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Confessing Our Way to the Good Life

A reflection on sacramental confession from Fr. Shawn

In some of the darkest days of their lives, the disciples were hiding, locked up in a home. They had seen Jesus die with their own eyes only three days ago. Suddenly there He was standing before them, showing them his wounds, alive and victorious. Apparently, all of humanity's sin and death had not overcome Him. The living Jesus had come to share his peace, breathing His Spirit on them, and authorizing them with the most disruptive power the world would come to know: the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. John’s Gospel lets us into that locked room when Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23) This is no benign religious power, no motivational talk or sentiment. No this was far more dangerous, think of it like nuclear material, passed along really, really, carefully from one set of fisherman's hands to another. Be careful with this stuff, it is the power of God’s Kingdom put in the hands of the apostles of Christ’s church. Yikes. Scripture shows us that the sacred and powerful work of peace-making begins with Christ, transforms us, and is extended through us for the sake of others. 

“...in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us;...(2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

All Christians are invited to share in Christ's ministry of making things right in their own lives and in the world. Most of us have more of a heart to share in this peace-making work “out there” in the world, and less so in our inner life. If we continue like this, our campaigns for justice and reconciliation become a charade, a distraction, or a vain pursuit that conveniently overlooks the wounded condition of our soul. The journey to inward reconciliation goes hand-in-hand with the journey to outward reconciliation. This is, after all, how Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

This Lent, I’ve noticed in our community a prominent need to set some things right in our inner lives. How incredible, to see the Spirit of God sweeping through our lives with His healing power. As people ask me how they can cooperate with Lent's renovating work I’ve recommended a less practiced but incredibly powerful ministry of reconciliation in the Christian life: Confession. I remember the first time I did this with a priest it was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. It was as if the power of the Gospel poured into a new space in my real life, setting me free from old sin I’d been dragging around and accustomed to carrying. Travel light my friends, confess your sins and be welcomed by a God who is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). 

There is no mediator like Christ, who in His passion, drew together the expanse between our fallen lives and the holiness of God. There is no priest like Christ, who not only offers a sacrifice but is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 10). The ministry of reconciliation He imparts on his apostles and priests is a true Kingdom power to set captives free. It’s true what James 5:16 says “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

This kind of sacramental confession (called the Reconciliation of a Penitent in the BCP 447), is not required of anyone, because privately confessing your sins to God is a privilege all may enjoy. However, sometimes there is a need to take-up James’ guidance to confess to another who is entrusted with this ministry to heal and to receive a special blessing of priestly absolution in the Name of God. In my own life, private confession has done the heavy lifting that my soul often needs. I invite you to enjoy the same gift in confession.
 

How it works


The priest and penitent sit in chairs (though sometimes the one confessing kneels on a kneeler) usually next to a half-drawn curtain, or screen between the two. In the liturgy for confession on page 447 of the prayer book, there is a brief form for confession that takes less than 10 minutes (see below). In it, the penitent is led in confession, and the priest offers some brief pastoral guidance and/or spiritual direction, sometimes assigning scripture to be memorized, prayers to take-up, things to go make right, or thoughts to contemplate. His role is to help you cooperate with the reconciling work of Christ in your life. 


The Reconciliation of a Penitent

A typical confessional setup.

A typical confessional setup.


The Penitent begins
Bless me, for I have sinned.

The Priest says
The Lord be in your heart and upon your lips that you may
truly and humbly confess your sins: In the Name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Penitent
I confess to Almighty God, to his Church, and to you, that
I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed, in
things done and left undone; especially __________.  For these and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am truly sorry. I pray God to have mercy on me. I firmly intend
amendment of life, and I humbly beg forgiveness of God and
his Church, and ask you for counsel, direction, and absolution.

Here the Priest may offer counsel, direction, and comfort.
The Priest then pronounces this absolution

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to
absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of
his great mercy forgive you all your offenses; and by his
authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins:
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit.  Amen.

The Priest adds
The Lord has put away all your sins.
Penitent      Thanks be to God.
The Priest concludes
Go in peace, and pray for me, a sinner.


Isn't that beautiful! If this is new to you, as it was to me years ago, don’t be afraid. In a light-hearted way, give it a shot and be open to being surprised by the grace of God.

When I Can Confess


Through Lent I’ll be available to hear confessions on Sunday morning from 9:00-9:30 AM in the sanctuary. We are carving out space in the back of the church near the sacristy. Throughout the rest of the year, we will begin setting aside the first Sunday of the month for confession during those hours. You may also contact me over email (shawn@rezaustin.com) to set up a time to confess. 
 

Other FAQ About Confession

  • Isn’t it weird to confess your sins to someone? Maybe for the world, but not for Christians (James 5:16). 

