Lent 3, Wednesday March 22, 2006
In this third Sermon for our Wednesday Services, I will be speaking on the Office of the Keys and Confession.
Instead of beginning with a quote from the Small Catechism, I will begin with other quotes from the Book of Concord:
From the Augsburg Confession, Article XXV: "Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. For the custom has been retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not previously been examined and absolved. At the same time, the people are diligently instructed how comforting the word of absolution is and how highly and dearly absolution is to be esteemed. For it is not the voice or word of the person speaking it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin. For it is spoken in God's stead and by God's command. Great diligence is used to teach about this command and power of the keys, and how comforting and necessary it is for terrified consciences. It is also taught how God requires us to believe this absolution as much as if it were God's voice resounding from heaven and that we should joyfully find comfort in the absolution knowing that through such faith we obtain forgiveness of sin. IN former times, the preachers, while teaching much about confession, never mentioned a single word about these necessary matters but instead only tormented consciences with long enumerations of sins, with satisfactions, with indulgences, with pilgrimages, and the like."
From the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII: "If we define the sacraments as rites, which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to determine what the sacraments are, properly speaking. ... Therefore, the sacraments are actually baptism, the Lord's Supper, and absolution (the sacrament of penance)."
And finally, from the Large Catechism: "No one needs to drive you to confession by commanding it. Rather, we say this: Whoever is a Christian, or would like to be one, has here the reliable advice to go and obtain this precious treasure. ... We urge you to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wants to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude. If all this were clearly laid out, and along with that, if the needs that ought to move and induce us to confession were clearly indicated, there would be no need of coercion or force. Their own consciences would persuade Christians and make them so anxious that they would rejoice and act like poor, miserable beggars who hear that a rich gift of money or clothes is being given out at a certain place; they would hardly need a bailiff to drive and beat them but would run there as fast as they could so as not to miss the gift. ... Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian."
How far we have fallen, that our Lutheran Churches so often ignore and disdain this rich gift called Private Confession.
How easily people dismiss it with the label "Catholic," not realizing that our practice of Private Confession is so different, it is anti-Catholic. Each time there is Absolution, it is a rebuke to the pope, since we freely forgive without penance, by the merits of Christ alone.
So God offers His forgiveness, ready to heal His people with His Word of grace.
But so few come.
Many do not understand Private Confession. They still think it is Catholic, and that Martin Luther should have gotten rid of this Roman Sacrament of penance. But Luther and Philip Melanchthon did not lightly call this Confession a Sacrament. Here is the voice of the Gospel, pure and sweet. Here is the very Word of Christ, speaking among us.
Many think of Confession merely as the act of confessing sin. That is part of it, but the smaller part. Our act of confession is tiny and insignificant compared to the Mighty Act of God, who says, "I forgive you." Those little syllables tower over any act of confession.. Who cares what we say? It only matters what God says.
Some say that God comes to us directly, apart from His Word of forgiveness. But Scripture gives no promise of remission without the Gospel. "Faith is from hearing, and the hearing is through the Word of Christ." No one could ever be certain of forgiveness given invisibly and silently by a secret declaration of God from heaven, if such a thing even existed. But God desires to reassure us with certainty, and the overflowing richness of His grace. So He gives us remission through different means of grace: Baptism, the Supper, the Word, Preaching, and even Absolution. He gives us a man to speak in the place of Christ, so we can hear God's forgiveness with our own ears.
Make no mistake. None of us likes to confess secret sins. We shy away from exposing the impurity that lurks in our souls. We prefer to hide behind the cloak of respectability that we wear in polite society. We easily admit that we are sinners by nature. But we hesitate from admitting our actual sins. How easy it is for us to become Pharisees, and to rationalize how small our sins are, but how great the sins of others.
Private Confession keeps us from becoming Pharisees. It keeps us on our knees in repentance. It connects the mercy of God to our life in a real and specific way.
There is One Mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus Christ. He it is who speaks in the Absolution, as He promised, "He who hears you, hears Me." Again, He says, "Whoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven." And again He says, "Confess your sins to one another."
Let us heed His voice, and believe His promise.
In His Name alone, with the Father and the Spirit. Amen.
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