Dressed for The Wedding Feast

At the beginning of the football season, the University of Kentucky’s Athletics Department sent out a notice about the biggest game of the year. Strangely, no one responded to the department’s announcement. Not a single ticket was sold for the game. The Athletics Department wasn’t too worried. They figured that once the big game arrived that it would be a sell out.

A week before the game the Athletics Department sent out another round of advertisements for the upcoming big game. This time they focused on the players, what would happen if Kentucky won, and how amazing a fan would have if they attended the game. Again, no one bought a ticket. Not a single ticket was sold for the game. Everyone responded back that they had better things to do. Some said they wanted to go to Simpsonville to the new outlet mall. Some preferred to stay home and watch another game. Some others were upset basketball tickets were not sale. Continue reading

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Becoming Something New

There are some things I’ve grown accustomed to in my life. I may be 33 years old, but there are things that I prefer simply because it’s what I’m used to or how it’s always been.

For instance, I rarely eat cereal with milk. Most of the time I eat my morning Cheerios dry. It’s just something I’ve always done. I’ll pour my bowl, take it to the couch, and slowly eat my breakfast while watching “Sportscenter” or “CBS This Morning.”

I know that sounds odd and, I am sure, there are several dairy farmers who wish that I would more regularly pour milk into my cereal, but it is just something about myself that I’ve grown used to. It is part of who I am. I like it and I don’t see a reason to change this trait.

We all have things in our lives that we’ve grown accustomed too. They range from the serious to the silly. For instance, we might have certain ways that we prepare for the day, or why we only shop at a certain store, or why we drive a certain brand of automobile. No matter the reason, the things that we’ve grown accustomed to help to bring a sense of consistency into our lives, especially in an ever-changing world.

There is nothing wrong with having certain things that we are accustomed to. They tell us something about ourselves and gives us a glimpse into our personalities. It is really is acceptable to enjoy some things simply because it is “the way things are” or “have always been.”

I say that recognizing that there are some things in this world, and even in my own life, that I don’t want to be accustomed to. There are some things that I refuse to accept as “the way things are” or “have always been.”

I refuse to accept the violence that exists in our world and communities as just “how things are.” I don’t want to get used to the fact that so many of our families are broken. I don’t want to accept that there will always be people who struggle for food, to provide for their families, or to even have a basic education. Even within my own soul, and perhaps yours also, there are things I don’t want to accept as “how things are.” I don’t want to be used to feelings of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, or many of the negative emotions that can define how we see ourselves and others.

There must be something better. I yearn for this. I yearn for something new to be created in our world and, truly, within our lives. Something deep and holy that recognizes that they way things are are not as they were meant to be. I yearn for the image of a renewed and deep life that Isaiah paints for us in our passage from Isaiah 65:17-25.

Isaiah’s words come at an interesting point in Israel’s history. Israel has returned to Jerusalem after spending years in Babylon. This happened after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. Scripture says this was because of Israel’s continued disobedience towards God. The people of Israel had experienced their worst defeat and were now returning to Jerusalem to start over.

It was a new day for the people, but it would have been easy to assume that they way things were were how they would always be. It would’ve been easy for the people to live in fear and to accept that they would always be dominated by outside forces. Anyone in Israel would’ve been excused for living in a perpetual state of fear and hopelessness.

However, Isaiah desires for Israel, and us, not to live in fear, but to cling to our hopeful promise. That promise is that God is creating something new. God is working to create something new  where brokenness, pains, and hurt exists. This is our hope. A hope that the way things are are not how things have to be. Isaiah expresses this promise, truly, beginning a verse earlier than our passage. In Isaiah 65:16, he writes that God will “forget the evil of earlier days.” Truly, God will forget the brokenness and bring about something beautiful and holy in those places.

This is truly the work of transformation and bringing creation back to its original purpose. Genesis tells us that God created everything perfect. Creation was made to be in a deep and intimate relationship with the Lord. However, we know this is not the case today. We can see that the world is not as God intended. This is because of the choices that we make every day that distance ourselves from God. From our spiritual ancestors of Adam and Eve, to the people of Israel, and down to us, we each have made choices that have distanced ourselves from God and harmed how we relate to each other. The brokenness in the world is not because it is how things are. The brokenness in our world exists because we choose to maintain broken relationships with each other and our Lord.

