James 5:16 and Proverbs 28:13 CEB
For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.
Those who hide their sins won’t succeed,
but those who confess and give them up will receive mercy.
Describing our Christian life together over the past month challenges each of us to move from trying to practice our discipleship alone to pursuing it in and through our church community. We can see the value of community life, in the regular practices of worshiping, praying, studying scripture, and singing together. We can see the value in working in our time alone to become more whole persons to allow our life together to thrive. At the end of the day, we can even live more fully into the call to bear each other up in service through service, to share our burdens. Except, there are some burdens we are often unwilling to share, and some things we are not comfortable talking about. That’s where we turn today, to the act of confession. Now, we might be comfortable with confessing our shortcomings to God, but what about the practice of confessing our wrongs, those sins of ours, to each other? We cannot live fully into community without being willing to share our whole and honest selves with our community. Until we make this practice of confession part of our life together, we do not share life together honestly, instead masquerading around in false piety.
False piety sounds harsh, but the harsh truth is that we can practice every other part of our life together and still be alone in a community of faith. When we define ourselves as a community of pious believers, we create a community that “permits no one to be a sinner.” Instead of being honest about ourselves, “all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community.” We make the mistake of thinking we have to live as though we have already been fully resurrected, as though we are already a perfected people. We live as though no true member of this community could actually ever commit a sin. All the thieves, adulterers, liars, slanderers, and abusers are out there, not in here. We should be a treatment and recovery center, a place where we are receiving healing for what ails us. We are in therapy, to learn the practices and tools that will bring us back to wholeness. Instead, we more often create the perfect place for sin to fester and its rot to spread just below the veneer of our false piety.
Christ had a word for this, he calls people practicing this kind of piety “whitewashed tombs” as they “look beautiful on the outside [, but] inside they are full of dead bones and all kinds of filth” (Matthew 23:27b CEB). We can get caught up in looking just right on the outside, to look good before others, while leaving our struggles and faults hidden. As I have said before, sin wants us alone, and you can certainly be alone in the midst of a community, especially where we cannot air out ailments. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, says that the “more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them [, the] more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness.” Sin thrives in staying hidden. Sin thrives in keeping us apart from true community, where it can isolate us in itself and keep us certain that if we were to confess, to share our wrongs, we would be rejected by both our neighbors and by our God. However, sin lies! The truth is that God loves us, sins and all! God wants us as we are, not some false pious version. I love the words from the prophet Hosea, “I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings” (Hosea 6:6 CEB). God desires faithful love because God gives steadfast love to all people, to all of us who are lost and consumed by sin.
God knows us through and through, we cannot hide our sins from God, and guess what, God still declares love for us! Enough love to liberate us from sin, through the death and resurrection of the Son! Yes, God clothed the godhead in flesh and made the divine in the image of sinful humanity. Christ did not reject sinful humanity, instead sought out corrupt tax collectors, prostitutes, reckless youth, and even oppressive Romans and called them – as they were – to be his disciples, his followers. In relationship with this person of Jesus, they and we today find this faithful love, this overwhelming mercy. We are called by Christ to live into this relationship with our God and with each other, to live into a community that is defined by steadfast love and mercy. We see it in Christ’s call for our community in John, “‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven’” (John 20:23 CEB). These words are echoed throughout the gospels, we find them in the Lord’s prayer, to forgive as we are forgiven. This implies that we too can be a source of mercy even as we are still sinners. After all, who better to extend mercy to sinful humanity than we, members of this same sinful humanity now being restored by grace?
Confession breaks through the isolation of sin to bring us into a true community of faith. Look at those words from James, “For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Confess and you will be healed. Confess and your sins will be brought to the light, they will no longer have power over you because you will no longer be alone with them! In place of that loneliness, we will find ourselves in the company of other people, our neighbors who struggle with the same sins, the same loneliness. Suddenly, we are no longer alone but together, and that brings healing. Healing is found in wholeness, not only in the individual but in the community too. After all, look at the next line from James, “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” Righteousness does not mean piousness, and it certainly does not mean perfection. To be a righteous person means that we are in the right relationship with God and with our neighbor, and this right relationship is entirely dependent on that mercy, the faithful love found in God’s grace which burns through through the isolating power of sin by bringing us all into relationship with one another.
