Friday, March 09, 2007

Penitence and Forgiveness

Let’s talk about this confession business. The Roman Catholics got in trouble with indulgences, selling forgiveness of sins for money for the church. The worse the sin, the more it cost you. And, the poor people still had confession with penances and the disrespect of the curia since they didn't have money to give.

So the Protestants came along, and the Church of England split from Rome. But, confession of sins was still a fixture in most churches...not necessarily private confession of sin, but a corporate, public confession that the whole church is made of sinners. They didn’t have to enumerate their sins, say special prayers or pay money, but they were expected to live their lives differently in the future.

So, here comes the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church, and confessions are corporate and short. There’s a form for private confession, but most people never see it and others use it once during Lent. "Oh yeah, God, I did some things today that I shouldn’t have done and I probably didn’t do some things I should have done, forgive me." The silence at the beginning of the confession gets shorter and shorter, and a person doesn’t have time to reflect on the day’s sins or the week’s sins or just times when he/she has fallen short of being the best possible.

But, once a year, we dig out the Litany of Penitence for Ash Wednesday service. We get ashes on our forehead and reminded that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. This “dust to dust” business is also used in the burial service. So, the ashes remind us that we’re going to die. No doubt about it. Someday we will die. Then what?

We won’t go into the punishment for unforgiven sins or unrepentant sinners, nor we will go into the rewards for those who have repented and lived new lives. That’s another day.

This Litany of Penitence is modern day words that touch our lives. My partner and I are saying this litany along with a short prayer service every night during Lent. Hummmm. I have learned more about how I can sin and do sin in these couple of weeks than I ever wanted to know. Let’s look at the bulk of the prayer, and you’ll see what I mean.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. (No doubt about it, I’m truly guilty of this. Too hard to do, especially all the time.)
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. (And Jesus indicated that our neighbors were nearby and far off – not just people who live near us – Do you love those despots over in Iran or Korea?)
We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. (How many times have you said, “I forgive you.”? Or for that matter, how many times has someone asked your forgiveness?)
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
(Well, I went to seminary, but I probably didn’t make enough effort to get ordained. I did serve in some ways, and then I quit. I have turned a deaf ear to God many times.)
We have not been true to the mind of Christ. (Do I really know the Mind of Christ?)
We have grieved your Holy Spirit. (Not something I really want to do.)
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
The pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,

(Now here we have all the times when I’ve said I would do something and didn’t do it – unfaithful, to God, to my friends. And, pride – whooo-eee- my Mom said I didn’t know the meaning of the word humility. Hypocrisy – I can be anything you want me to be if I’m trying to convince you to give money to my favorite cause. And, I surely don’t live by the same words that I tell others they should. And, then, we have that bugaboo “impatience” – Lord, give me patience, but hurry.)
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self indulgent appetites and ways, (Does that include the chocolates I keep hidden near my desk and the seeking to fulfill my own desires, sometimes at the cost of...)
and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, (Oh, Lord, you must have had this one written for me. I get so frustrated. Her life would be so much better if she’d just do what I tell her. And, I really want to know exactly what’s wrong with me and how we can fix it or if I’m going to have to live with it – and no one has the answers yet and maybe not ever.)
and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves, (I wish I had....., enough said)
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, (Here’s another one that kicks me in the stomach – all those towels I bought, all the soft blankets, and how many pair of shoes doe I really need?)
And our dishonesty in daily life and work, (Well, here at least, Lord, I try.)
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, (Lenten discipline is good, now if I could just keep it up all the time. And, I know I could find a worship service that I could attend somewhere, God. I’m just too lazy and too sick lately to do that. Is that a good enough excuse?)
and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, (Here again, God, I try.)
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
(I don’t even see people here who might be homeless or hungry, never mind remembering all those people in other countries who are facing starvation or death or war.)
and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, (Okay, so I get riled up about one thing or another, but I don’t do much anymore.)
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, (I am one of the most judgmental people I know – all the time making snap judgments based on how they look, how they talk, where they live, how they dress.)
for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, (Specifically, how many times have I said someone was crazy – someone who lived nearby – never mind those far off.)
and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, (All those fundamentalists, Lord, and the conservatives, I don’t see how you put up with them.)
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, (Ugh, I don’t think joining Sierra Club counts as penance enough for all that this generation is doing to the world.)
and our lack of concern for those who come after us, (I don’t have kids; so why should I worry?)
Accept our repentance, Lord.

(Now here’s the kicker, God. I’m asking you to forgive me for all this stuff that I’ve done wrong and stuff that I’m likely to do again even though I think I won’t. And, you do. You do it. I don’t know why, God.)

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
(Oh boy, I’m going to show forth God’s glory? However, can that happen with one such as I?)

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Do you know how many sins you can remember when you say this every night, night after night? A lot.

But, the kicker is right there near the end – “Accomplish in us the work of your salvation...and Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.” Okay, God. I guess you can do all this, but I know you’re working hard on me, and, if others are like me, then you have a Herculean task.

Just keep remembering, God, that you love me, and I’ll keep examining my life and trying to do better. Amen.

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