A Sermon for today from Cross of Glory

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends! 

I pray you are well… being vigilant yet not overly anxious these days.  Indeed as Wes Munsil from our church shared recently in an email to me, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)” and Helen Devantery from Cross of Glory reminded us of the verse from Joshua 1:9:  “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”  What magnificent passages!   

Before you read too much more, I want you all to keep eight-year-old Seth, Pam and Sergio Lugo’s grandson, in your prayers especially tomorrow morning.  Seth is scheduled to be baptized at Holy Love Lutheran Church tomorrow if indeed Holy Love is having services.  So often our prayer chain prayers are prayers of need and concern.  How wonderful to be able to pass on prayers of celebrations and praises!  Super duper Seth!  Congrats! 

I am sensitive everyone to “bombarding” you with email messages given this “strange” time of not being physically in worship.  I promise I will not be sending you emails every day though I certainly will be reaching out to all of you regularly through various means in the weeks ahead.  Pastor Todd and I had a lengthy phone conversation today about possible approaches to using social media to “do” church during this time.  My wife, Barb Lemke from Bethel is also interested in being a part of what we all decide to do.  How great that we can sharing these “intentions” with all three of our congregations, all of whom are suspending worship services for a time.  I want to thank Steve Reid for his enthusiasm in helping us come closer to doing some really cool social media things in the near future (not as early as tomorrow though gang!). 

This is the sermon that I preached the other night at Prince of Peace for our Wednesday, March 11th Lenten gathering.  You remember that Pastor Todd and I are preparing messages based on the 1530 Augsburg Confession, an important document in Protestant Reformation history.  This important work explains Lutheran understandings of various elements of faith.  The other night I preached on “Confession and Forgiveness.”  Check out my sermon: 

Bishop Fulton Sheen, perhaps best known for his radio sermons on the Catholic Hour broadcast, often recounted the following story as a life-changer for him.  He wrote:  

“I visited a leper colony in Africa. I brought with me 500 small silver crucifixes to give to each victim of the dread disease. The first leper who came up to me had only a stump of his left arm and his right arm and hand were full of those telltale, white open sores of leprosy. I held the crucifix a few inches above his hand and let it drop into his palm. At that moment there were 501 lepers in the camp and I realized that I was the most leprous of them all!  I had taken the symbol of God’s love and refused to identify myself with all that the symbol implied. I looked at the crucifix in the putrid sores of his hand and realized that I, too, must become one with suffering humanity. I then pressed my hand to his hand with the symbol of love between us and continued to do so for the other 499 lepers.” 

Because of the death and consequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been saved! Lepers as we are so much of the time, sinners, yet deemed saints because of God’s imputed righteousness, we have been graced indeed!  

I want to talk to you about Confession and Forgiveness in the Church. In the first decade of the Protestant Reformation, Catholics were accusing Lutherans of wanting to do away with private confession and absolution.  Protestants had been critical of the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins, slips of paper promising immediate forgiveness of past sins and/or guarantees for absolution of future ones!  Some Catholics believed that when there was a “clink” of an indulgence coin in the coffers of the Church, a soul was released from Purgatory! Indeed, Lutheran Christians had much to say in opposition to indulgences, but the Augsburg Confession made clear that Lutherans argued that Confession and Absolution ought always be retained and not fall into disuse in the Church. 

The developers of the Augsburg Confession, particularly Philip Melancthon, noted that Confession and Absolution is Biblically-mandated. On numerous occasions, the Jesus gave His followers the authority to pronounce absolution to penitent sinners. Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 18:18, “Assuredly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Likewise, after Jesus resurrection, Jesus shared with his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained. 

The pronouncement of forgiveness of sins is a very important part of our worship service today. At the start of our worship services, we make confession of our sins and we receive absolution from THE LORD through the pastor’s words: “As a called and ordained minister the Church of Christ, and by HIS authority I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” 

The most terrible mistakes and the worst sins one can commit can yet be forgiven, and forgotten, according to God’s promises! God’s love is so broad that He is willing to forgive every penitent sinner who comes to Him! You yourself may not be able to forget what you’ve done but in Holy Scripture, we learn that God not only forgives sins, but remembers them no more! It is not that God minimizes sin. Just take a look at the cross and the costly price Christ paid that we might be forgiven! God so loves the world that He gives and gives and gives…and forgives and forgives and forgives!  

If one of your kids did wrong and came to you geuinely sorry and seeking forgiveness, I’m sure you would never refuse it. If a human parent who is imperfect is willing to forgive his child, we certainly can believe that God, who is the sum of perfection, is willing to do the same for us. 