Yet, the good news is that even though this brokenness exists God never stops working to redeem creation. God never stops reaching out to us. Even though we distance ourselves from God, our Lord took it upon himself to bridge the gap and redeem creation. It was an act that began once sin entered the world, and has its fullest expression through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When brokenness shattered God’s creation, God began the work of creating something new, something holy, something loving, through what Christ did for the world and for each of us.

What is doing is remaking us into the people that God desires us to be. God wants to take our hurts, our pains, our wounds, our brokenness, and transform them. He wants to move us from being defined by our hurt and make us into a people who are defined by our hope and love. Truly, God desires for us to be transformed and to reflect what it means to be a child of God.

That is the something new that God desires and it is reflected in much of Isaiah’s imagery. We see that Isaiah reflects on some of the characteristics of God and says that this new creation will look just like that. The new creation will reflect the holiness and love of God. For instance, where there was once brokenness and pain there will be joy. Where there were once enemies there will be connection and a deep relationships. This is the reality that God is working to bring about in our world and in each of us.

It is a reality that will come when Christ’s returns in final victory. That is our hope. We claim this hope that when Christ returns that life will be restored. Revelation builds off Isaiah’s image and gives us a beautiful picture of what this will look like. This is the hope that we remember as we move into the Advent season in a couple of weeks. Advent is about waiting for this hope of new creation to come. It is about trusting that Christ will come again. It is about our hearts truly yearning for Christ’s return and this new creation to come when we sing songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

We live with that hope each day. We live with the promise that God is not done building something new where there was brokenness. But, we do not have to wait for tomorrow to receive this hope today. While God is at work redeeming creation for the time to come, we can experience a taste of that new creation in our lives today. We do so by allowing Christ to transform us and to do the work of guiding us into what it means to reflect the love of Christ each day.

This happens when we allow God to do this work of transformation in us. We are called to a daily life of renewal and of being remade daily into the image of God. It only happens when we are willing to put aside our expectations of “how things are” or “how they’ve always been” and allow God to do something new within us. It is the work of allowing God to shepherd us into a deeper relationship, to let go of our fears and doubts, and to be willing to be molded by the love of Christ. This is true spiritual growth that comes as we reflect more of the humility and love of Christ. Becoming something new in Christ is about becoming something less, about letting ourselves go, so that Christ can become more in our lives and the world around us. God never stops desiring for us to reflect the love of Christ and shows us the way forward through the peace of the Holy Spirit working in us.

In his work in India, Ghandi once said something that I believe is appropriate for us today. I’m paraphrasing, but he said if we want to see change in the world then it must begin with us. If we want to see brokenness eliminated in the world, then the work must begin in us by allowing Christ to redeem our brokenness. If we want to see hope in the world, then we must allow Christ to speak hope into our lives. If we want to see growth in our churches, then we must allow Christ to help us grow closer to the Lord so that we may reflect Christ’s love into the world. If we want to see something new in this world, then the work must begin in us and allowing God to do something new in us. We must allow God to do the work of recreating us to reflect God’s holiness and love.

We do not have to grow accustomed to how things are today and accept the way things are. We can hope in something better and that is that God is doing something new in us and it is available for each of us today. What if we refused to accept things as they are, today, and seek the way things could and should be in Christ? What if we did this in our lives and as a church?

God has something beautiful for us. Will you allow God to show you this today?

Acts 9: Everyone’s Invited

Saul was the worst of the worst. He was the most notorious persecutor of the early church. He was the one who made it his personal mission to stop people from proclaiming the name of Christ. He was willing to do what it took to prevent the disciples from fulfilling their mission.

Yet, in Saul we have the greatest story of transformation that we find in not just Acts, but all of Scripture. In Acts 9, Saul is met by the presence of Christ and it transforms him from a persecutor to a believer. He is transformed from being one its biggest critics to one of its strongest advocates.

It was a deep sense of renewal that birthed a new life in what was. Saul was no longer his old self. Because he had met Christ on the road to Damascus, he had become a new person.

This truth is as real today as it was then. When we experience Christ’s presence, we are met by a spirit of transformation that renews our life. We become closer to God and our relationship is strengthened when we meet Christ.

