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"Absolution"

Matthew 16:13-20

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 11, Proper 16, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Aug 24, 2014 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A woman called in to a Christian radio talk program.  It was evident from her voice that she was troubled.  She was anxious, perhaps depressed.  She explained her problem to the host of the show.  It had to do with some sin that was plaguing her conscience.  The reason she called into this particular program is because the host was known as the “Bible answer man.” Naturally, she figured he was an expert on Biblical matters and pastoral counsel.

She said, ‘I’ve been troubled by this sin for a long time.  It’s strange because I’m a Christian and I know God forgives me.  Somehow though I just can’t seem to get past the guilt and the condemnation I feel.’ She said, ‘I’ve been thinking about going to my pastor about the issue.’

It was at that point that the “Bible answer man” stopped her abruptly.  ‘Oh, no, he said.  You don’t need to go to your pastor to confess your sins.  Obviously the host was expressing an anti-Catholic viewpoint regarding the confession of sins.  Just pray about it, he said, and know that God forgives you.’

With all of his supposed wisdom, the “Bible answer man” missed the point this woman’s struggle entirely.  Consequently, he wound up giving her some poor advice.  The point is, while he may not have seen any need personally to talk to his pastor about his sins, this woman did.  She said as much.  If he had listened to her he would have heard her saying that she needed something more than a compassionate pat on the back and reminder that God loves her.  She needed to hear God’s words of forgiveness from another human being.  She needed the gift of confession and absolution.

People hold all sorts of strange views on what the Church’s place is, or, should be, in culture and society these days.  For many people the Church has outlived its usefulness.  You’ll find such people professing to believe in Jesus, but avoiding studiously His presence in the Divine Service.  God is supposed to meet them where they are, rather than them meeting Him where He has promised to be found.  Twice a year attendance in church should be enough to appease God and to calm the troubled conscience.  Anything more is just an exercise in tedious and unnecessary formalism. 

Others find the church to be very useful these days.  To be successful, churches need to be purveyors of all sorts of services.  Not that there is anything wrong with churches offering such services, but if they are our only use for the church, we’ve missed the point entirely.  For instance, many churches have lengthy waiting lists for their day care center.  Others have become well known for their coffee services.  They rival even the private enterprises as places to hang out.  And who can forget the demand these days for things like Christian aerobics.  After all, Christians don’t lose weight the way other people do.

The woman expected to find something else at church, something frankly she couldn’t find anywhere else.  She was looking for forgiveness; for absolution.  Though she knew she was forgiven, she needed to hear someone declare it to her, one human being directly to another.  As a Christian, perhaps she recognized the wisdom of the Psalmist, who said,

“when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.””

The Church, that is you and me, the body of Christ, has been given a gift that no one else in the world possesses.  Simon Peter, having made the good confession of faith, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was given, along with the other disciples, the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Jesus said), and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Our Lutheran forefathers understood the benefit and the need to maintain private confession and absolution in the Church.  Certainly it could never be a requirement because that would be to turn the Gospel into Law.  However, it couldn’t, or, perhaps I should say, it shouldn’t be denied to those who so desire to receive the blessing of it. 

In the Augsburg Confession, in writing about private confession and absolution, Philipp Melancthon wrote, “It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse.  However, in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all trespasses and sins, for this is impossible.  After – all, as Ps. 19 says, “Who can discern his errors?”

I suppose the question for us this morning is, “have we failed to heed the admonition of our own confession?” “Have we let private confession and absolution fall into disuse?” I, for one, think we have.  As is often the case in the Church, the error began, undoubtedly with our pastors.

This past January I was at a Symposium hosted by Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  During a break between sessions a pastor I knew walked up to me and we began to talk.  He said he had been emphasizing private confession and absolution at his church for some time.  One day, a member of his congregation asked him, “pastor, who do you go to for confession and absolution?” He was quite ashamed because he had to answer no one.  At that point, he asked me if I would be his “father confessor.”

I have to confess to you this morning that I’m in the same place as my brother pastor.  To this date, after 21 years in the ministry, I haven’t ever sought out a father confessor.  Like the woman in the story, I’ve simply gone from day to day with the realization that God forgives me.  Some days though, that’s harder to believe than others. 

Whether it’s pride, or, fear, or, not wishing to be vulnerable, you and I are missing out on one of the great gifts the Church has to give.  Just as we come here on Sunday mornings to be showered with God’s forgiveness in absolution, in His Word and in His blessed sacrament, so that gift of forgiveness, of absolution, spoken from one human being to another is given to all of us Christians to confront the dark nights of the soul in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

It isn’t that you have to confess your sins publically to be forgiven, but sometimes you’re that person in the story at the beginning of this message.  You need to have someone stand before you, and say, “I, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you all of your sins!” There is, you see, deliverance in absolution, in part, because what is declared, namely God’s forgiveness in Christ, is absolute.  It doesn’t depend on your feelings.  It doesn’t depend on all the things you’ve done, or, not done, as it were, in a desperate effort to try to atone for what you’ve did.  No, it depends on the promise of Almighty God.  “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Jesus said), and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not cover my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”” In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +





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