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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 John 1:1—2:2   

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

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. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (NRSV)

This line of scripture is sometimes used during worship services to introduce the prayer of confession: “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).

I have grown in my understanding of and respect for the practice of confession over the years. As a youngster I did not experience the grace and transformative power of confession. I experienced it more as a repetitive shaming, an emphasis on finding things wrong with myself. Words of assurance of pardon struck me as fairly empty and ineffective words—just words, empty words.

One thing that has helped me discover the richness of confession is learning the difference between guilt and shame. Admitting guilt is to admit that I have done something bad. Shame is more a feeling that I am bad. Admitting guilt can motivate us to do better next time. Shame erodes our self-esteem and tends to further disempower and even paralyze us.

When we feel shame, we feel unworthy or unlovable, but as Christians we have a powerful antidote to that feeling. This letter of 1 John says, “We have known and have believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them” (1 John 4:16). When we can remember the love that God has for us unconditionally, we become more capable of confessing our guilt without getting lost in shame.

It can be liberating to know and to believe that, no matter what we have done, we are redeemable in the eyes and heart of God. Surely we are guilty of some failures, but just as surely God continues to love and value each and every one of us.

God of grace and love, forgive me for the mistakes and the shortcomings in my life and behavior. Help me to trust that you, who created me, will never let me go. Help me to know that I am beloved and dear to you, now and always, no matter what. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry

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