Forgiveness remains the key word in our lives. God’s Word is full of the promise that if we are truly penitent, our sins will be forgiven. We are encouraged over and over again in Scripture to approach God’s throne in confidence, believing in God’s grace and mercy while trusting that “He who continually promises is entirely faithful, trustworthy and true.” Do we have to go into a confessional booth, cross ourselves and seek forgiveness of sin from a priest? Do we have to go through a priest in order to receive forgiveness of sins? YES! We must go through a priest in order to receive forgiveness of your sins… but don’t be confused. The priest I am talking about is not me nor Pastor Todd. It is not Bishop Jim or even the Pope. All of us receive forgiveness of sins through the priest Jesus Christ who died for our sins and who was raised from the dead to take us unto himself. 
“If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

In 1530, the time of the Augsburg Confession, the reformers made a distinction between the need to see a parish priest for absolution and the benefit in so doing. The reformers recognized that while absolution is an important part of our public worship, we should always realize the importance of need for private confession and absolution.  James writes in the New Testament, “Confess your sins to one another” and Jesus says, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.” 

Article 11 of the Augsburg Confession, the part about Confession and Absolution, is addressing the use of private confession and absolution with the pastor. Sadly, private confession and absolution of this kind is nearly fallen into disuse in the Lutheran Church today. This type of confession can be a great blessing for an individual who is weighed down with rhe burden of their sin and seeking comfort. Pastors should always be ready to hear such confessions and offer absolution to troubled souls, and members should be willing to make that confession so that they may receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness. What great comfort can be found in such confession and absolution! 

Philip Melancthon rejected the Roman Catholic idea that a member must recount ALL sins that had been committed. This was demanded by Cannon law of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 AD which states, “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and in number all serious sins committed after baptism.” 

Even the Scripture says in Psalm 19:12, “Who can discern errors?” Even with a good heart, with a full conscience, would you be able to recount EVERY sin of your mind, of your body and of your heart? Melancthon understood that Roman Catholicism demanded such and saw its doctrine as absolutely ludicrous. After the Augsburg Confession, Roman Catholic theologians, taking to heart Melancthon’s criticism, clarified that “although people cannot state all their sins individually, nevertheless, a diligent examination of their conscience being made, they make an entire confession of their offenses.” 

The real problem with private confession and the recounting of sins in the Catholic Church according to the reformers was that it was DEMANDED by the Church. The reformers argued that nowhere in Scripture does God demand His followers make a verbal confession of their sins to a priest. The Bible, describes confession of sins as a fruit of faith, not a demand of the law. When John the Baptist came and began preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” we are told that “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and we’re baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.” When Paul preached about Jesus to the people in Ephesus, “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.” These are not actions demanded by the law. They were the results of faith worked in the heart of sinners through the Holy Spirit. 

Private confession and absolution is Scriptural and beneficial. It is an excellent opportunity for a person who is troubled by sin to declare wrong, show sorrow for sin and receive the good news of forgiveness for that sin. But we should not turn this blessing into a work-righteous act by demanding private confession of all sins. Rather let us offer private confession and absolution and encourage people to make use of it as motivated by the Gospel! 

In one of his sermons, the Apostle Peter encouraged listeners to “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As Lutheran Christians, we believe that absolution also happens in baptism. In addition, we believe that forgiveness of sins happens in a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. “After supper, Jesus took the cup  He gave thanks and He gave it to them all saying, ‘Drink this all of you! This cup is the new covenant, of my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” 

Think for a moment everyone of our head-over-heels debt to God. Our debt is so huge we could never through an eternity pay it, yet God has given us all that wee are and all that we possess. He even has readied eternity for us. God shows His love and mercy for us every day!  How can we then deny forgiveness to our brothers and our sisters? When we see what God has done for us, how can we possibly continue in bitter hatred, anger and jealousy with others? Perhaps someone has hurt you deeply and you’ve said, “I will never forget what that person has done.” How can we who have been forgiven so much by God be so unmerciful to others? When we let the love of God flow into our lives, God will help us to overcome an unforgiving spirit. 

All of us have a past record of countless mistakes. Every day our steps reveal that we have walked the wrong way. God sees all. He looks into our unclean hearts. Only God has the power to make our hearts clean again. Only God can send us forward on the new road. Only God’s forgiveness can give us peace and calm and a new life. 

“Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Confess your sins unto Him, count on His amazing grace forgiveness of ALL your sins and walk in the newness of life!  Amen! 

Thank you for checking this sermon out! 

Pastor Mike Lemke