Inspiratio: The God to Whom We Confess

February 25, 2023
stack of hymnals

Father Brown, the TV character based on the work of Catholic theologian G.K. Chesterton, often promises people that God loves them and will always forgive them. I admit a touch of envy at the ease of his delivery of the sacrament of confession. Father Brown puts on his stole, hears the murderer’s confession, and lets God do the rest. Then he returns to his role as a country priest, meddles with the police, and solves the mystery.

In our tradition, we make a corporate confession, speaking the words together in a shared prayer that often refers to systemic sin and reinforces our commitment to try to make a difference. We have resisted the language of “sin” because, over the centuries, it has been used to judge and punish — in ways that perpetuate the idea that we are not eligible to approach God because we are
just not worthy.

The heart of confession is not a list of our failings and apologies. The heart of confession is our understanding and image of God. Imagining that God is just like us leaves us prone to idolatry, making God in our own image. This God is too small. God-just-like-us has been manipulated over the history of humankind in ways that have justified inquisitions and pogroms and abuse of human power. God’s grace defies the container of our understanding.

Our Easter story involves us in the human life of God’s presence as Jesus and in the cosmic drama of life beyond life in the mystery of the resurrection. This story can’t be understood; it must be experienced. We must be willing to let the Spirit enter us and draw us into the heart of creation, by way of our own brokenness and longing. “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24) is a confession that opens us to the strange workings of faith. Our own confession can open our eyes to the way Christ is being crucified in our world and the way God never gives up inviting us to participate in the miracle of new life. This rhythm of confession and grace is like the movement of the heart, opening and closing, letting go and picking up, giving over the old certainties and receiving the new assurances of grace.

Preaching and praying with a congregation is humbling, and never easy. This is my confession.

We have contained you with our words for thousands of years,
built temples for you, with new theology and explanations,
used stories as roof and floor
to shield your mysteries from blazing orthodoxies.
Today you burst out of all the bindings.
You break the codes. You cleave the rubrics asunder.
You refuse to be held so we can be safe.
What can we say to the waiting crowd?
“He is not here, he is risen.”
They will answer, as they always have,
“Risen, indeed.”
Indeed. Yes, in deed, not in word.
Forgive our awkward sentences and prayers.
Break open our words.
Shatter our explanations.
Empty our rhetoric of every clever turn of phrase.
Find us, with a large stone and a few folded rags
and the blank pages of a sermon,
rapt, silent, waiting to be set free
for mystery.