Confession roots out our pride, that we have the right to be in splendid isolation. In pride, we falsely believe, “I want to be for myself, I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and my desires, my life and my death.” In other words, my sin is my own, and I do not have to share it with anyone. Confession is not some welcome experience, after all, it is humiliating. We have to look at another person and admit in contradiction to all our false pride that we are not perfect and we have committed wrong. I am not talking about wrong in general either, we have to humiliate ourselves by giving up specific examples of our sins – our wrongdoings. Can we look another person in the eye and say the words, confess the times in the past week that we have lied to, lusted over, ignored, and gossiped about our neighbors? In doing this before another, we can no longer hide our sin, we can no longer deny its existence.
In ceasing to deny sin, we find instead new life through mercy. After all, how can new life be found, embracing our wholeness in God and community, without putting to death our old selves, our sins? As Proverbs shares, “Those who hide their sins won’t succeed, but those who confess and give them up will receive mercy.” No sin was ever overcome by ignoring it. When we share it, we kill its power.
We have to create spaces where we can confess and be known and receive mercy from one another as we receive it from Christ. We do not have to confess sin to everyone, but to confess it to part of the community is the same as confessing it before the whole. John Wesley understood this when he created bands in the early Methodist societies. These groups were small, about five people that individuals would meet with regularly. There, in this small whole of the community, people could “speak, each of us in order, freely and plainly, [to state] [to give voice to] the true state of our soul, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt since our last meeting.” The effect of this was for band members to experience “being known and loved” as “[shame] and isolation began to ebb [and the] power of temptation and sin was disarmed.” We need to find and create spaces within our life together to confess our sins to one another, freely and without judgment, to fully and honestly live into community.
Now, you may be wondering where the Lord’s Supper comes into this, as after all, we just shared communion last week. Confession is a key element to our act of practicing communion, as in this act of communion, we commune with our God and with the whole of the body. We participate in the feast to come, and Christ encounters us through the bread and juice to remind us of God’s act of steadfast love and the mercy found in grace. In eating the bread and drinking the juice, we acknowledge God’s gift in Christ to bring us into the right relationship with the divine through destroying the power of sin. If we do not practice confession with our neighbor, we are not coming to the table with a true desire to encounter God and receive spiritual food for the journey to live out our discipleship through our life together. We instead come to the table certain that we can solve our sins on our own, and remain lost in our isolation. We cannot participate in community if we are lost in ourselves, and communion is about existing in a relationship with God and with our neighbor, not through our own power but through the grace that comes from God in Christ. Confession helps to free us to receive the fullest measure of spiritual sustenance for the road ahead, something to keep in mind as the Lord’s Supper comes around again next month.
No rule says you must confess, just as no rule says you must live together. However, if we call ourselves Christians, if we say that we are disciples, this is what this life looks like in its fullest measure. Our gracious God gives to us continually, and these elements of our life together are here for our good and the betterment of the whole. Confession, though humiliating and hard – a bitter pill to swallow – is the best medicine to help us live under grace rather than sin. Community, the day together, the day alone, and service alike are all there to help us live fully into the salvation found in Christ. We are not meant to be alone in life or in faith, so let us live together fully and faithfully until we all share in the eternal community, the forever feast, found in God’s own kingdom. Amen.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 87.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 90.
 John Wesley, “Rules of the Bands,” in John Wesley, ed. Albert C. Outler (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 180-181.
 Kevin M. Watson and Scott T. Kisker, The Band Meeting: Rediscovering Relational Discipleship in Transformational Community (Franklin: Seedbed Publishing, 2017), 76.
Pastor Paul Grossman