Most Sunday mornings, I stand up in front of a group of people and declare to them “the entire forgiveness” of all their sins. I speak for God, presumably, and that seems pretty crazy and dangerous to me.
The whole ‘speaking for God’ thing aside (how could that go wrong?), are we really to believe that because I said it, and I’m wearing special pastor clothes, that the sins you’ve committed no longer matter? And just to be clear, ‘sin’ doesn’t mean breaking religious rules. Sin is the evil and darkness that is undeniably woven into the fabric of our reality, our selves, our relationships. If you stole some money, you might be able to give it back, but what if you stole some land three generations ago? How does me saying these words make any difference in the face of things like that?
Isn’t that just offering people ‘cheap grace’ that enables them to keep living in sin?
Honestly, maybe some people do think of it that way. Sin on Saturday; forgiveness on Sunday. But not me. Not if you pay attention.
Because before we get to the forgiveness part, there is the confession part. And we don’t just confess all the bad things we’ve personally done. We confess together. We become vulnerable, opening ourselves to difficult truths. Publicly. It’s not a condition on the forgiveness, as if God could only heal where we want or as if God demands public shame before offering forgiveness. But the two do go together: confession and forgiveness.
God’s grace comes to us without conditions, but it places many conditions on us. This grace is very costly. It will cost you all your idols. All your lies to yourself and others. All your half-loves. All the walls that you think keep you safe but really keep you imprisoned and isolated.
This was never just about you alone. True grace, God’s grace is for you. But it is NEVER just for you. It is for the sake of the world.
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
…let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for God will abundantly pardon…
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.