Forgiveness
Psalm 32

At the beginning of the service today, as we do on most Sundays, you were invited to draw near to God our Father and confess your sins and ask him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you.  We do that together as one body, we say we confess, but as we do we are thinking about our own sin.

We confess that we were born in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  There is nothing we can do to release ourselves from that bondage without God’s help.  And so the pastor asks a series of questions to bring your sins before God and ask for his forgiveness.

Do you confess that you have sins and do you repent of them?
Do you believe that Jesus has redeemed you and do you desire forgiveness in his name?
Do you intend with the help of the Holy Spirit to live as in God’s presence and to strive each day to lead a holy life even as Christ has made you holy.

We generally answer in unison to each of these questions, “I do”.

You then hear the pastor say the absolution, “As a called and ordained servant of the word I announce the grace of God to all of you.  On behalf of my Lord Jesus Christ and by his command, I forgive the sins of all of you who repent and believe, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

These are not just idle words of a human being, these are performative, this is God saying to you through the pastor, that you have just stated that you have sinned and repent, that you know Jesus has redeemed you and you want to live a better life and as such YOU ARE FORGIVEN.

It’s important to note that at no point do we say, “Do you feel forgiven”.  Sometimes I am sure you have reached that point in the service and haven’t felt particularly different to the way you did a couple of minutes earlier.  It really doesn’t matter though how you feel about it.  The plain and simple truth is that you are forgiven.

Our human condition, which constantly sins and falls short of the glory of God needs to hear the words, “your sins are forgiven” regularly.  We sin regularly and so we need to hear that regularly.  Otherwise the burden of our sin would mount up on us and as the Psalmist says, “While I kept silent, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.”  Carrying our sin on us weighs heavily on us, our strength becomes dried up as if by the heat of summer.”

So what does the Psalmist do?  He acknowledges his sin to God, he doesn’t hide his iniquity and in return is blessed.  The translation we have used today says happy, but the Hebrew word actually means covered or blessed.  His transgressions are covered, he has been blessed by God, this isn’t necessarily a feeling, but is a fact, a pure and simple fact; his sins have been covered by God.

In realising that through confessing his sins he is blessed, he calls on others to do the same, “Let all who are faithful offer prayer to you at a time of distress, so that the rush of mighty waters will not reach them.”  He wants others to cry out to God for forgiveness and then offers to teach them to trust in the Lord.

Don’t be like a horse or mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle.  How do we gain understanding?  By looking at what the Lord has given us, his Ten Commandments.  When we test our behaviour and lives against the commandments we quickly realise that we fall short of meeting them.  They give us understanding, they guide us like a horse or mule in the way we should go.

When we get caught up in sin it is like being caught in the mighty waters that the Psalmist speaks of.  Yesterday my youngest son and I were kayaking on the Yarra River.  When you are paddling in a river that is moving quite quickly you realise that even though you think you are in control you may not be.  I was going through one rapid and wound up sideways on a rock, the only way out was to go backwards over about a two foot drop.  Sin can do that to us too, we get caught and struggle to get out, our lives get turned around.  When we do take the time to measure ourselves up we do feel burdened, we can in fact feel downright awful when we realise just how far short we fall.

But in Christ we are a new creation, he sets us free.  Remember as we heard Jesus explain in the parable of the prodigal son, the Father drops everything and runs to the long lost son and greets him.  He arranges for his status to be returned to him, he is no longer dead to him but is alive.  That’s what our Father in heaven does for us, each time we return to him to ask for his forgiveness.  He runs to us and meets us with open arms and receives us as a new creation, reconciled to him.

There is no need to try and hide our sins from God, he sees them anyway, he is a hiding place for us, we should come to him and allow him to preserve us from trouble as we shelter in his protection, as he forgives us every time we sin against him in thought, word and deed.

So I have covered corporate confession, where we together publicly confess our sins in a general way.  What about if you remain burdened by your sin, if hearing the pastor proclaim forgiveness to you still leaves you languishing and dried up like in the summer heat, is there something else that you can do.  Well yes there is.  At the General Convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia last year, we as your pastors were encouraged to offer and promote the practice of private confession and absolution. 

Now for some people that sounds ‘too Catholic’ and for others who have never had the experience it sounds just plain scary and uncomfortable.  But, for those people who have something weighing heavily on their heart that they just can’t seem to get past, actually naming the sin is a wonderful release. Having spoken aloud a specific sin, and hearing it specifically forgiven most people are able to rejoice and be glad in the Lord as their sins are covered by God, they are blessed.  You need to know that anything said during a time of private confession with a pastor remains strictly confidential, between you and him and God alone.  If anyone requires private confession, please contact Pastor Mark or me and it will be made available to you.

This service is offered to pastors at every conference or continuing education session that we do, because it is an important rite commanded by Jesus for the building up of the church.

Then of course as we reach the climax of the service each Sunday, having HEARD our sins forgiven we are invited to come and receive the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  In the Lord’s Supper we receive a physical and tangible forgiveness of sins, not just an assurance of forgiveness or a remembrance of forgiveness, but true forgiveness.  Take and eat this is my body given for you, drink of it all of you, this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

You are blessed to receive the forgiveness of God through his son Jesus Christ.  Live in that forgiveness.  Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.  Your sins are forgiven.

Amen