Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Foolishness of Confession

Psalm 51:1-12


        Many of you have had the pleasure of meeting my granddaughter Siddalee. She just turned four and believes that she, not Diana Prince, is really Wonder Woman. This has resulted in her two older brothers being a bit afraid of her. A couple of weeks ago she and Austin were playing when an altercation broke out. The results were Austin lying on the floor and Siddalee triumphantly looked down upon him. I called Siddalee over and asked her if she had pushed Austin. She looked at me and proudly announced she had. Trying to regain control of the situation I told her she needed to tell Austin she was sorry. She turned, walked over to her brother and sarcastically said, “Sorry”. Unsatisfied with her response I asked, “Did you mean what you said?”  She glared a hole through me and responded, “You just asked me to say it. You didn’t say I had to mean it.”

        I once heard that confession is good for the soul. In today’s atmosphere of division and tension, we will never know because lately confession seems to be considered a sign of weakness. Siddalee is not a product of imperfect parenting. She is the product of an imperfect time where we share false assumptions and flawed conclusions which are never effectively examined because no one is willing to admit they might be wrong. We have entered an era where prose has replaced poetry. Anyone can utter a sentence. Even the illiterate can paste together words that reflect anger and hate. But who stops to write a poem. Who pauses to reflect on the story that might be behind the verse? Who soulfully examines their own flaws before lashing out at another? Who is bold enough to painfully yet honestly pray, “Have mercy on me.”

        Three words essential to any all confessional prayer remain, “I have sinned.” Yet as my granddaughter has already learned, the truthful utterance of those words seems blasphemous. Why should I be the first to repent? Why should I be the one always waving an olive branch? Did we not learn anything from Neville Chamberlain? The closest we come to admitting guilt is, “I may be wrong, but.” Of course anytime the word “but” is spoken or written it eliminates any words that preceded it.

        “Purge me and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” The poem foolishly requests, “Change me; I am the problem.” In this day and age, who makes that kind of statement? I suspect when we pray, our most consistent request is, “Change my situation. Help my neighbor to understand the sinfulness of his ways. Help my sister to see how absurd she is being. Help the guy I just heard on the TV understand how stupid he is.” Instead the poet cries out, “Change me. Don’t just forgive me, change me. Keep me from making the same mistake. Make my mind open to Godly thoughts. Help me to understand my advisory. I don’t need agree with him. I don’t even need to like her. But I do need to try to understand them.”

        Rick Winters came by my office this week and dropped off a book he had mentioned it at our last Pub Theology meeting. I expressed an interest in reading it. The subtitle is, How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right. Written by Ken Stern, a former CEO of National Public Radio, it is the story of a professing liberal who decided to live among gun owners, evangelicals, climate change skeptics and folks who prefer Fox News. After his year of hearing about their lives, Stern discovered how much he had in common with those folks he once considered deplorable.  Through those conversations Stern discovered true confession only comes after the epiphany that no one, including himself, was perfect. 

This is a frightening disclosure if you happen to be Wonder Woman ……. or the King of Israel. One morning as spring ascended upon the land, an aging King watched as his army marched to war. This one time slayer of giants now had trouble getting out of bed. Only David’s imagination remained young.

        His eyes and desire shifted from war to a more personal conquest. Below he spied the wife of Uriah, one of his most trusted soldiers. David was king. What belonged to Uriah also belonged to him. The woman was summoned and told the king desired her. Was Bathsheba raped? Was she complicit? Was she ambitious? Those questions only expose our ignorance. David held the power of life and death over Bathsheba. He was the king and she was his responsibility. David initiated the act and was accountable for his action.

        Isn’t amazing how one selfish act complicates our lives. David committed adultery. David saw it as a small discretion protected by the court’s silence. He never imagined Bathsheba would become pregnant.  How does one hide the visible proof of the king’s appetite? The plot thickens as Uriah was summoned to come home. David assumed after weeks in the field his only desire would be to sleep with his wife. But the loyal soldier never left the side of his king. David sent Uriah back to the front line with a message for General Joab. “Put his young man in the thick of the fighting. He is expendable.” By sunset, Uriah died valiantly defending the king who had betrayed him.

        David committed adultery, deceit and murder. Only a king could survive such a turn of events. His loyal subjects might whisper but who would dare raise a finger against their king.

        Enter the prophet.  Nathan, a trusted friend, requested an audience with his king.  “Sire, I bring to you a tale of woe that I believe is worthy of your attention. Outside the city resides a small farmer barely able to make it from year to year. He owns one lamb, more a family pet than livestock. Next to the farmer is a huge ranch stocked with more sheep than the eye can count. The rancher invited a friend to come for lunch. Instead of slaughtering one of own his flock, the rancher took the farmer’s lamb.

        David was outraged. He grew up on a small farm. He spent his childhood protecting his father’s livestock from every predator imagined. David screamed at Nathan, “Bring me the man who committed this crime!”

        Nathan responded, “Sire, it was you.”

        What do we do when we are caught red-handed? Sometimes we deny. Sometimes we make excuses. Sometimes we offer an insecure apology. Each of these actions indicates it is only about our feelings, our desires, our reputation, our misguided understanding of self.

        What does David do?

He goes searching for his soul.

        There are a thousand words David could have spoken but he settled on these. Have mercy on me according to your mercy. Cleanse me from my sin. Against you I have sinned. You desire truth. You desire a clean spirit. Restore me to the joy of your salvation. There is no sacrifice to cover my transgression except a broken and contrite heart.

        In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the old king loses his crown, his kingdom, and even his vision, but in the end the villainy of the bad sisters is revealed and the purity of the good sister shines forth. But too much malice has already been set in place. The good, the bad, the weak, the strong, all die leaving no one but Edgar to place his epitaph on the tragedy.

                The weight of this sad time we must obey.

                Speak what you feel, not what we ought to say.

        What separates the tragedy of Lear from the resurrection of David? Confession! The cast of King Lear followed their deceit to the grave. They spoke only what folks expected to hear. David reached into his soul and confessed his sinfulness.  David remembered who he had once been and who he could once again become.

        The Apostle Paul delights in reminding us we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. I wish Paul had spent more time reminding us that 99% of the time we are pretty decent people. Unfortunately, when we mess up, instead of searching our soul, we search for an excuse. Then our blunder labels how others see us. Once this happens, our sin, not our godliness, consigns us to a particular tribe and the concept of neighbor seems to become hopelessly lost.

        Perhaps the restoration of one’s community, or even one’s country, begins with a contrite heart.

Perhaps as we confess, others might remember who we were and what we are capable of becoming.

Perhaps, if only for the sake of our grandchildren, we might do the same with those who have wounded us.

To God be the Glory.                              Amen.


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