was sent out of the community to bear away the sins of all forever. We use the same language when we talk about Jesus, our scapegoat, who bore our sin once for all and carried it away forever.
James says “confess your sin to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5: 16) The first letter of John says, “ if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”(1 John 1:8-10).
It’s not that we can’t be forgiven if we don’t own up to all our failures, for we already know that in God’s mercy, our sins are forgiven before we even ask, and Jesus death and resurrection is the guarantee that we can appear before God washed of all our imperfections. It’s that if we skip the part where we name them, they fall quickly from our consciousness, and we do not confess the true weight of them. And if we do not name them in the company of our fellow believers, we might begin to think that our sins don’t stink as much as theirs do. And so we come together at the very beginning of our worship to confess. To put ourselves right with God before each other. We confess our secret sins and our failures to act like God’s people in the world, bringing in God’s kingdom and living the Good News of God’s love healing us and setting us free. And we hear the words of forgiveness, assuring us once again – out loud, in public – that our faults, our failures, our wounded hearts are forgiven and restored only because God loves us so much that Jesus came to be one of us, to carry away every possible sin forever, and to seal our place in God’s kingdom through his resurrection from the dead. So don’t be afraid to speak out loud of your sin and failure, you are affirmed and forgiven. You are now free to rejoice, to celebrate, to forgive each other and to come to God’s table whole and healed, no matter what you’ve done or not done. You are now free to dance into worship and then out into the world again. And so the adventure of worship begins. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
FOUNDATIONS FOR THE CHRISTIAN ASSEMBLY
From the earliest days of the Church, Christian worship has been marked by a pattern of gathering, word, meal, and sending. These basic elements – revealed in the New Testament, the writings of the early Church, the Lutheran confessions and ecumenical documents – constitute the center of the Church’s worship.
On Sunday all are gathered together in unity. The records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows. The presider exhorts and invites us into the pattern of these good things. Then we all stand and offer prayer.
When we have concluded the prayer, bread is set out together with wine…the presider then offers prayer and thanksgiving and the people sing out their assent, saying “Amen.” There is a distribution of the things over which thanks has been said and each person participates, and these things are sent to those who are not present.
Those who are prosperous give what they wish according to each one’s own choice, and the collection is deposited with the presider, who aids orphans and widows, those in want because of disease, those in prison, and foreigners who are staying here.
We hold this meeting together on Sunday since it is the first day, on which God, having transformed darkness and matter, created the world. On the same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead. On Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them these things which we present to you.
From the Apology of Justin Martyr (c. 150 AD)
CONFESSION & FORGIVENESS
Martin Luther states that confession consists of two parts. One is that we confess our sins, the other that we receive the absolution, or forgiveness, through the pastor as from God.
We believe that the sinfulness of our human nature is forgiven and healed as well as the individual acts that we commit or fail to perform in our everyday life.
Our corporate confession includes acts which we do or fail to perform as a community dwelling in the world, as well as our individual acts and failures.
What language would you want to include in confession when you think about forgiveness for yourself?
What language would you want to include when you think about forgiveness of the Church or your local church community as it functions to bring in the Kingdom of God in the world?
What would you want to hear as words of forgiveness for your individual errors?
What language would you want to hear as forgiveness for the Church’s failures and your local congregation’s errors?