1 John1:8-2:2;Luke 15:1-10
Last Sunday before Lent
St Barbara’s 8am; 11.02.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
This week marks the beginning of Lent. The word comes from the word “Lengthening” – referring to the lengthening of days in Springtime. Its a reminder that just as the time leading up to Easter is a time of growth for nature, it should also be a time of growth in our spiritual lives too.
Lent begins on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Ash has been a way over the centuries to symbolise sadness at wrong things – people would put on “sackcloth and ashes” – and it also reminds us of our own mortality – none of us live for ever – “ashes to ashes” are words we say at funerals.
Ash is an important symbol that Lent is a time when we focus on our sinfulness and our need for God’s forgiveness, the need that takes Christ to the cross.
For the last two Sundays we have been thinking about spiritual disciplines – things that help us grow in the Christian life – and confession is a really important discipline, a habit that helps us grow.
The Bible can at times put things simply and without prevarication. In the letter to the Romans we read: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
It matters because sin, not living a perfect life, causes pain and hurt.
It causes pain and hurt to others. We only need to think of something unkind someone has said to us to know that words can hurt, let alone actions.
It causes hurt and pain to ourselves. Angry thoughts, or thoughts of jealousy or bitterness or selfishness rarely if ever help us. We get screwed up, upset, unable to change. We end up hurting ourselves.
And sin matters because it causes pain and hurt to God. God wants us to live good lives. When we do wrong things, it causes Him sadness. And it puts a barrier between us and Him, just as when we hurt someone else, even our best friend or our spouse, we end up putting a barrier between us.
The wonderful good news is that we can do something about it. Firstly, we can say sorry.
We do this every week in church, just as indeed we have done so already this morning. But that need not be the only time. We can do it every day of the week. Sometimes we may have done or said or thought things that we know are so obviously wrong that we just have to say sorry. There are other times when we may be unaware of what we have done or forgotten. But we may still have caused others, or God or ourselves hurt. Sometimes just asking a simple question can help:
have I upset anyone today? or
have I lived as though God were not with me at times today? or
have there been times when I could have acted to help someone and I didn’t today?
Sometimes the words of others can help us to find a place of confession too. Hear these words of David, written 3,000 years ago, with a more modern paraphrase as an echo:
Be merciful to me, O God,
because of your constant love.
Generous in love—God, give grace!
Because of your great mercy
wipe away my sins!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Wash away all my evil
and make me clean from my sin!
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I recognize my faults;
I am always conscious of my sins.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.
I have sinned against you—only against you—
and done what you consider evil.
You’re the One I’ve wronged, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
So you are right in judging me;
you are justified in condemning me.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I have been evil from the day I was born;
from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
Sincerity and truth are what you require;
fill my mind with your wisdom.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
Remove my sin, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Create a pure heart in me, O God,
and put a new and loyal spirit in me.
God, make a fresh start in me.
It is important to say sorry to God for our sins, to acknowledge to him that we have hurt him, others and ourselves.
But it is also really important to receive God’s forgiveness.
The Christian life is not about feeling continually guilty or terrible. It is important to acknowledge that we are not perfect, but it is also important to know that we are set free because of forgiveness.
Jesus was always telling stories of God’s desire to forgive. The two parables we heard in our Gospel reading are just two such wonderful examples. God loves to forgive. We give him so much joy and pleasure when we say we are sorry, because it means that he can then forgive us.
And when we say sorry, we can be confident that God will always forgive us. As our epistle reading reminded us:
“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1 John1:9)
He wipes our sins away – he forgives us.
If you find it difficult to believe that God has forgiven you, sometimes saying sorry to God with someone else present can help. For they can then speak God’s words of forgiveness to you: “God loves you and forgives you.”
What a wonderful thing that God loves us so much he delights in being able to forgive us.
That forgiveness does not come cheap. It takes Christ to the cross. May we make confession a part of our daily habit, our spiritual discipline this Lent, as we journey once again to the foot of the cross.