Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.[i]
I utilize the Book of Common Prayer’s daily office to help guide my daily (well…near daily) devotional practice. It provides a structure I find comforting as it guides me through a series of prayers, petitions, and a psalm, Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel reading each day. Baptists are well known for our love of scripture. Using a resource like the BCP gives me multiple touch points on God’s biblical narrative each day. Collectively the well-worn set of prayers and scriptures continue to shape me as I learn more about myself and my relationship to Christ and his church.
Baptists are also well known for confession. We have countless documents of confession articulating what a particular group of Baptists in a specific time and context believe regarding doctrine, the church, and scripture. It is indeed the responsibility of every subsequent Baptists generation to re-confess what they believe given their time and context. They can do so by reaffirming and/or modifying former confessions or declaring their own.
One such Baptist confessional belief that has carried through the centuries is our strong belief in, well…confessing. We confess our sins to Christ and ask for his merciful forgiveness. Many of us remember the moment we “prayed the prayer.” We might have prayed with a pastor, camp counselor, or a family member. Someday I want to meet the person who prayed in the bathroom stall of truck stop because of a random tract left on a toilet. I have so many questions for that person.
Confession and repentance, however, is not a one-and-done event.
Regular confession is good for the soul and prayers like the one above help. But I noticed lately I have missed a key statement in my recitation. In a jarring moment recently as I prayed this prayer with a small group, and I went out of sync on the line “We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.” It is always awkward when you are the one messing up a memorized group prayer. You know like when you visit a church, and you start saying sins during the Lord’s prayer but everyone else is confidently proclaiming trespasses. Oh well it happens. But the next day when I was alone, I did it again. Then again, the next day. What is happening? I have said this prayer correctly hundreds of times, why am I suddenly skipping aspects of the prayer?
As I reflected on why I might be missing this line a few additional thoughts permeated my mind.
Notice this prayer is plural. It is designed for community. We confess that we have sinned…we have not loved [God]…we have not loved our neighbors. We are to be about the business of corporate confession. This makes some Baptists uncomfortable for we speak often of individual sin and salvation. Both are true. We have individual culpability, but we also live in the context of communities and our communities sometimes sin by what we do and by what we leave undone. It is good to regularly confess and lament our corporate sin.
Community confession might urge us toward safer grounds. Very few are brazened enough to claim they are without sin. But nobody wants to get too specific. What have we done? What have we left undone? It remains safer not to dig too deep. I/we sin, Lord have mercy.
But am I, are we, truly sorry? Will I, will we, humbly repent?
This is where I have been challenged. Am I truly sorry and penitent? Is my community honest enough to name our sins and be different? This is the harder aspect to the prayer of confession. It requires deeper examination of my sin, our sins, both of commission and omission. Are we selfish with fiscal and natural resources furthering the disparities between wealthy and poor? Are we beneficiaries of intentional and unintentional cultural racism? Do we affirm women and people of color with our words only to deny equality with our action or inaction? Are our words divisive instead of uniting? Whom do we need to forgive? From whom do we need to seek forgiveness? What changes would indicate true repentance?
These types of questions make us uncomfortable. Naming sin is difficult work. It requires delving into darkness and ferreting out the truth. This is not a solitary journey. We need our whole community of faith including our pastors, spiritual directors, therapists, historians, and activists. They help identify and lament sin. They tell us again of the merciful forgiveness of Christ.
The past few years have helped us identify and begin lamenting some significant collective sins. The question now is do we have the courage to repent and go a new way?
If we do, if keep on doing it, together as a community, mercy and forgiveness will pour in; that we will delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
A version of this post first appeared at The Christian Citizen on March 16, 2021 https://christiancitizen.us/the-courage-to-repent-and-go-a-new-way/