Monday, April 2, 2012

Cleansed From All Unrighteousness: A Sermon by Perry Hart

Editor's Note: This sermon was preached at CLTS chapel at the beginning of Lent (February 23rd, 2012). 

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from our Father in Heaven. Amen.
Our sermon text for this morning is centered on the theme we find in 1 John 1 verse 9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Dear Family in Christ and Fellow Redeemed,
Yesterday, as we marked the beginning of the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, our attention becomes focused on Jesus' passion for you and for me. It is in this season where  the liturgy of the Church calls us to prayerful and penitential reflection.
Therefore, let us come before our Lord, bowing our heads and making our confession in prayer as Daniel did. (please rise)
 “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments. In seeing us as set-apart from you and in darkness, you sent into the world your Son to be the light, and if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Your Son cleanses us from all our sin. In the precious name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen"
Are we not forgiven? Have our sins not be atoned for? Are they not buried in the tomb where our Lord and Saviour took them to die?
These questions seem to swirl around in the minds of congregants who notice that at the start of our Divine Services, we confess all of our sins  and iniquities  with which we have ever offended.
"Have ever offended", that is a past tense talk! And if our sins have been "forgiven", a past tense word, why would we ever need to bring them up again?
And furthermore, here and now, an entire season devoted to penitential reflection? C''ve got to be kidding?!?
It was as the Pastor was concluding the Bible Study between the early and late service that a member of the church had asked this difficult question, "If our sins are truly forgiven, why do we ask for forgiveness again." This happened over two years ago, and I know I didn't have the best answer then, nor did the Pastor at the time either. However, that question stuck with me, and I have wrestled with it ever since. Until now.  Preparation for this message has revealed to me a most wonderful gift that is often overlooked in our church, and likely not appreciated as it should be, by our members.
 The Psalmist said, "Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord." (Psalm 32:10)
It is difficult to place our lives in the hands of others. We have trust issues, and living in a fallen world has provided plenty of reasons for them. For example, can we trust the government to fully look after us? Opinion polls seem to indicate otherwise. How about the Markets? Well, there appears to be a lot of traders and leaders of brokerage houses on Bay Street that are doing okay, but for the rest of us, we know the pain that comes from trusting and relying too heavily on them. What about Science and Technology? Can there be absolute trust there when Biological Sciences find cures for some diseases while bringing to life worse ones too? Technology is supposed to bring us closer together, yet it tends to make us more individualized and isolated. And then there is the institutionalized church, those seeker driven and purpose driven ideologies that promise that if we "do", we will find "peace" or some other things.
As one who grew up in that environment, I can tell you, there is plenty there to not place our trust in. And so, we likely all can agree that our lives are not necessarily better when placed in the hands of others, and it is also no surprise then that we find ourselves in a world where more and more people are proclaiming, "My Life is just better when I am in control of it!"
St. John states, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8)
If you are like me, someone who likes to be in control to avoid surprises, you like to be in the driver's seat. There is a comfort that comes from it. That is, until you are responsible for the accident that you just  got in. The car is destroyed. You wonder, is anybody hurt? Will they ever walk again? Have I caused the death of a loved one? Oh, Lord...what have I done? 
Sometimes, wanting to be in control, comes at a great cost. Darkness, sets in.
St. John states, "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." (1 John 1:6)
This is our lives when we choose to be in the driver seat, finding it hard to just leave the driving alone to God and letting His will be done, trusting in Him to do what is right. And so, not trusting in His commandments and following them, we bring pain and hurt to ourselves and others. We sin. And with sin, comes guilt and burden and sorrow. We "feel" it.
The psalmist reveals this fact, "For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by heat of summer." (Psalm 32:4)
It is here in the darkness and pain, the sorrow of our sins, that we need comfort. We need to be bandaged up from this car accident of the life we lead. Constantly taking the wheel and driving ourselves directly into the next and nearest brick wall! Never trusting that God is the most effective driver and can get us there safe and sound.
Here the psalmist, by pointing to God, provides comfort in saying, "You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance."
Deliverance. That is how we are restored. And it comes through repentance and the most wonderful gift of forgiveness! Each and every week we come before our Lord and cry out like we heard in our hymn, "Saviour, when in dust to Thee. Low we bow the adoring knee; when repentant to the skies." (LSB 419:1)
Suddenly a light breaks through the darkness. The gift is ours to receive.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord," (Psalm 32:5)
Suddenly, the burden seems lighter, the pain less severe. "Can it really be that simple?", we ask. Dare we place our trust in His promise?
St. Peter warns, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)
This sinful world and our adversary have done well to destroy your trust in others, and it is now when the Devil wants you to focus on your sins, wanting you to believe that they are just too awful to bring before our Lord. This time, similar to before, he asks, "Did God really say that all is forgiven?"
When repentant to the skies, scarce we lift our weeping eyes. O by all Thy pains and woe, suffered once for us below. (LSB 419: 1 cont'd)
There it is..."suffered...for us." The Gift.
This is why we continue - each and every Sunday - to confess our sins, because we don't believe it can be, not because our sins aren't forgiven, but because we just cannot fathom a love like this. We need to hear it...again and again.
We've sinned and we come like St. Peter before Christ, needing to let Him know that we are sorry for abandoning Him, yet we don't want to speak of the awful things we have done, and so we to wait like Peter did...needing to feel His love for us again. And so we are called...
"Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father." (LSB D.S.3 - Confession)
This is like when Jesus called Peter to repentance, carrying him through his confession and back into the arms of his Lord, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)
Like Peter, as we confess before our Lord, we also proclaim, "Yes, Lord; you know I love you." and we return to the safety of His loving arms as well.
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
Cleansed from all Sin! The brightest light shatters the darkness. Our pain and burden consumed by Christ on the cross. Our guilt and shame drowned in His precious blood.
And we become strengthened. Released!
By thine hour of dire despair, by Thine agony of prayer, by the cross, the nail, the thorn, piercing spear and torturing scorn. By the gloom that veiled the skies over the dreadful sacrifice. Listen to our humble sigh. (LSB 419: 3)
A sigh...of relief. Won for us. Christ's last breath confirming, "It is finished."
My, how we have fallen from what God originally created us as, once walking and talking with Him as a friend, to being so untrusting, even in His promise at times.
But, what a gift we have to prayerfully confess, repent and receive. A gift we get to enjoy each and every week, to hear time and again, because we need to, because we have trust issues.
And what a gift it is to now be in a season of reflection, where we can hear of what has been done to release us from the pain of our sins, penitentially reflecting on our need for a Saviour to come and save us. Then looking beyond ourselves and sharing that love that God has shown to us, with others...feeding His sheep.
We arrive at Lent in reflection of our condition, which is much like the lepers we have been hearing so much about. Unclean. But through the washing of our Baptism in Christ, we like them, are renewed and declared "Clean". This is a cleansing, a gift that is given to us, and it  is focused on the forgiveness won for us by Christ on the cross!

This is the Gospel, dear brothers (and sister[s]), and like St. John, we proclaim it so that others too may have fellowship with us, showing that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Sharing, so that our joy may be complete in Him who shows his love for us in that, while we are still sinners, Christ indeed died for us.

May the peace which passes all human understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds on your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In His precious name.