Lenten Midweek I
Lenten Midweek I: “Hiding from God or Hiding in God?”
Feb. 29, 2012
Text: Ps. 32; Catechism: What is the Office of the Keys? Where is this written?
You can either hide from God, or you can hide in God. The reason you hide is your sin. You are guilty. You know it. And worse, God knows it. And the wages of sin is death. So you hide. Adam and Eve knew sins wages. In love, God had told them ahead of time: In the day you eat of the forbidden fruit, you shall surely die. So when they sinned, they hid. Guilt drove them into hiding. They knew they had transgressed God’s commandment. They knew they deserved death. You hide, too. You hide your sinful thoughts deep within your heart. You repress your memories of past transgressions and hide them as skeletons in the closet. You put on your best face for others, because if they really knew your thoughts, the words you had said behind their backs, the things you’ve done and continue to do, or would do if you had the chance, you would fall from honor in their eyes. You wish God didn’t know those things. You pretend He doesn’t. And You do your best convince yourself that they are not true, that you really aren’t so bad, but deep down, you know otherwise. God’s Law spares no one. It exposes you. You stand naked before God, and you are ashamed. You are a sinner.
Hiding from God is futile. It didn’t work for Adam and Eve, and it won’t work for you. King David writes of this in our text, Psalm 32: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (Ps. 32:3-4; ESV). When you keep silence and fail to confess your sins, guilt sets in, and it hurts. It’s supposed to. That is God’s Law at work, convicting you, condemning you, killing you. Because God doesn’t just want to apply some sort of snake oil or soothing ointment to the disease that is ravishing you, namely, sin. He wants a resurrection. He wants to raise you from the dead. And of course, you have to be dead for that. God kills you with His holy Law, so that He may raise you up again with His precious Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins in Christ Jesus.
For this reason, God has given His Church the Office of the Keys, the gift of Confession and Absolution. King David writes (and the Church prays with him): “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (v. 5). Our Lenten series this year is about God’s gift of forgiveness in Confession and Absolution. Absolution, remember, is just another word for forgiveness. To confess your sin to God is to no longer hide from God, but in God, which is the only safe place to hide. Hiding in God, you are safe from eternal death and condemnation in hell. You are safe from the just wrath of God. Because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin. That is what is applied to you in Absolution. The blood of Jesus Christ. The benefits of His death and resurrection. Through His called and ordained servant of the Word, Jesus Christ Himself forgives you all your sins. That is what we confess with Dr. Luther in the Small Catechism. Again, I invite you to open your bulletins to the inside front cover and recite this with me: “What is the Office of the Keys? The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. Where is this written? This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
Now, there are two ways we make use of this gracious gift, which our Lord Jesus here gives His Church. The first is general Confession and Absolution, what we do at the beginning of the Divine Service. We confess that we are poor miserable sinners, by nature sinful and unclean, having sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and what we have left undone. And then I, as the one called by God through you, His people, to publicly exercise the Office of the Keys among you, turn and speak for God: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s really God talking, not me. I’m just the messenger, the mouthpiece. God established the Office of the Holy Ministry for no other reason than the forgiveness of sins, preached and distributed in the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. And just as we do this in a general way every time we come together for the Divine Service, so also the Church has a great gift in Individual Confession and Absolution, when you come to your pastor privately and name the sins that you know and feel in your heart, and your pastor forgives those sins and any other sins that you may not remember or may not have mentioned in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. If you’re interested, you can look at the rite for yourself on page 292 in your hymnal. The Lutheran Church has historically always practiced individual Confession and Absolution, but sadly, this practice has been all but lost here in America. It’s in the Catechism. It’s in the Lutheran Confessions. It is by no means mandatory. No one is to be compelled or forced to come to individual Confession and Absolution. But it’s a gift, here, for you. Call me any time. Come and make use of this gift. It’s a freeing thing. That’s why we call it the Office of the Keys. It unlocks the chains of guilt that bind us. It unlocks heaven itself to us and we are immersed in the forgiveness of sins that we have by the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You cannot hide from God, beloved. So hide in God. Hide in Christ. Hide in the cleft of the rock that is Your Savior. Hide in His wounds. You are baptized into Him. You have died with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Confess your sins and believe what God says to you: All your sins are forgiven. And you are blessed. For “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1). No more hiding from God. No more hiding your sin. Bring your sin out before God to be dealt with, to be nailed to the cross of Christ. And God will cover your nakedness. God will cover you with the very righteousness of His dear Son. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.