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“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If you come from a Christian tradition whose worship service includes a corporate prayer of confession, you may have heard these words before. It’s my ‘go-to’ call to confession. It’s the one I memorized first as a new pastor and I use it fairly often so these words are very familiar to me. Did you know they come from 1 John? 1 John is an unusual epistle or letter that you’ll find toward the end of the New Testament. We call it an epistle though it doesn’t begin with a greeting, as most do, and it ends rather abruptly without any sort of sign off. Much of its language is similar to the gospel of John so parts of it may sound familiar to you. Martin Luther said of I John that it can buoy up afflicted hearts. I hope that we find this to be true as we hear more of this epistle in the coming weeks. For my part, I find it comforting to know that long ago people of faith wrestled with the same things I wrestle with today. Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from 1 John 1-2:2.
[Read 1 John 1-2:2]
Here we find ourselves post-Easter both in this text and in our lives. Just one week ago, we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ with joyful songs, pastel colors, flowers on a cross, time with family and friends, perhaps some ham and a few deviled eggs. We gathered with other people of faith and declared, once again, that the stone was rolled away, the tomb empty, Christ is risen, indeed, and we no longer need to fear the grave. Alleluia artwork from our children showed us that in and through Christ, the garbage of our lives both literal and spiritual can be transformed into something beautiful.
So, how are you feeling? Do you feel like a new creation? Have alleluias taken up residence in your hearts and minds? Did you have a joyful week knowing that Christ is risen and this world of sin and death will not win? Did you treat yourself or your neighbors any differently? Or did this week feel very much the same as every other? I ask because I think the author of 1 John is concerned about life after Easter. It seems the church this letter is intended for may not be sure what life is like in Christ, the risen Christ, to be specific. There seem to have been theological debates about the truth of the resurrection and the humanity of Jesus. The writer of the letter wants to assure the hearers that the resurrection did happen and that Christ was raised bodily, in the flesh. In light of these truths, the writer believes life should be lived differently. The writer of this letter also has a great deal to say about sin. Perhaps those who were not so sure about the resurrection or about Christ’s humanity, were also not too keen on owning up to their own sinfulness. Claiming to live in the light, claiming to have fellowship with God all the while claiming to be blameless makes the claimant a liar, we read. After all, the light of Christ, doesn’t allow us to hide in the dark.
The author of this letter begins by making some large faith claims. “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you” This sounds like a confession of faith to me.
We’re sharing with you what we know…what has been true from the very beginning…what we have seen with our eyes, what we have heard with our ears…what we have touched with our hands concerning Jesus, the word of life. It’s all true and when we share this news with you, when we tell you what we know, when we tell you how our lives have been turned upside down for the better, our joy is doubled. We’re telling you all these things so that we can be in fellowship with you and really our fellowship is with Jesus and God.
This is a confession of faith. When someone makes a confession, they are speaking truth about their life. They are acknowledging their own belief or declaring adherence to something. They are revealing who they are by talking about what they believe. We usually hear the word ‘confess’ and think of it in another way and we’ll talk about that way in a minute. I want us, first, to think about what it means to confess our faith as this writer has done. In our tradition, we have a book of confessions which is filled with statements of faith from around the world and throughout history. Some are short and most are quite long. We use some of them in our worship service as affirmations of faith. We affirm our faith when we stand and say what it is that we believe. These confessions that we use, that we adhere to tell the world what we believe, who we strive to be, and who we are in light of God’s love.
And I think it’s easy to confess our faith here on a Sunday morning with other believers. It’s easy to stand as the body of Christ and join our voices together in affirmation. It may not be so easy out there. It may not be so easy in world that may question the resurrection or the humanity of Christ or the importance of faith or belonging to a church or belief in God altogether. Sometimes, in our daily living it is easier to go along in order to get along which may mean keeping quiet about our faith rather than confessing our faith. The writer of 1 John reminds us that confessing our faith is an act of joy. Telling others what we know to be true about Jesus…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have touched with our hands, and experienced concerning Jesus Christ and the love of God in our lives is a joyful thing. And we do so, in order that others may have fellowship with us in the truth of God’s love.
Now the other type of confession addressed in 1 John is probably more familiar to us…“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” This kind of confession. To confess the truth of our lives, that is our sinfulness. When we walk in the light of God, all that we are is revealed, the good and the bad, the ways in which we please God by our living and the ways in which we turn away from God by our living. The light of God is a wonderful thing but it is a revealing thing, too. The text tells us that if we claim to have fellowship with God but say that we have no sin we are liars. Now, Frederick Buechner, says that it is easier for him to write about sin than about grace because sin is familiar territory. I think that’s true. Sin is familiar territory. We are fast to claim that we are sinners, I think, though we may be slow to name our specific sins. The author of 1 John doesn’t seem to be as concerned about the specificity of our sins as our sinful nature, in general. Thank goodness! The claim here is that while sinning is universal so is God’s forgiveness. The promise is that when we confess our sins to God, God will freely forgive. That is good news, indeed!
We strive for authenticity in our lives, to make sure that our words and our actions are in line with one another. We know that when our words and our actions are not in line with one another, we get ourselves into trouble. This kind of integrity is important in our lives of faith. On the one hand, when we can confess our faith, our belief in God, our identity as a disciple of Christ but cannot admit our own sinfulness, we’re not fully living into the reality of the risen Christ. On the other hand, when we can confess our sins, our wrongdoing, the ways in which we live that are displeasing to God but cannot stand and say what it is that we believe, we’re not fully living into the reality of the risen Christ. I think that this opening section of 1 John is urging us to do both. Both kinds of confession are acts of faith. Both kinds of confession are a part of living a post-Easter life. Living into the reality of the risen Christ means claiming our faith out loud, knowing what we believe and sharing it with others. It also means acknowledging our deep need of a savior. We will not get out of this life without sinning but the promise of the empty tomb is that sin and death have been conquered and we have been redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we walk in the light of God, all is revealed. When we walk in the light of God, we cannot hide our wrongdoing or our faith. In confession, we stand before God exactly as we are with our faith and our doubts, our wrongdoing and our goodness. Confession, in any sense, is an act of faith because we are trusting in God’s goodness and love to be ever-present and never-failing. The opening portion of 1 John gives us assurance that God is for us. We have seen and heard and experienced the goodness of God which give us the confidence to declare our faith and to confess our sins. Jesus is our advocate in all of this. And I don’t want us to miss out on the universality of the language here…there is no part of the text that tells us only certain sins will be forgiven or that Jesus only died for some. The truth of the gospel is that Christ died for all…for your sins and my sins and the sins of the world. This is the good news we claim and proclaim and carry with us! So, I pray that as we live post-Easter, we will confidently confess both our faith and our sins in expectation and assurance of God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy. I pray that we will walk in the light of God and live in such a way that others will know the risen Christ in us, that others will be able to see and know without a doubt that we belong to God not that we are perfect but that we seek to pattern our lives after the one who is. It’s walking the walk and talking the talk, with God’s help every step of the way.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 8, 2018
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
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Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
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