Martin B. Copenhaver
"Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" - Isaiah 6:1-5
Does worship in your church include a prayer of confession? If so, it is probably near the beginning of the service. One reason for this placement is that God's presence reveals things to us. In God's clarifying presence we see things about our lives that we might not see otherwise. So when Isaiah had a dramatic encounter with God in the temple, his first response was confession. And it can be the same for us in our worship.
Some congregations no longer include a prayer of confession in their worship because the practice is considered too "negative." They contend that people have enough difficulties in their lives without the church adding to the burden. But confession is not about adding a burden. Quite the opposite. It is about being unburdened. Ultimately, there is no joy in denial. But there can be great joy in receiving forgiveness.
As Christians we don't need to traffic in denial. We can afford to be realists. We are free to face the truth about ourselves: good and bad are inextricably intertwined within us. Sometimes we act nobly, but even then our motivations can be mixed. This is not a hopeless admission. We are free to be realists because our hope is in God. In confession, we rely not on our own goodness, but on God's forgiveness. The God in whose presence we see our lives with jarring clarity at the same time shows us that we are loved, nonetheless.
Dear God, when given a chance, I mess up. Sometimes, when not given a chance, I mess up anyway. So I am grateful that I do not have to rely on my own goodness, but rather on your forgiveness. Amen.
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor of Village Church, United Church of Christ, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. A new edition of his book, Living Faith While Holding Doubts has just been published by Pilgrim Press.