It is an experience that we cannot deny anyone to feel. Saul’s transformation is a reminder that all people are welcomed to a relationship with the Lord. If the biggest persecutor of the church can be transformed into a believer and someone who desires to follow Christ, then what does this say to the people in our neighborhoods and communities? The love of Christ is available to all people. This includes the middle class suburbanite, the rich, the poor, the drug dealer, the alcoholic, the abuser, the rejected, the neglected, the criminal, the murder, and so many others.

There is no one that is not welcomed and invited to experience the love of Christ. We cannot prevent others from feeling Christ’s love. Like Ananias, we must be willing to go and share the gospel with even those people whom we may struggle to like or relate to.

What does this mean for us as we strive to be the church today? Are we the church that truly invites all people to hear God’s love for them?

Sunday’s Sermon: There is Something in the Wine

I’m very appreciative of the tradition we have with the Revised Common Lectionary.

If you are unfamiliar with the lectionary, allow me to give you a brief description. The lectionary assigns texts of Scripture based upon the season of the year, such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent, etc. The texts come from four section of Scripture (Old Testament, Psalms, Gospel, and Epistle). Using the lectionary’s texts allows us to read the entire Bible in worship during a three-year period.

What I appreciate the most about the lectionary is that it forces us to go deep into God’s love story for us. This is essentially what Scripture is. It is the story of how much God loves us and what it means for us to love others in response. When we pick and choose our favorite texts to read, we run the risk of it becoming our story in where we see God the most.

Currently, we find ourselves in the season of Epiphany, which focuses on the fact that Christ’s light has come into the world and continues to shine forth through the mission of the church and followers of Christ. This season, the lectionary gives us amazing stories from Jesus’ initial days of public ministry. These stories tell us how his ministry began, how it was received, and how others began to see that Jesus might be the person they had hoped for.

Many of the the initial stories of Jesus’ early ministry are familiar to us, such as last week’s story of Jesus’ baptism and this week’s tale of Jesus at the wedding in Cana. This morning, we find Jesus as an invited guest, along with his disciples, at a particular wedding near his hometown. We’re not told whose wedding it is and why Jesus might have been there. All we are told is that Mary, his mother, is there and it is possible she might have been responsible for the food and beverages. Why Jesus was at the wedding or who was being celebrated is not our concern. The wedding is insignificant and only serves as the background to a more important interaction.

What is important is that Jesus performs his first sign, or miracle, by turning water into wine. In doing so, Jesus saves the day. Had the wine run out before the week-long celebration had ended, the hosts would have been humiliated. I don’t think that is Jesus’ concern. He even says as much when Mary asks for his help. There is a deeply significant reason for Jesus’ participation in this act, and it goes beyond rescuing a party. What is that reason? What can we take from this miracle, which is the first of seven found in John’s gospel? What is Jesus saying to us through this act of changing water into wine?

If Jesus isn’t interested in saving the wedding from disaster, then what is his purpose in taking six jars, which would have likely contained about 150 gallons of water, and turned it into wine? The reason is found in what the jars represent and what Christ is trying to express. By changing the water into wine, Jesus gives us a taste of his glory, his nature, and his mission.
We have to work through a lot of symbols to see how this plays out. The jars Jesus asked the servants to use had a specific purpose. They were likely purification jars. The jars would have been used as part of the purification ceremonies that were part of the worship of God in those days. In Jesus’ time, one of the key aspects of worship were rites of purification. These rites focused on cleansing a person, especially of their sin, before they were able to come before the Lord. This was a time in which sacrifices and other acts of worship from the Law of Moses were central to their relationship with God.

Jesus approaches this way of worship and understanding their relationship with God. Once again, the symbol of the jars is key. He asks the servants to fill the jars to their brims. It may seem like Jesus is just trying to get as much wine for the party as possible, but he is making a very specific statement. This act, for Jesus, signifies that the era of ceremonial acts and sacrificial worship had reach its fullness. It had served its purpose and had led the people of Israel in worship, but nothing more could come out of it. He wasn’t denouncing the old ways. He wasn’t saying they weren’t good enough. Jesus was simply making an act to say that the old ways of worship and approaching the Lord were appropriate for a time, but now needed to be met with something else, something deeper, and something richer than what had been known before.

