Confess to the Other Person
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 15:17–15:22, James 5:16–5:16, 2 Corinthians 5:16–5:21
Fourth Sunday in Lent[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Luke 15:17-22; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
“Go and Be Reconciled: Confess to the Other Person”
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:16
Things look different around here – again! For about the past month, our services have had to take place in our Fellowship Hall while the Sanctuary here has been closed for some much-needed TLC. New lighting has been installed in the entrance area and the balcony. The ceiling is now repaired and painted, along with the walls, after 52 years of worship happening in this space. We even made use of the opportunity to replace the 40-ish year old speakers in the ceiling. And while we’ve still got a few months ahead of us before our pipe organ is fully refurbished and expanded, today feels like the start of a new chapter in our life together as the people God gathers around the cross at St. John’s. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Not for a fresh coat of paint, or improved lighting and sound, but to come to the cross for something different than what the world can give us: a truly new chapter in life where we have hope.
Because the past isn’t perfect, is it? For the past several weeks in this Lenten season, we’ve been exploring God’s Word under the theme of “Go and Be Reconciled.” We’ve heard what God has done to bring us back to Himself. He’s given each of us a new beginning in Jesus and hope for what’s to come. And for all those times when we have lived (and will live) imperfectly, we’ve looked at how God delivers reconciliation into our relationship with Him as we remember our baptismal identity in Christ, repent before God, and receive His forgiveness. That’s the “vertical” part of our life. But what about the imperfect “horizontal” part of our life and our need for reconciliation with the people around us?
Do you have perfect relationships with everyone you know? Have you failed anyone recently? Exchanged angry words with someone? How’s your example been, pointing the people who see you towards Jesus through word and action? None of us are perfect, right? You know that there are relationships in your life which are broken and not what they should be. How bad to things need to be before you are compelled to do something about that?
In our Gospel reading from Luke 15, we hear Jesus tell what’s often known as the parable of the Prodigal Son. (It’s also rightly known as the parable of the Prodigal Sons or the parable of the Loving Father, but let’s just look at that first son today.) He pretty much told his father that he wished he was dead, then took off with what would have been his portion of his inheritance. Jesus says this son squandered all that wealth foolishly in reckless living, then found himself at rock bottom, feeding pigs and so hungry that he wanted to eat some of that slop. Where else could he go? And then it hits him: he needs to go back to the place that had once been his home, confess his selfishness and foolishness to his father, and seek his father’s mercy, hoping that he could find a place as a hired servant in his father’s household.
He needed to confess. But what does it mean to confess, or to make confession? In one sense, to “confess” is to speak something together, to say the same thing. For example, we confess our faith when we worship together as Christians. Confession is a statement of what we understand to be true. But when the lost son thinks about what he needs to say to his father, that’s a specific kind of confession. He’s going to confess the truth about his sin. When you make confession – to God or to another person – you’re speaking the truth about the problem that has separated you from each other and owning your responsibility for causing it.
Confession is the first step in reconciling with others. Chances are you won’t want to confess, though, because it means that you’re admitting that what you’ve done is wrong. That can hurt. That hurt reflects the broken nature of our world – and our role in causing it. But God is waiting to bring healing to replace that hurt, even as He has already done in reconciling you to Himself.
So when you need to go to someone and confess how you’ve done them wrong, how should you do it?
First and foremost, go to this person in the position of a beggar, understanding that you don’t deserve their forgiveness, and there’s nothing that you can do to earn it. While it’s possible that you’ve both wronged each other, you’re going to them to confess your sin against them, not to call them out for their offenses. Yes, you will be putting yourself out on a limb and opening yourself up to the other person’s judgment. But you’re not going into this alone. The Lord goes with you, for you are doing what he’s called you to do as His disciple. In James 5, we see that confession is an essential part of living a healthy life. Within the body of Christ, we’ve been given the mandate to forgive one another; we need to confess to each other in order to open the way for forgiveness in our life together. Trust in God as you go to confess to the person you’ve wronged, knowing that you are doing what He calls you to do.
Next, own your sin. Don’t try to shift the blame or make excuses for what you’ve done. Don’t look to downplay the offense or trivialize its impact on their life. This isn’t the time to explain your rationale for losing your temper or justifying why you stayed out past your curfew. And here’s a pro tip: avoid using the word “but” in making your confession. Acknowledge what you’ve done. If you need help in doing so, you can use the mirror of the Ten Commandments to identify how specific thoughts, words, and actions – or inactions – have damaged your relationship with this person.
From there, express sorrow for the hurt that your sin has caused them. This is the perfect time to say, “I’m sorry,” and follow it up with specific ways in which you see that your behavior was hurtful. If you’re having a hard time thinking of those specifics, it’s a pretty safe bet that this person can fill you in!
While that may all be well and good, how does confession shape the future of your relationship with this person? Commit to change your behavior with God’s help. Understanding that you have sinned against God and against your fellow human being, seek to keep that sin from coming back into your life and your relationships. Know that this isn’t merely looking to put a fresh coat of paint on things – it might require some significant renovation of how you look to live. Know that the Lord goes with you in making those changes.
And be willing to bear the consequences for what you’ve done. Through his life and death, Jesus has carried the full weight of your sin before God and set you free from death and separation from God. Sin can still bear earthly consequences, though. Recognizing those consequences and being willing to experience them shows that you recognize the weight of what’s happened, and it can be a bridge towards restoring broken relationships.
Finally – and this is key! – ask for forgiveness. Again, like the prodigal son, you’re coming to this other person in the position of a beggar, seeking their mercy. You don’t deserve it, but you can and still should ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift, and your asking for it gives the other person the opportunity to experience a glimpse of the grace that God has for them and all people.
But what if they don’t forgive you? What if they don’t welcome you back with open arms, as the loving father did in Jesus’ parable? Trust in Christ’s forgiveness. The Lord God is your strength and your song, and He has become your salvation. (Isaiah 12:2) Whether or not the other person forgives you, know that you have forgiveness through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
So how does confession lead to reconciliation? We heard from St. Paul that we have the ministry of reconciliation through Christ. As Christians, we go out into the world as ambassadors of Christ, as ambassadors of reconciliation, demonstrating how God’s love works to the world through our lives. Our confession opens the door for renewal, for a new chapter in life with our neighbors.
As you go out from the service today think about this: Where is confession to another person needed in your life? Where is God waiting for the opportunity to work reconciliation in the world through you? When you confess to the other person, you open the door for God’s gifts to be given. It looks different from how the world works. That’s not a bad thing.
Things continue to look different around here for God’s people – and thanks be to God for that!
[i] Passage for memory:
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. – Isaiah 12:2