Years ago, one of my seminary professors noted that it seems to have become rude and unpopular to talk about sin. Where we do speak of sin, we talk about it as if it is merely “rule breaking.”
Sin is far more than that. Sin is a distortion and corruption of the whole of creation, evidence that the world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” Sin is not just what we do, or don’t do, sin is the way that we are. The paradox of sin is that it is both self-chosen and it is also the human condition. It insinuates itself into both good and evil. It is that for which I am personally responsible but it is also universal. It is personal and it is corporate.
The old Catholic liturgy began the Mass with the confiteor (from the Latin, “I confess”), a personal confession of sin by the priest. The Reformed tradition transferred the prayer of confession from the priest to the whole congregation.
The purpose of the Prayer of Confession is not to list the sins specific to individuals, but to confess the brokenness of the congregation, the church universal and the world. It is a ritual for remembering the tragic brokenness of the human condition. It is a ritual for remembering how much we need God’s reconciling grace and mercy.
Until we are honest about our brokenness, it is impossible for us to reach for God’s healing. “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asked the man beside the pool at Bethsaida (John 5.6).
As a nation, we are close to the point of breaking under the weight of our corporate sins of racism and idolatrous worship of guns. We deny both and so we continue to suffer. In his great prayer of confession, King David cries out to God, “Against you and you alone have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51.4).
All sins are sins against God, but our sins always take place in our dealings with others. Sin not only disrupts our relationship with God, it disrupts our relationships with others. The reality of sin is that it rarely stops with those who are directly affected by it. Paul notes, “…the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” (Romans 8.23) awaiting redemption.
It is easy to blame the inflamed rhetoric of President Trump and the gun culture that insists on no restrictions — and it is clear that both Trump’s rhetoric and the idolatrous love of guns contribute to our corporate agony. But honest confession is to admit that in ways large and small, we all contribute to our brokenness. On left and right, we cast hateful words at one another. On left and right, we steal life from one another.
As a nation we need a ritual to routinely confront us with our brokenness, a corporate confession that acknowledges our sin and our deep need for God’s reconciling grace and mercy. The question for us today is: “Do we want to be made well?”