What might that deeper way of life and worship be and where might it be found? Again, the symbols are rich with truth. With words that allude to Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in Chapter 4, where he proclaims that he is the living water, Jesus tells the servants to take some of the water and give it to the master of the party. The master takes a drink of the wine and realizes it is like nothing he had ever tasted before. This wine was the absolute best, which was completely unexpected, because the best was usually served first and the lesser quality served later when everyone had had a few glasses.

The wine is symbolic of Jesus’ ministry and the work he came to do. Jesus came into the world to bring forth a deeper way to approach the Father. His purpose was so that all people would be able to experience a relationship with God in a new and personal way, to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and to be transformed by that relationship. This best wine is an expression of God’s love for us, and truly the entire world.

Jesus came, not to replace the ways of old, but to give them new life and meaning that would bring us all to the depths of God’s love. Note that the wine comes out of what was old. The old water wasn’t replaced, but merely transformed into something greater and more meaningful. All of history had anticipated this moment when Jesus entered the world and brought to fruition all that had been promised through the prophets and the forms of worship of that time. Our worship today is a continuation of what was expressed before and continues to be said today about our love of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are invited to drink of this new wine of a life in Jesus Christ. It is not a one-time thing, but a daily act of being renewed and led by the reality of Christ’s living presence at work in us and through us. I think this says something to each of us in our personal walk with Christ, but also to us collectively as we seek to serve the Lord here at Antioch and at Mackville.

To drink of the wine means to allow the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, to do a work in us. It is a work of renewal and transformation. When we allow Christ to be at work in us, we become like the water inside the purification jars. We become transformed into something new. We are still the person we were, but we become a new person with a new hope, love, and desires that reflect God’s love for us. Romans 12:1-2 speaks to this act of renewal. It is a daily act of giving of ourselves to God and allowing the Lord to work in us so that we might reflect God’s character and hope.

I want this for each of us on our journeys with Christ. As we said last week, we are on a journey of faith that seeks to grow closer to the Lord. It is through deeply connecting ourselves with the mission and desires of Christ that we can experience all God has for us. When we do, I promise you in time we will see something new and different in our lives. It is a life that takes where we were and gives it a new meaning and purpose to love God and love others.

The same is true for our communities of faith in the local church. Just like we are called to drink of the wine Jesus has offered us, we are called as a community to be continually renewed by our participation in the ongoing work of Jesus Christ through the church. We do this by allowing God to tear down our agendas and our understandings of why it is that we come here or why we do the things that we do, but to allow God’s mission, purposes, and desires to be at work in our lives and through the lives of this congregation so that we might seek the lost and share the greatest gift of love that the world has ever known. We can only be the church that is effective in our mission and purpose if we are the church that seeks to drink deeply of the “new wine” offered in participating in what Christ has done and continues to do. It is truly through saying, “Lord, your ways, not mine.” By doing this, we take where we are and become shaped for the mission God is calling us to today and tomorrow.

For any of this to become real for us, we must recognize that the new wine of our participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is being offered to us today. It is offered to us every day. We call that sanctifying grace, which is the free gift of God’s grace that is with us as we live in the world. My prayer is that our thirst for a deeper life and richer communities of faith will be quenched by what Christ has offered us. For Christ’s ways are mighty and powerful. They are full of love. They are full of hope.

What would your life be like if you took a taste of what Christ has offered you? What would our churches look like if we collectively drank daily from the life of Christ and his purposes for our communities of faith?

As we say in the communion liturgy, my deepest prayer is that we will truly come and taste and see that the Lord is good.

Sharing the Wine

Tonight, I had the opportunity to preach at Licensing School, which is where I am this week as a participant. It was a humbling honor to preach to the servants who will go into the mission field shortly. The sermon comes from John 2:1-11 and is entitled “Sharing the Wine.” Continue reading

Easter Sermon: I Have Seen the Lord!

Easter morning always brings to mind memories of previous celebrations of the Risen Lord.

This day, this first Easter for me as a pastor, has me thinking of some of my favorite Easter memories. My memories of Easter as a child are of the traditions that the church celebrated, which are much like the ones we have here today. We would gather bright and early for the sunrise service, which was conducted from the back porch of the parsonage. (Now that I think about, that’s not a bad idea for next year.) Following the service, we would gather in the church’s Fellowship Hall for a breakfast prepared by the United Methodist Men.

