Confession in community

Lesson Five, 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:11

A rare but often repeated complaint about weekly worship has to do with the prayer of confession. People say, “Why should we confess sins that we haven’t committed?” Sin is generally understood as something individual, not as having to do with the condition of humanity. There is little understanding that what we are confessing is the sin of the human community and that we all take part in the sin of society.

A portion of one of the prayers of confession found in the Presbyterian “Book of Common Worship” reads,

Although Christ is among us as our peace,
we are a people divided against ourselves as we cling to the values of a broken world.
The profit and pleasures we pursue lay waste the land and pollute the seas.
The fears and jealousies that we harbor set neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation.

Upon reading this prayer, we may think that it doesn’t apply to us if we are kind to our neighbors and recycle. But it does.

The fears and jealousies that we harbor set neighbor against neighbor and nation and against nation. We daily are reminded of how grudges and self-interest destroy people and nations. We gossip, gripe, blame and often judge other people harshly. The prayer of confession above speaks of our extreme inability to live together in cooperation, compassion and peace. Just reflect for a moment on how much complaint about other people or a political party is part of our everyday conversation. It is poisonous.

Our profit and pleasures lay waste the land and pollute the seas. As our Horizons study notes, the United States’ consumption rate of fuels and goods is vastly higher than that of other countries in proportion to our population. We use tons of plastic, a man-made substance that is not bio-degradable. Both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have huge floating garbage dumps made up of plastics and sludge. It is estimated that plastics cause $13 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. There are 1,500 water bottles used per second in the U.S., and it takes 50 million gallons of oil to produce, ship and refrigerate bottled water. Eighty percent of plastic bottles end up in landfills, leaching into water, causing health hazards for wildlife, fish and humans.

God wants us to protect the earth and build community. Our rebellion against God is that we would rather use people and resources for our own self-interest rather than safeguard the well-being of others and future generations. The U.S. makes up less than five percent of the world’s population, but we consume more than 25 percent of the resources and produce 30 percent of the trash and environmental pollutants.

Why don’t we just stop using plastic and bring down our consumption rate of fossil fuels? Laziness? Selfishness? Belief that we have a right to consume whatever we want? Ignorance? Our Reformed tradition would label our consumption patterns as sin. This sin is radical — corrupting individuals, communities, corporations and countries.

In Jesus Christ, we make an extreme claim: Jesus breaks the power of sin and death. After each prayer of confession, we are assured of God’s pardon. “If anyone is in Christ, there is new creation. Behold, the past is dead and gone, and behold, the new has come.”

After recognizing our sin, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to change how we live by sheer will power. We cannot “self-help” ourselves out of sin. But Christ can. New creation is possible with prayer, community support and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

An example of how new creation is possible comes from Jen Hatmaker. Hatmaker and her husband took in hurricane victims. One child from an impoverished neighborhood commented on how rich they were. The child’s comment started them on a Christian journey of becoming more Christ-like in their consumption habits, which she records in her book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” The Hatmakers chose seven patterns of excess (food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste and stress) and spent 30 days addressing each topic.

A friend who lives in Iowa told me recently that she and 14 others have committed to use Hatmaker’s book as a practice for spiritual growth. The group prays for each other, meets several times and each month members write a reflection to each other online on their experience. Hatmaker writes that the payoff from living a deeply reduced life is the discovery of a greatly increased God and a radically better existence.

With Christ’s power at work in us, new creation is possible in relationships and in our lifestyle. Where do you need Christ’s help to change harmful patterns in your life?


ROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries at First Church in Richmond, Virginia.