  • But I know my priest personally, isn’t that weird? For me, this is not weird even with friends, but I can see how it might be for some who aren’t used to it at first.  Like a doctor who sees bodies all day and gets used to them, hearing people’s confession is not something I do as your friend but as your spiritual “doctor” or priest, and in a healthy way, we get used to it. Also, the confession space is sacred and put in a special place in my life that doesn’t change what I think of you or others but is kept in a holy confidence that I give to the Lord. For me, it occupies a different “headspace” than the rest of my life and interactions with you.

  • How safe is my confession? Every confession is kept in absolute moral and sacred confidence. Even in confession I would not bring up your past confessions or refer to them in any way. You may refer to them, but as far as confidentiality, we really do believe at absolution “the Lord has put away all your sins.” 

  • But won’t I be embarrassed to share my sins (they’re really bad)? Everyone thinks this, and you might be right. Your sins probably are terrible, but get over yourself, you’re not alone in the community of sinners that is the church. More importantly, be mindful of how shame empowers your secret sins and reject that temptation in the name of Christ. Your sins are not greater than the cross. Bring your sins to Him who is able and faithful to heal you. 

  • Do I really need to confess to someone, let alone a priest? No. But as your priest, you have a great wealth for spiritual direction, growth and freedom in Christ available to you. You have only one mediator and advocate in Christ, but your priest is one given a special role in the church to share in the ministry of reconciliation for your sake. All may confess to a priest, some should, but none must. It is a great gift, not a burden. 

  • Am I required to? Why would I? No, none are required. For a long time, Anglicans have said about confession, “All may; some should; none must.”  It is a special gift of grace to assist the people of God as they continue to unpack the Good Life they have in Christ. 

  • More questions? Email me at shawn@rezaustin.com

A Church "Put Out Into the Deep"

Last Sunday I preached about Jesus' call to (a very labored) Simon to give it another go and cast his nets into the deep. This time, the only difference was that the Lord had come close to the waters and commanded it. I believe Jesus still calls to his disciples (us!) this way, and even his apostles wave at us from their boat to come over and help with the catch of the Kingdom.

Personally, I was reminded of this in an unexpected way when we took time for healing prayer during our last service. The line of people coming forward was like a net overflowing with fish. A little over a month ago we communicated with you about catching up to our expenses, and again our nets were full of fish, finishing the year with a financial surplus. At our annual meeting, I cast the "nets" of our vision for 2019 "out into the deep" in response to what we sense God is doing. Once again, many of you were caught up with new vigor for ministry, for youth, for our growing community, for new catechists, and new Table Group leaders. Our women's book study group cast a "net" and had to start another group (another "boat") because so many women had been caught in this wonderful discussion and community. Our kid's classrooms are like nets about to bust so we're working to get more classrooms (boats). You get it, I could go on. 

Here's the point I want all of us to notice: what is unmistakably special about Rez is that, by God's gracious help, you are a people eager to hear the command of Jesus and cast our nets together. In fact, from the beginning, we've been a community willing to cast the net into deep waters when Jesus calls and look at how our lives have changed.

If you're not casting your nets with us, you're missing out on the adventure of a lifetime and I want to help you find your place on the boat. I'd love to sit down with each of you and imagine those areas of your life where you are still playing in the shallows, holding back, cautious of casting into the deep. (I'm serious, email me and I'll buy you a cup of coffee. shawn@rezaustin.com) For now, imagine with me for a minute we're sitting down for a visit, here's the tour I would want to take with you:
 

  1. Are you casting prayers into the deep? Do you pray often? Do you pray big, and with boldness, asking God for help and listening to his call? An easy way to begin is in the middle of your day to say, "Lord, I know you're here." Or pray the Lord's Prayer, and add your own thoughts. I dare you. Watch and pray. 

  2. Are you casting your wealth into the deep to serve the Kingdom? Money is the idol of the age. Resist it. Don't let worry and scarcity keep you from a trusting relationship with God. Instead, (seriously!) go ask God about it and then actually do what He says. Cast your financial nets for the Kingdom!

  3. Are you casting your needs and desires into the deep? Dallas Willard says "Fasting is feasting on God." Free up your will, heart, and hands from controlling how things will turn out. Instead of worrying, live on the timing and resources of the Kingdom. Look to participate with Him where He calls you to serve, where He calls you to meet the needs of others, and where He calls you to put those tyrannical cravings and lusts to death. And if you need a way to serve, I've got 20, just let me know. 


Rez, at the command of the Lord, let's put out into the deep. That's where we will find lifetogether in the goodness of God. Our church was born in the deep, that's where the church thrives, and that's where we will continue to grow in faith, love, and hope. May God disturb us to push off from familiar waters so that we might hear the Lord's command and "put out into the deep" together.  Let's go!

I leave you with a prayer by Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) that I think says it well,
 

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.


Amen!
Fr. Shawn