Of course, the fun was then going home and getting ready to go back to church for Sunday School and Easter worship. We would put on our new suits and be warned not to eat any of our new candy so as not to ruin our new clothes. After church, we would gather around my grandmother’s table for an Easter dinner that I’m sure was filled with too much ham and too many rolls, but no one complained.

I’m sure you have memories of previous Easter celebrations that are special to you. Perhaps at some point today you thought about your first Easter with your children and remembered their amazement at all the candy in their baskets. Maybe you went back to previous Easter celebrations and different memories you have had in the church on this special day. Easter is a day we celebrate with our friends and family that Christ lives!

These memories are special and are part of what contributes to our holy celebration of the Risen Lord. Yet, I wonder if these memories, and perhaps our celebrations themselves, can become a distraction. Do we see the true meaning and purpose of Easter? Can we say that we have experienced the Risen Lord on Easter morning in a way that transforms and shapes us both today and tomorrow?

Mary Magdalene experienced something new on the first Easter morning. This reality is present in her statement, “I have seen the Lord.” It’s not a statement Mary expected to make when she arrived at Jesus’ tomb early that morning. On that Sunday morning, Mary – the other gospel narratives tell us she was with Mary, the mother of James, and Salome – came with the purpose of fully preparing Jesus’ body for his burial. After his crucifixion on Friday, his body was hastily prepared for burial because of the coming Sabbath. These three women, especially Mary, expected to see a body wrapped in funeral cloths. They did not expect to see the stone rolled away and an empty tomb.

They did not expect the resurrection, especially Mary, who was grief stricken at what she believed was a raiding of Jesus’ tomb. It wasn’t until she saw Jesus that she was able to understand what had taken place. When Jesus called her name, Mary turned and saw it was Jesus, the Risen Lord, that was beside her, not a gardener. Mary becomes the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. She is the first to see and experience the new reality that came on Easter morning. This would have been shocking for the people of that time, because a woman’s witness would have been considered invalid. Her witness is valid, and we stand as witnesses of what Mary saw, what the disciples saw, and what we have seen through faith today. The tomb is empty. Christ is not here. Jesus is alive!

On Easter morning, something amazing and beautiful took place. The resurrection is the most important day in the Christian calendar and is the climax of Jesus’ ministry. We might want to believe that it is the crucifixion that is the most important day, but without the resurrection, the crucifixion is lost to history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ informs the crucifixion and confirms all that Jesus did and continues to do through the Holy Spirit. In voluntarily raising from the dead, just as he voluntarily took on death, Jesus secures the victory over our sin and redeems humanity for a relationship with the Father.

That is what is beautiful about Easter. It’s not the candy, the flowers, and the baskets that make Easter beautiful. It is that God has created something new out of the foolishness of the cross and the amazement of the resurrection. Prior to this moment of time, the world was without true hope. It was a world that was filled with despair and, even more, a world where it believed its Lord had been unfairly killed. All that changed when Christ arose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection redefined reality and created something new. No longer would the world be in charge. No longer would sin and death have the final say in matters. God had done something new. Jesus is the head of the kingdom of God; his resurrection secures and informs this. It proves he is both Lord and Savior. But the resurrection also says that God is restoring life back to what was desired when the world was created. God has restored humanity and creation for life and a relationship with God.

When we find that the tomb is empty, it should give us hope. It gave Mary and the disciples hope when they realized that Jesus was not dead, but is alive. When they saw the Risen Lord in their presence, it gave them confidence, faith, and trust to know that God was with them. Hope was real for them, as it should be for us, because they had seen Christ in his Glory. It transformed them from living lives of doubt and fear to living lives of hope and peace in response to their witness of Jesus’ presence. As the song states, because Christ lives, the disciples knew they could face whatever would come their way.

This is the Good News Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, says brings salvation to all who hear it. Good News such as this cannot be left on the doorstep of Easter to be ignored the rest of the year. No, instead we are called to live out the reality everyday that Christ is alive. When we’ve seen Jesus alive, when we’ve witnessed his presence, that transformation from despair to hope impacts us in such a way that we can never go back to way things were. We cannot go back to a life before we knew of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection illuminates a way forward to living in hope, to being a people of faith, and to being a people who desire to live in response to the resurrection at all times.

