Sunday, July 20, 2014

No Kneeling or Sitting

6th Sunday of Pentecost

1 John 1:5-2:2

            Whenever I hear today’s verses from 1 John, this is what happens in my head, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.” My years in churches that knelt or sat for the time of confession are not any greater in number than the number of years I’ve been with you, so I’ve never said or heard this phrase in six years. And yet, there it is. A biblical command and my automatic response…

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            That automatic response leapt into my head all week as I thought about the reading for today. Then the Presiding Bishop sent her letter on Thursday with the instructions to read to you on Sunday. Furthermore, the plane that was shot down in Ukraine, the children who have been gathered from the U.S. southern border, and the violence that continues to escalate in Iraq, Iran, and Syria all loomed large.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            How could I address all or any of those things in a way that was empathetic, encouraging, and truthful? Could I deal with one, but not the others? What about the personal and family crises that have occurred this week? There is heartbreak here that you know that I know. And some people are gathered here because of a gorgeous and joyful wedding or other celebrations that have just past or are scheduled. People with joy in their hearts don’t always skip toward a hearty discussion of sin in the world.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”
            We kneel or sit often becomes our default move when we hear about sin. Being confronted with our own vain, idolatrous, and selfish choices makes most of us want to turn the other way, much less stay and reflect on them with other people (who are surely worse sinners!). This is the truth, though:

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            Many of us, maybe most of us, can even accept the idea that we have not always done the right thing. Even those among us who are sure we’re pretty good have still failed in many and various ways. The harder thing to acknowledge is that we also have a hand in the larger sins that are around us. Our national struggle and missteps in the situation between Israel and Palestine does not occur apart from us. Decisions about immigration, hope, and welcome affect us all.

            The deaths of three hundred people in an airplane as a political statement and challenge reflects an overall disregard for human life on earth. That kind of behavior does not exist in a vacuum. We want to confess to feeling frustrated with our children or gossiping about our neighbor or fudging some information, but the extent of sin, within us and without us, spreads.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We kneel or sit.”

            The writer of 1 John would never want “kneeling or sitting” to be the response to or the action of confessing. The entirety of the letter calls the Christian, the person walking in the Way of Jesus, into a community of action, of growth, of change. With the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we walk, we move from darkness into light. By confessing our shortcomings, great and small, we are forgiven and renewed according to the truth of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

            Forgiveness doesn’t happen in just still, quiet moments- when we hold our hands just right, when we kneel or sit, when we say the right words. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to hold still. The Spirit molds us on the way, washes us on the move, and makes us whole even as we mess up again. We ask for forgiveness because we know we need it. God gives it because of God’s very nature.

            “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            I have to put new words at the end of that sentence. You do too. Being cleansed from unrighteousness, being made right with God, is not for nothing. It is specifically so that we can continue forward to work for justice, peace, reconciliation, and to care for creation- all things that are in our baptismal promises. We pray, we act, we call, we write, we cry out, we point, we encourage, we rage, we confess, we are forgiven… There is no kneel or sit.

            We are called and pulled into the action of God’s work with our hands, our feet, our mouths, our time, our possessions.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We work and pray. We listen and heal. We hope and play. In recognizing the truth of God’s mercy and grace, we are called to do just about anything and everything, besides kneel or sit, for the sake of Christ in the world. 


Amen.

No comments: