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  • Father George

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

We really have two types of confession in our tradition: a confession of sin and one of faith. Don’t raise your hand, but has anyone ever been to “confession” or the Rite of Reconciliation? We have a general confession in our Book of Common Prayer, between the Prayers of the People and the Peace. In it we publicly ask God for forgiveness in a general way, with maybe our own personal "asks" wedged into the brief silence before we begin. Is that what confession is? We also have a confession of faith, which we most formally see in our Creeds. A confession is a declaration and whether we are approaching God for pardon or pledging our faithfulness, we are confessing who we believe God in Christ to be: Son of God, savior and redeemer, He who makes all things possible, all things new. Our confession, as Christians, is that because of who God in Christ is we are transformed, healed, and are bound to declare who the God of our faith is to us in all that we do, strive to do, and say. Our lives become our confession.

{It might help to get some context for Hebrews’ exhortation that we “hold fast to our confession.” Hebrews used, in a very powerful way, the image and context of 1st century Temple worship to make its point about who Jesus is – what our confession will be. In Jerusalem Temple worship, at the time of Christ, there was a stratum of who could go where in the Temple. There was a Court of the Gentiles and non–Jews could no further in the Temple than that. There was a court of the women, and female Jews could go no further than that. There was a place, finally, that no person other than the high priest could go and that was the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant. Only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when he would make sacrifice and burn incense for his own sins and those of all the people.}

The writer of Hebrews says, “Since then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.” The Christian confession is, in part, the acknowledgment that our savior, the Son of God, Jesus, the Christ, has gone into the place beyond the holy of holies where no one can go or has gone: into the very depths of death’s separating darkness and, there, overthrown death itself. Jesus has broken any separation that makes a special place for priests, those like us, certain genders … unlike the Temple strata, God in Christ celebrates His great love for us all and saves us, one and all. What we confess, what we declare, is that Jesus Christ is Lord and He loves us where we are and for who we are, nothing that we earned – God’s mercy has saved us.

And we understand that we express something of our confession of faith in the Creeds that we say on Sundays, at weddings and funerals. But those professions of faith can become rote, robotic, stale and, if we let them, completely dead and devoid of the confessional promise of Christ, a promise of love and hope that saves the world. Hebrews starts by saying, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing …” How does our confession that the Incarnate Word, the Son of God, is love become a living confession, as opposed to one that is written on paper, often said as if numb, and not bringing us to a place of confident declaration of who God in Christ is to us?

I do pastoral visits, for those of you who do not know, and these visits are the most important part of my ministry. Connecting with people who are sick, unable to come to church, etc. is vital for me, as a priest, in declaring who I confess Jesus to be: a friend, a healer, and a resurrected promise to all who suffer. This past week I went to a convalescent home to visit a member of our parish who has advanced dementia. He no longer recognizes me and is usually asleep when I visit, so I pray for him and with him and leave his family some sign that I have been there. Sometimes, I bring flowers. But it would be easy and, God forgive me, I am sure that I could be guilty of visiting by rote, dialing it in, etc. I work hard to avoid doing anything in an automatic fashion but …

Our parishioner’s roommate is a young man who I have spoken to before, just in passing, just to say hello. He knows me and who I am. On this particular day he wanted to talk to me. He was staring at a computer on his desk and told me it does not work, which is very frustrating to him, a small connection with the outside world. I saw some pictures on his wall and began to ask who folks were. Now, this man has Multiple Sclerosis, is confined to a wheelchair, and has limited use of his left arm and hand and almost none of his right. One picture he said, as I pointed at a picture of him holding an infant, “That is my son.” I was surprised because, in the photo, from some twenty years ago, he is in a wheelchair, though obviously more physically capable than he is now. Another picture of a young man was also his son. And he had a large crucifix and rosary, and other religious things on his desk. And he began to talk to me about God, unbidden, but I am a guy who wears a collar. And he began to tell me how he felt God had saved him and he had the large vision of God’s prevailing mercy and goodness. And he said that one day, in his words, “We will all be together in heaven, one big family reunion.”

And as we continued to talk, he began to reach out and touch me, with that left arm and hand. And I began to hold onto his arm, and he took my hand, as he continued to talk. And I asked him if he would pray with me and he said, let’s say God’s prayer (the Lord’s Prayer) and so we did. And when I left, he said “Thank you, for talking to me,” and I said, “Please, let me thank you.” And I left in tears, I must admit, at a simple faith so profound, a declaration from this man who has suffered for so long about who he believes God to be: Good, loving, and present. And he shared that with me, not only with words, but with his trust and touch. It has been a while since God has spoken so clearly to me through another person.

The word of God is living and active. The word of God is Jesus, a word that speaks to us the words, “I love you,” and intends that we speak those words to each other. Jesus makes promises to his disciples, as he reminds them that the first shall be last, and the last first. He promises them that nothing, our salvation in particular, shall be impossible for God. And if we believe something so strongly that we need, desire, must share it with another in any form, then it reflects what God is doing in us and for us. And we need not always witness for God by telling others about Jesus. We often are called to show forth our confession of who Jesus is to us by a touch, an act of kindness, a willingness to place another ahead of us in any way, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus’ love in a sorely aching world. To speak out against injustice. But if we find that we are never willing to speak the name of God in Christ, with joy and hope, outside these walls; if it seems too foreign, too scary, too, well, religious, then maybe we need to think about our confession. What is holding us back? And who do we believe God to truly be? And then, where can we begin and how can we help each other?

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