When we’ve seen and witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, it calls for a response from us. We are called to live each day with the recognition that Christ lives. So often, we can say the resurrection has impact and importance everyday, and leave it like that. A vague statement of truth that has no direct impact on our lives today. What does it mean to live in response to seeing the tomb empty and the resurrected Lord each day? I think this is what it means to hold in tension the here and not yet of the kingdom of God.

We have this belief in our minds that the kingdom of God is not real for us today, because Christ has yet to return. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The kingdom of God is real for us today because Jesus is alive and sits at the right hand of God the Father. The kingdom’s realities are real for us today because of the resurrection. Easter calls us to not just live as Easter people, but people of the kingdom. The mission of the church is to live out the here of the kingdom, as people of the resurrection, as we await the fullness of the kingdom. N.T. Wright says, “The church is called to a mission of implementing Jesus’ resurrection and thereby anticipating the final new creation.” As people of the resurrection, we are called to prepare the world for Christ’s return.

This happens by living out Jesus’ words, not just in our personal lives, but in our communities and world. Jesus’ words are not just feel-good statements we hang on wall decorations, and then ignore their application. They are meaningful. They are powerful. They are challenging. We can live out the reality of his words, because Jesus is alive. Jesus’ resurrection gives authority to the church, we who are witnesses of the resurrection today, to live out his teaching and desires.

Because Jesus lives, we can be a people who proclaim hope to the hopeless. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim rest to the tired. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim justice in a world of injustice. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim love to the lost and forgiveness to the sinner. Because Jesus lives, we can live with the confident assurance of knowing that our sin has been forgiven and redeemed. Jesus has won!

Friends, you have seen the resurrection. You are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, because we stand on the witness of those who have come before us. How will you respond to seeing Christ today? Will this be another Easter where we see Christ’s resurrection, but by Monday we have forgotten what we experienced? Will this be another year where we decide Jesus’ words are not that important? Or will we leave here today and realize we cannot go back to the way things where? Something is different, and it calls us to live in response and to live out our lives as people of Easter, as people of the kingdom.

Now more than ever, I believe our communities and world need to see the church – both local and universal – believe that the resurrection matters and that Jesus’ words have importance. It does not need a church who believes the resurrection – Easter – is a cute story void of power, because that is what it has seen for too long. It needs to see the church take seriously God’s love that came in its most grand way on Easter morning.

Our Lord is risen. He is alive. We have seen it for ourselves. Are you willing to live as people of the resurrection? How will you respond today?

Sunday’s Sermon: The Nature of Confession

Some things in life are really difficult.

For example, most of my life I have found cooking to be a difficult chore. I couldn’t get what I was cooking to turn out right. Everything would come either disgusting or inedible. My cooking has been so bad that I have given myself food poisoning. In time, my cooking has improved. I can now cook a few things without hurting anyone.

We all have things that are difficult for us. It might not be cooking, but may be something else. Perhaps you have a difficult time using a computer or the Internet. You might have a difficult time doing household repairs. Perhaps, you have a hard time telling someone how you feel. No matter who we are there are things in our lives that are challenging. We may be great in one area, but there are those areas that we struggle with.

Our difficulties are unique to us, but there is one difficult that is common to us all. We all have a hard time saying, “I’m sorry.” We don’t like to admit when we have hurt someone or have done something wrong. Part of this is we mourn the fact we have caused pain to someone we care about. As well, we also struggle with saying these words because we don’t like to admit that we’re not perfect.

These words are hard to say to someone we have wronged. It doesn’t matter if it is our spouse, our best friend, or a co-worker. We don’t like to admit when we are wrong. If we have a hard time admitting we are wrong to someone next to us, we find it especially hard to admit our wrongs to God.

Admitting our wrongs we have done against God is something we all struggle with. However, admitting our wrongs to God gets to the heart of what it means to confess our sins. This is the first major step on our journey to forgiveness and reconciliation. Last week, we said that sin is an act of disobedience to a known law of God. Today, we are taking a move forward to being reconciled with God by confessing our sin.

In our time today, we are going to walk through an act of confessing our sin. Specifically, we are going to look at a confessional prayer offered by Daniel in our Old Testament reading from today. In this passage, Daniel takes it upon himself to confess both his sin and the sin of the Israelites. This prayer makes it possible for the people of Israel, and himself, to receive the free gift of grace from our loving and merciful God. As Augustine said, “confession of evil works is the beginning of good works.”

