No one wants to learn how much of a sinner they really are? Should we, in Christian worship services teach this? That we are sinners.
Take the common words of confession in a liturgical worship service.
I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended thee and justly deserve your present and eternal punishment.
These three words:
–poor: teach us that there is nothing in our hands of worth that we can offer God to be shown as worthy in God’s presence. No good deeds, not one good thoughts, not even our impressions of being a good person, we are poor and empty handed and in complete need of God.
–miserable: here are some definitions. Pitiably small and inadequate, sorrowful and uncomfortable. In our sin apart from God we are pitiably small and inadequate to face to vastness of the problem, we are called to sorrow over our sin and and to be uncomfortable knowing the depths of our sin in the light of God’s righteous sight.
–sinner: this one is always considered a “churchy” word, we talk about sin in church. One ancient definition comes from the greek hamartia, when an archer or spear thrower would miss the mark. One definition then is missing the mark, this is what God has intended for us, how to live, how to be in relationship with God and with each other, we have missed the mark, so much so that we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Let’s just stop there with those three words, poor, miserable sinner that is, we are:
empty handed, pitiably small and inadequate, sorrowful people, who miss the mark.
That is a confession that is often admitted to each and every week but it is more than a confession, we are teaching and being taught this, that we are empty handed, small and inadequate, sorrowful, missing the mark people. Why would anyone want to spend their time learning that?!
Because we spend a lot of time trying to learn something quite different. What we spend a lot of our time learning is that we should believe in ourselves and down get down on who we are, believe in your dreams and don’t criticize who you are. When compared with these positive teachings do we ever want to be taught the confession ever again?
There is a place for those positive teachings but only in proper context. One places our confidence in ourselves and one places our confidence in Jesus. Which one should we teach?
Jesus teaches something about this question in Luke 15:
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Have you ever been lost? I have, often, I have this problem with my internal compass, it keeps pointing the wrong way! But there things that you learn getting lost, like keep looking for the person you trust that is looking for you, try to wander more than you already have gone, be humble enough to ask for directions (especially if you’re a guy) and the most important thing you learn, try not to get lost in the first place.
But what if your lost in the middle of nowhere and you keep pretending you know we’re your at? (that never happens to guys does it?) You pretend nothing is wrong when there is, you keep getting more lost not less, not humble enough to ask directions because you’re “not lost” and you’re not looking for someone you can trust to help you.
There’s a big difference between the two. Now, if we told the person who didn’t think they were lost that they were lost, they might say you’re insulting them, they don’t need your help, they’ve got it figured out or don’t be such a downer. But they would still be lost.
But if you taught the person who was lost that they were lost and there was a way to be found, they would be likely to listen to you, they would be grateful for your help, and they would be really happy when they weren’t lost anymore and do their best to learn how not to get lost again.
One thinks they have it all together and they don’t and one knows they don’t and goes to where the help is found.
That’s what the words of the confession teach us, that we need help, we are lost, we cannot do this without God and we cannot be saved eternally without God, we are empty handed, small and inadequate, missing the mark people who needs God’s people. We are taught and teach that we are sinners but that’s okay, we don’t need to hide it or pretend that we are not, because Jesus came to save sinners.
This is God’s promise to you who are a sinner for the sake of Jesus who died and rose to find and save you. If you are small and inadequate God will you with HIs worth and wisdom. If you are empty handed God will fill you with His eternal riches that cannot be counted, both in this life and eternally. If you miss the mark God will guide your hand and teach you the way. If you are a sinner God will forgive you because Jesus came to save sinners.
But if you’re not a sinner, then Jesus did not come for you, and you are on your own, like the 99 sheep in the open field who didn’t believe they needed Jesus, they were fine on their own. The open field is not a place a sheep wants to be without any help, they will get even more lost, falls down cliffs, get stuck in the briars, get eaten by wild animals, but they were too stubborn to be taught.
Once we are found by God through faith in Jesus, one of the biggest things we want is not to get lost again, especially when we are afraid, or scared that we have gone the wrong way. It is the teaching of the Shepherd that reassures us and keeps us safe.
Let me share with you a personal story to emphasize this that I haven’t really shared with anyone else.
I was in the championship game for my soccer team. We were fighting hard against a team that was better than us but we were only one point behind them with just a few minutes left in the game. I really, really wanted to win this game, I could taste it, along with all of the rain that was pounding down on us. It was all pretty dramatic, mud soaked players, pouring rain, a fevered pitch game. With just two minutes left to the game we a strange thought crossed my mind. “I would sell my soul to win this game.” I don’t know where it came from, maybe I had been watching too many horror movies (that just goes to show that what you see does teach you things) but there it was and then as quickly as I thought it I forgot about it. In the next few moments we kicked in against the odds another goal right past the goalie and then just with seconds left on the game I kicked a Hail-Mary pass all the way from defense an my center headed it in the goal. We won, it was awesome. At that very moment a lightning bolt clear as day struck the ground feet away from the field, I kid you not and at that moment I remembered what I said in my mind about selling my soul and I thought that was it, I was done for.
I was scared and I actually talked to my mom about it. She gave me some good teaching out of the Bible and my catechism. I learned again that God is greater than anything, including the Devil, that in baptism my soul does not belong to me but belongs to God and that nothing can snatch me out of God’s hands. This good teaching has kept my heart still from that day on and I still hold on to it.
Some of you may have had similar fears to mine. Sometimes we may be afraid what will happen when we die. Or we don’t know if we are forgiven or not and how all of that works and if we have anything to worry about. Many people are worried and curious about the devil, spirits and demons while many also don’t believe they exist.
But in all of this it is good solid, biblical teaching that reassures us, encourages us and helps to keep us on the straight and narrow where our help is found.
So you’re a sinner. That’s really good news. Because Jesus came to save sinners.