Renovation Realities

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We bought our new home in Bowling Green knowing that it would require a full kitchen renovation.  What we did not know what how much work a kitchen renovation really was.  More than just taking out cabinets and replacing them with new, we took the entire thing down to the studs and sub-floor, rewired every light, switch, and outlet, moved some plumbing, and even expanded a walkway.  Rather than putting lipstick on the pig that was our old kitchen, we worked with intention and care to turn it into one of the finest pork roasts you could ever imagine.  Straining metaphor aside, such is the work of the Christian faith, according to Paul’s often quoted twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The word translated as “renewing” can also be rendered as “renovation” as in a “complete change for the better.”  Like it was for our kitchen, the goal of our faith journey in Christ isn’t a simple cosmetic upgrade, but rather that we take a full accounting of our sins, strip everything of our old self away, and with God’s help, work toward a new mind that is one with the will of God.  To be sure, painting cabinets and upgrading a light fixture will make things look nice, and it is a whole lot easier, but the real work of renovation comes when we are willing to dig deep and uncover the hidden mess that lay beneath the surface.

One way to do that, though one that I have found to be rarely used in the Episcopal congregations I have served (so rare, I have never had anyone ask me for it), is the sacramental rite of reconciliation of a penitent.  Found in the Prayer Book beginning on page 447, this rite invites us to name aloud “all serious sins troubling the conscience,” that is, to move beyond the surface to bring to light those things that we would rather not name.  To take on the work of what is commonly called confession, is difficult, and it can take a while to really get at what God is trying to help us let go, but it is always fruitful as it brings us closer yet to a renovated mind that is able to discern the will of God.

It is often said of confession in the Episcopal Church that “all may, none must, some should,” but I wonder if Paul would have us maybe more carefully consider if we fall in that category of some who should.

Confessing our Sins in Easter

For the last few years, Saint Paul’s has taken part in a growing practice in the Church to forego the Confession during Easter Season.  We’re not going to do it this year, for a few reasons.  First, I’m pretty sure nobody got it.  Most people didn’t notice it was missing and those who did, I’m sure didn’t have a clue why.  Heck, by the end of last Easter Season, I wasn’t even sure why.  Which leads me to my second reason, a practice I thought had historical roots, seem to not.  I’ve made mistakes before, and I will again, but I do hate it when I go digging for the reason I thought I knew for doing something and I can find no record of it.  I’d nearly forgotten all of this until I began reading through the lessons for Easter 2B and found this gem in 1 John.

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, NRSV)

On Easter Day, I preached that what makes the story of Jesus different is that he rose from the dead on the third day.  What that means for us is that we have been given victory over death: that we can live resurrection lives right here and now, through the forgiveness of sin.  Failing to confess our sins keeps us from living in the fullness of joy that comes with kingdom living, and we should take every opportunity to confess, repent, and ask forgiveness.  Especially, it now occurs to me, in Easter.  Without the realization of our own sinfulness, we have no need of a savior.  Easter Season reminds us that we have a savior: one who lived as an example for us, died as a scapegoat for us, rose from the grave as a harbinger of joy for us, and sent his Spirit as an advocate for us.  The key to unlocking that treasure trove of gifts is the confession of sin.

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. (BCP, 360)

The Confession

In the space between the invitation to confession and the actual words of the prayer, whether it is Morning Prayer Rite I, Compline, Holy Eucharist Rite II, or even the service of Holy Eucharist laid out in Enriching our Worship, there is a rubric that reads, “silence may be kept.”  For this low churchman, “may” is mostly a helpful word in the rubrics, it keeps me from being brought up on Title IV charges, but in this circumstance, I wish the rubric had been made without the wiggle room.  “Silence shall be kept.” Or “Silence is kept.” would be my preference, and here’s why.

I’m a sinner, and I need sometime, sometimes lots of time, to reflect on my sinful nature before I join with my parish family in confessing those sins corporately.  I need that silence to be long enough and awkward enough to search the depths of my heart to find the places where I’ve committed murder through anger and unkind thoughts; where I’ve become liable to the fires of hell; where I’ve failed to be reconciled with my brother or sister before approaching the altar; where I’ve committed adultery by paying more attention to how a woman looks and what she’s wearing than her inherent goodness as a created child of God; or where I’ve failed to trust in myself, my God, or my neighbor by insisting on oaths and pinky swears.

The challenge of this week’s Gospel lesson is that it makes very clear the fact that we are all, in some way or another, fallen, sinful people.  It is impossible to read the sermon on the mount and walk away convinced of one’s own perfection.  You can’t have Matthew 5:21-37 and Ecclesiasticus 15.  So this Sunday, as I serve as celebrant at Saint Paul’s, you can be sure that I’ll leave enough silence to make us squirm just a bit.  After all, as the beatitudes tell us, it is when we are most vulnerable that God is present to bless us.