Undone via confession

Feb 2, 2018 by

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Once a week or so, I join a few Anglican clergy for morning prayers. Like many who grew up in a “low church” tradition with its relentless demands (real or perceived) for extemporaneity in prayer and worship, I have taken a sort of refuge in the solidity and predictability of the durable prayers and liturgies found in the high churches. I’m glad for a few Anglican friends who don’t mind a stray Mennonite showing up and stumbling along through forms that still feel at least somewhat foreign (and beautifully so).

One of the things that I most appreciate about morning prayers is that I am forced to confess my sins. I say “appreciate” through somewhat clenched teeth. I don’t appreciate confession like I do a beautiful mountain scene or a nice glass of wine. More like, “recognize the need for or the implications of.” Or like, “I can appreciate your (wrong) perspective on this matter.” It is a rather grudging and perhaps aspirational use of the word, I grant.

To say that confession is unpopular in our cultural context would probably be the height of understatement. We can barely be convinced that we are sinners most times, mountainous evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. It’s good to be forced to reckon with old words that illuminate realities that don’t change, no matter what we might tell ourselves.

So, each week, the familiar words:

Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we may delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your Name. Amen.

I was struck by two things near the end of this prayer.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy…

I recently listened to a truly awful sermon where the preacher was going on and on about how Jesus died for us because we were so inherently worthy of it or because he wanted us to become better versions of ourselves or some such nonsense. God does love us, and we do have value, obviously. But not in the ways that we are sometimes pleased to imagine or describe this. The Book of Common Prayer reminds me that forgiveness is for Christ’s sake.

That we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways…

This probably falls into the “patently obvious” category, but all of the confession-worthy thoughts, words and deeds that we do and leave undone boil down to delighting and walking in our ways. Which aren’t very good ways. They are ways tainted with greed and violence and lust and selfishness and apathy. They are rather easy ways to walk in. They are ways that represent the path of least resistance. It’s not hard to delight in our own ways. It’s also toxic and destructive.

So we confess our sins. We allow Christ to lead us into truer loves and better delights. And we are undone.

Ryan Dueck is pastor of Lethbridge Mennonite Church in Lethbridge, Alta., Canada. He writes at Rumblings, where this post first appeared.

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  • Craig Anderson

    Thanks for this. I always appreciate your very thoughtful writing. I sense that in my Mennonite Church Canada congregation we are quite hesitant to talk about sin using that word, though we often do have confession as part of the order of worship. But having grown up in a U.S. evangelical Lutheran-influenced Pietist tradition I think that in my current congregation we are poorer for our discomfort with acknowledging sin. My own preference would be for us to talk A LOT more about sin, but to add substantial nuance to how we talk about it, incorporating not just our willful disobedience but also the links to our pettiness, our imperfection, our alienation, our weakness, our very humanness. So . . . though I really identified with what you wrote in the first portion of this post, I confess :-) that when I got to the part about the “truly awful” sermon you recently heard, and the examples you cited as “nonsense,” I began to wonder if I might have liked that sermon or found parts of it substantially in accord with what I think God is calling us to believe, be and do. I would love it if in a future post (one The Mennonite, would again pick up, I hope) you can say more about the ideas you find nonsensical. Maybe I would agree and maybe I would disagree but I suspect I would learn a lot from it.