John A. Braun
On most Sundays, after we are reminded that we begin worship in the name of the almighty holy and majestic Triune God, we confess our sins. Together we begin, “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you . . .”
I admit to having a variety of thoughts when speaking those words. Sometimes I recite them without thinking much at all. They are routine words that tumble from my lips in the same way the Lord’s Prayer sometimes becomes a series of words spoken so often I don’t think about them. Another sin to add to my list.
My list of “thoughts, words, and actions” also comes to mind. I can’t recall all that I have done wrong. There simply are too many of them. They are all lumped together and confessed as the sins I have done and the good I left undone. For them I pray, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Another series of thoughts comes when I say that I am “by nature sinful.” I remember David’s confession, “Surely I was sinful at birth” (Psalm 51:5). I think of Isaiah who stood in the presence of God and said, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), or the words from the book of Job describing a human being as “only a worm” (Job 25:6). I confess that I am worse than the enumeration of wrongs I have committed against God and others. I am thoroughly corrupt by nature.
I think, perhaps, there should be another series of thoughts because I stand with others who say the same words. I don’t know their thoughts, but we all stand before God as we are—sinners with our imperfections and acknowledging that we are flawed and defective—not at all as God created our first parents. We come knowing that we have no business standing before a righteous, almighty God.
I wonder if this last thought is important for another reason. We invite visitors to worship with us. When we confess our sins publicly, are we telling these visitors that we aren’t better than others as so many imagine? We come before God with our faults, sins, fears, doubts, trials, troubles, mistakes, guilt, and fears. We challenge visitors to see us that way and invite them to join us with their lists and the simple prayer, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” No pretenses, no pride, just recognizing we are all sinners in this condition together.
But then. Then we hear the answer to our humble prayer. We hear that “God . . . has given his only Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I have come into God’s house just to hear this news again: My sins are forgiven because of Jesus. I remember that Jesus was like me—and all of us—except without sin. In prophecy he even claimed to be like us. David has the Messiah say, “I am a worm and not a man. . . . All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (Psalm 22:6,7). He took our place. His blood cleanses us (cf. 1 John 1:7). I hear Jesus say to me the words he spoke to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
Why do these thoughts come to my mind now? I have been reading some authors who do not share the treasure we all possess. They believe they can keep the commandments, be holy, and earn an audience with God. I choose simply to pray, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” and receive the undeserved gift of forgiveness.
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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019