Many years ago, I paid a pastoral visit to a recently arrived Lutheran who began regularly attending our worship services.
As a person who grew up in a Lutheran community, I asked her about any differences she noticed in our Uniting Church service from the one she had been used to.
Whilst appreciative our worship experience, she said that we didn’t do confession very well. She went on to say that maybe Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) people had fewer sins to confess.
My hunch is that we in the UCA are equally fallible, maybe more so. It made me reflect on the tendency in Uniting Church worship to either overly generalise or minimalise our sins in prayers of confession. Too easily, we are vague and not too honest about our shortcomings.
In some services I have attended, we gloss over our sins, personal and corporate and hang out for the words of the “declaration of forgiveness” and the words of response “Thanks be to God”.
Perhaps we are shaped by our secular culture that tends to view the human condition through rose coloured spectacles.
True confession does not bolster our ego, rather it gives us a reality check and prepares us for grace and forgiveness.
Biblical culture reminds us that sin disintegrates and distorts us. We can function properly if sin is left unattended to. For sin is not only the wrong stuff we do, it is the good we don’t do. The volunteering we avoid, the money we don’t give and the praise we withhold.
We may not have robbed a bank recently, but we may have robbed someone of much need affection, kindness or prayer. In times of significant Christian renewal and revival down the centuries, deep-seated confession has been a hallmark of a powerful work of God
I came across a fascinating piece of research, “Neural Consequences of Religious Belief on Self-Referential Processing”.
Stay with me, I will explain.
It is about one part of the brain’s ability to evaluate others. The research came to the surprising conclusion that prayer and confession actually have the power to rewire the brain in a way that can make us less self-referential and more aware of how God sees us.
We might say honest, heartfelt confession is not only good for the soul; it is powerful in the process of making us whole.
Too easily we are self-centred and deceive ourselves, we want to look in the mirror and see only the beautiful.
Confession with the help of the Holy Spirit, gently allows us to be more real and more realistic about who we are and what we have done or not done.
I love the part in the story of the Prodigal Son where he “comes to his senses”, and repentantly turns back to his loving and forgiving father.
This is confession at its best. Just as the stomach hungers for food, the conscience hungers to be cleaned. Thank God this is what the gospel declares, “our sins are forgiven, thanks be to God”.
Rev Steve Francis