In Nehemiah today, restoration continues. The city wall has been restored. Temple worship has returned. Some of their festivals have been restored. Now it is time to restore their spiritual lives, with a national confession.
It is more than a ritual of penitence or mourning, but one that sets them apart in their religious distinctiveness and commitment. They also are renewing their covenant with God to commit themselves to prayer, to hope, and to worship. It is a stunning scene and I hope you have an opportunity to click the Nehemiah link and read it for yourself.
Oh how desperate our nation is in need of this same trajectory.
The Presbyterian Church has a history of confession as well. We “confess” in both senses – confessing the “bad” as well as the confessing the “good”. You will probably notice this in any of the services that I plan. We confess our sin nearly every week. (If we don’t have a Prayer of Confession, you will find confessional elements elsewhere in the service.) These petitions are taken directly to God, not needing a minister through which to make the intercession or receive absolution. Individual sins are not the focus, but how we as a people have lost our focus, have violated God’s commandments, have misused our own bodies or the earth or each other. We know that sin is so ingrained in who we are, we cannot escape it. So we turn from our sin and return to hope in Christ.
When I say we have “good” confessions as well, I speak of the second definition of confession. Rather than disclosing our sins, we also confess together what we believe – formal religious documents like creeds. We Presbyterians are a confessional church, meaning we have a number of confessions to which we subscribe. The Apostles’ Creed would be one. The Confession of 1967 and the Belhar Confession that we just had a class on a few weeks ago are a couple more.
They become, along with the Bible, the core of our beliefs, and guide our faith. They are an expression of the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through the ages, and binding us together as a people. They are meant for instruction and guidance in these turbulent times. In many ways, they function like the Jewish Talmud would for Jews, an ongoing conversation of God in our midst.
Occasionally in our services, we confess the Brief Statement of Faith, our newest document, written just a little over 20 years ago. In it we did both kinds of confessing – our sins, and also our beliefs.
In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.
We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father.
In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community.
But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator. Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. We deserve God’s condemnation. Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation. In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all families of the earth.
Hearing their cry, God delivered the children of Israel from the house of bondage. Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant. Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home, God is faithful still.
In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, Come, Lord Jesus! With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
May you find restoration today – in your beliefs, and in your lives.