What are the things we as Christians are to do with one another? Love one another, forgive one another come to mind. James says we are to confess our sins to each other. Unfortunately confession is often understood as one of the things we must do to appease an angry God. In reality it is part of prayer, which James describes as being good in all circumstances. It is also part of the interaction that is to take place in the body of Christ. It is intended to be a blessing.
We are priests to one another. We remember Peter’s words, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) We are mediators to God for one another, and mediators to one another for God. We embrace confession because it removes the clutter of the past and lets us move forward as servants of Christ.
Walter Brueggemann, at the 1999 Ministers’ Convocation at the Claremont School of Theology, quoted Paul Ricoeur as saying that “changed obedience follows changed imagination.” People can’t change what they do (obedience) until they can see for themselves that there is some other possible way of acting. At that same lecture, Brueggemann described Sabbath rest as an opportunity to imagine one’s life differently.
Is confession connected to the sabbath? The sabbath is a day of rest in keeping with God’s commandment, remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, set apart, reserved space for God. Brueggemann’s point is we can’t take part in what he calls prophetic imagination about the future if our attention is cluttered with regrets and anxiety about the past. Or as the Apostle Paul puts it, “Not that I have already obtained all this … but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
Imagining correctly involves walking with the Spirit of God. Luke says early in his ministry Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. Jesus embraced the imagination of God when he let the Spirit have free reign.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:14-19)
Do you notice his imagination isn’t realistic? It doesn’t follow common sense. That’s what imagination does. It embraces a different reality. It’s fantasy. Fantasy to think the prisoners will be free, that the blind will recover sight, that the poor will receive good news. Fantasy to think death can be overcome.
What do I imagine for our congregation? I imagine us accepting fallibility, in ourselves and one another. I imagine us avoiding black and white thinking and quick fixes, because we know life is filled with gray areas, and any change that is worthwhile takes time.
I imagine us confessing our sins to each other even in general terms and praying for each other so we can be healed. I imagine us remaining open to the work of the Spirit changing us, because we can’t change ourselves or each other.
Some of that has already come to the surface at church. A caring community. Welcoming. Diverse. Affirming. Open. So what is the next step? As Paul Ricoeur said, our actions can’t change until we’ve imagined something different.
So I imagine a group of people who can share freely with each other. Call it confession if you wish. I imagine us having the courage to speak out against racism and government hypocrisy. To reach out to the marginalized in our community. To grow into the faith that knows God to be present in us and among us.
Where does your imagination take you? What actions will change if you follow it? What behavior will shift as you begin to see yourself and those around you differently, imagining them in a holy light? My faith is that as we imagine rightly Jesus will say to us, well done, good and faithful and imaginative servants.Come and share in my master’s happiness.