Daniel’s prayer does not come out of thin air. He believes the time is right for this prayer. We know Daniel was among the youths taken by King Nebuchadnezzer to Babylon. He was sent there to be trained for service to the king. This took place during the Babylonian Exile. It was a 70-year period when the people of Israel were removed from Jerusalem because of they refused to obey God. Daniel believes this period is nearly up. He knew the people’s sin, and his own, must be dealt with before they could return to Jerusalem.

It is perhaps because of this need that Daniel makes his prayer of confession. This is a prayer directed to God with the intent to acknowledge one’s sin. A confessional prayer can be said by an individual for that person’s sin, and it can be said by a community in regard to their sin. Scripture is filled with people who recognized their sin and confessed it to God. One such prayer was Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1:5-11. He confesses to God the sins of the Israelites and his family. Daniel stands in this tradition when he prayers for himself and his people.

A quick reading may lead us to believe the prayer begins in verse 9:4, but it begins well before this moment. It begins before Daniel even begins to pray. Richard Foster says that confession begins when we ask God for a heart that is able to confess. We cannot confess our sin on our own. We need God’s help to open our eyes to our sin. We need God to give us the ability to acknowledge our sin. We need the Holy Spirit to walk beside us to begin the process of purifying us. This allows us to receive the mercy, grace, and hope of the resurrection that Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 1:3. We need God to show us the log in our own eye, so God might help us to remove ou sin. Once we are prepared to confess, we can begin to enter a time of confession that is similar to the one Daniel prays.

Daniel’s confession begins by praising God in verse 4. Confession is a worshipful act. Daniel are acknowledges that God is worthy to be praised, and the giver of mercy and judgment. Daniel has met the face of God and he is offering a confession of faith. In our confession, we do not just admit our sin, but we offer praises to God. Confession requires us to make a response to our faith. We have heard about God’s love and God’s desires for our lives. This requires from us either an acceptance of faith or a rejection. This was the choice the rich young ruler faced when confronted by Jesus. He was faced with his inability to fully commitment to faith in Christ. In that moment, the rich man refused to offer a confession of praise and of his sin. Confession isn’t about us saying words to “get out of jail,” but is an act of worship where we admit our need of Christ.

After Daniel confesses his faith in God, he progresses to the bulk of the prayer. It is the confession of his and the community’s sin. Notice what Daniel does here. He doesn’t say a prayer that I, and perhaps you, say so often. That is the quick and basic prayer of “God forgive me of my sin.” He does something more. He names the sin. It’s not an abstract idea of a general sin, but Daniel puts the sin into something real and something concrete. He is aware of what they have done wrong, and acknowledges it before God. Daniel admits they have sinned against the Lord by not being obedient to his instructions. They have refused God’s mercy. Because of this, they deserved the exile.

This act serves a purpose. It is cathartic. Acknowledging our sin releases us from our guilt and allows God to begin the work of mercy and forgiveness. When we confess our sin, we are making room for Psalm 105:46 to be at work in our life. The Psalmist writes, “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from the nations that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”

Daniel lives into this prayer in the final segment of this confession. He desires God to come and rescue his people, and himself, by offering mercy. This isn’t so we can receive some award, but it is so God can receive the glory and be praised. Only God who can begin the work of reconciliation and forgiveness. Daniel is asking God to begin that work anew in his people. Our prayers of confession should include our earnest desire for God to transform and renew us. Again, this is all so God’s name might be praised and proclaimed.

Confession is the act that acknowledges our sin. It moves us into a position that allows us to receive God’s grace. We should all confess our sin, both in our personal lives and in the life of our community. For a lack of a better expression, confession is good for the soul and good for our relationship with Christ.

In a moment, we will partake in a communal act of confession to prepare us for communion. As we confess our sin before God, I want to invite you to think about that sin that came to mind last week, or perhaps one that is on your mind today. I want to invite you to give that sin over to God as an act of confession, so that God might begin to renew your life.

There is no better time than today to do this. Communion is our remembrance that Christ freely died for our sin and lives with us through the Holy Spirit. We come to the table to be redeemed by the blood and to be transformed by the Spirit’s guidance.

Christ, I believe today, is calling for us to come and meet him here. Let us come, seeking the presence of the Lord to prune us and open our heart to our sin. All so we might be live in right step with God today and always.