Sunday at Scarboro – October 23, 2016

Service: 10:30 am43-oct23_confession-001-001
Coffee and Fellowship at 10 am

Minister:   Rev. Lee Spice
Theme:     Our Confession
Anthem:   The Time for Turning – Courtney
Special events this week include:
– Peer Partner Covenanting with Zoe Slusar
– Dedication of Elda Daniels Plaque: In Memory of Becky Lathrop

To listen to Rev. Lee Spice’s messages, click here.

Oct. 23:  Our Heart’s Confession
Jeremiah 14: 7 – 10 and 19 – 22, Luke 18: 9 – 14

Many years ago there was a cartoon on TV called the Flintstones, about a stone-age family.  I apologise if some of you are now stuck with the earworm, “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones…”

In one episode, Fred has to go back to school to save his job, and finding himself a first-year at Prinstone University, whenever he encounters non first-years he has to say:

“I sir, am a wiggly worm sir. A wiggly worm, sir, is the lowest lump of whale blubber in the ocean depth, and nothing is lower than a freshman at Prinstone U!”

Ah, the wiggly worm…sometimes it feels like the prayer of confession in church is a little like that.  So much so, that many of us don’t put in a real prayer of confession.  Here in Scarboro, our practice has been to allow for a time of opening ourselves to God’s healing at the beginning of the service.

In times past, and in many churches still, even United Churches, there is an actual prayer of confession.  Many of us remember uttering these prayers in unison, with words such as “We confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,” or “we confess that it is our own fault – our own grievous fault.”

There are echoes, here, of the reading from Jeremiah – “We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you.”

“I, sir, am a wiggly worm, sir…..”

A small confession from me:  I haven’t really liked the prayers of confession for a lot of years.  One reason I personally have not liked the prayers of confession is because it always seemed like the children always left right after.  Greeting, opening prayer, opening hymn, prayer of confession…ok kids, see you later!  It was like ALL they got from the time that the whole community was worshipping together was to be able to confess their little sins.

Maybe I, and, I daresay, many others, didn’t like the prayer of confession because it always seemed to be written out, and too many times we have collectively poured out our sins, only partially paying attention to what we were reading.  Or maybe some of the confessions would stick in the throat, as one author writes.  She cites the time that the whole congregation confessed, “O God, we have enslaved your people and raped your land.”

Or maybe, like many others, I have struggled with the concept of sin.   My colleague John Snyder told me the story of being at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship gatherings in university, and watching these good, good people, in his observation, mostly young women, struggle to drum up a litany of sins, because they believed that the only way to eternal life was through the repentance of those sins.

“I, sir, am a wiggly worm, sir…”

Even our Catholic brothers and sisters have renamed the practice of confession and absolution – it is now the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Which, of course, is what it is.  Reconciliation.

Even though many of us progressive Christianity people seem to be allergic to sin, sooner or later we all have to face the fact that something in which we have participated is separating us from God, and from our true selves, and from healthy relationships with our neighbour.  Shall I repeat that?  Sin is something in which we are participating, or have participated, that is separating us from God, and from our true selves, and from healthy relationships with our neighbour.

One translation for sin is “missing the mark.”

Well, when you put it that way, a whole plethora of possibilities emerges.  Instead of reciting a list of already prepared words, a whole list of things arise that are separating us from God – author and preacher Molly Phinney Baskette jokingly calls this a sin-ventory. A quick sin-ventory of just my week reveals a long list – resentment, laziness, arrogance, self-righteousness, indignation, gluttony, selfishness…

But lest any of our lists disintegrate into a chest-thumping recitation of “I, sir, am a wiggly worm, sir,” I think we should look at why anyone should confess in the first place.

No, I don’t think it is to secure a place in heaven.

And, actually, truth be known, I disagree with the reading from Jeremiah.  In that reading, Jeremiah takes the posture of begging…quite certain that God is going to smite them all, he resorts to imploring the Lord for mercy.

I think confession is good because it is good for you.  Confessing of our sins opens our lives to healing from God.  Confessing our mistakes and short fallings opens us up – putting us right with God, ourselves, and our neighbour.  The great Leonard Cohen sings, “Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

The light of God.  The light of healing.  The light of reconciliation.

In the Sacred Story, Jesus relates a parable.  Let me relate it to you again, substituting some words for words that might be more familiar:

“Two people went up to the church to pray, one a church board member and the other a drug dealer.

18:11 The church board member, standing by herself, was praying like this, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, prostitutes, traffic violators, or even like this drug dealer.

18:12 I go to church every week; I give a truckload of money to charity, and I golf in the annual literacy fund-raiser.’

18:13 But the drug dealer, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was weeping into his hands and saying, ‘God, show compassion to me, a sinner!  I have done so many things that are wrong.’

18:14 I tell you, that drug dealer went home more completely healed than the church board member; for all who puff themselves up will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be raised to new heights.”

Opening our hearts and lives in all honesty before God is difficult, and it is healing.

Molly Phinney Baskette has been using a method of public confession in her church which has brought spiritual growth and healing to its members.  In her church, every week there is a liturgist who gives their confession.  It is something for which they are already experiencing healing.  Although it requires tremendous courage and vulnerability, it is an opportunity for the gathered beloved community to resonate with what is said.  It gives the gathered community a chance to confess silently the ways in which their own sin has separated them from God, and gives everyone the glimpse of hope that there is when we see what God has done in a person’s life.  It is a testimony of God’s grace.

My proposal is that we do this once a month.  A person will read their invitation to confession, telling their own story, then we will pray the prayer of confession.  Following a period of silence, in which we offer our own silent confessions to God, we will hear and assurance of Grace.

You don’t have to be a drug dealer to come to speak – you just have to courageously come forward, and, sometimes with knees knocking, offer your story.  This month, I have asked the courageous Joyce Maloney to share her story with us.