(Workshop at Better Books & Bibles 636-16 Ave. NW, April 6, 2019)
We all hunger for forgiveness and a right relationship with God and our neighbour that gives meaning and purpose to our lives. The good news of Christianity is that Jesus sacrificial death on the Cross created a new way to forgiveness and freedom from the guilt and shame that burdens our lives and separates us from right relationship with God and others. Anglican worship includes a general confession which we can use to ask for forgiveness - but sometimes it is hard to quickly identify our sins.
I discovered my own approach at a retreat. I was alone in my room with three hours assigned to conduct a self-examination before my personal confession with a priest.. I prayed that wonderful prayer - HELP and received a word of knowledge that I should use the 10 Commandments as a guide. I developed 10 questions that would help me discover not if but in what specific ways I had broken each Commandment. I committed to three hours of prayer asking the Holy Spirit for guidance as I reviewed my life and filled at least one page with a written answer to each question
1. In what ways have I been unfaithful and failed to love God exclusively?
The 10 Commandments were given by God to prepare the Hebrew people for a very different lifestyle in the promised land. They were going from being slaves in Egypt to being farmers surrounded by other farmers with numerous pagan gods. The 10 Commandments also define our special baptismal / covenant right-relationship with God as Christians:
· Hebrew people had had a many personal experiences of God - this was history and fact, not an idea or opinion
• God had been faithful in rescuing them from Egypt, protecting them from Pharo and feeding them in the desert
• God in a sense owned them as their creator and rescuer
• God had reached out to them in love and expected love and loyalty in response
We can think of this as The Commandment, and the other nine as clarifications or tests of our exclusive loyalty and love of God and God's creation (us). In the time of Moses one god was a revolutionary new idea. Every other tribe or nation recognized multiple gods. Farmers for example worshiped the fertility of animals and crops. Contrary to our time and culture the Hebrews were to be exclusive in recognizing and worshiping one God. This led to serious ethnic cleansing when they conquered the people living in their promised land. When inter-marriage became a problem with wives worshiping pagan gods, men had to leave their wives.
2. In what ways have I made and worshiped an image of God?
God is invisible and beyond our imagination. We are tempted to make God in our own image - 'superme'. Jesus is what God would look like if God was a man - but God is more than Jesus. An image is an object that is made by a man so the man who made the image is by definition greater. An image can not communicate emotions or the importance of a personal love relationship. This Commandment forces us to use the better medium of words to describe our thoughts and experiences of God.
3. In what ways have I misused the name of God?
It is forbidden to misuse the name of God or Jesus to manipulate other people. Jesus specifically forbad oaths in God’s name as all promises are made in the presence of God. Clergy and others are often tempted to misuse the name of God for personal gain or to win an argument. I am always aware of this when I begin sermons with “I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit”.
4. How have I failed recognize my dependence on God?
The Sabbath was a holy day when the Hebrews stopped what they were doing, turned their cell phones off and recognized their historical dependence on God in Creation, the Exodus, conquering other peoples and overcoming challenges in the world around them. The idea was to spend time in relationship with God through reading prayer and fellowship. We attended a Messianic Jewish congregation in Calgary where we experienced the power of spiritual community. This is the reason the Jewish community has been so successful wherever they have lived. Sunday is when Christians also recognize their Sabbath dependence on God and celebrate their re-creation in the Resurrection.
5. In what ways have I dishonoured my parents?
We have to be clear that this is about honour and respect - not loving or liking. Parents are responsible for teaching their children the Covenant and passing it on to the next generation. If children fail to listen and honour their teaching the covenant relationship is broken and God's promise of long life and prosperity is cancelled. Dishonouring parents is the number one sin leading to spiritual wounds and oppression.
6. How have I damaged / destroyed the life of another person?
We are made in the image of God and the highpoint of God’s creation. Human life is sacred. Murder is ‘unauthorized killing' and different from war and judicial killing which is permitted under strict conditions. Murder abrogates God’s promise of a long life to those who are faithful to the Covenant. While most people do not commit physical murder, we have all destroyed the life of someone else to some extent through sharing gossip, verbal or emotional abuse. Have I failed to love and hurt others?
7. How have I been unfaithful in my marriage relationship?
The essence of what God wants is a holy, intimate love relationship with each person. Our complete faithfulness in our marriage relationship is to be a sign of our faithfulness to God. Idolatry, murder and adultery were the most serious sins. They were unforgivable because restitution could not be made. Adultery (including adultery of the heart) is an unholy failure to love both God and our spouse and is also a failure of loyalty. It is a form of worshiping other gods. - self, pleasure, sex and control. In modern times adultery has been broadened to include all forms of sexual “irregularity” or immorality.
8. When have I manipulated someone for personal gain?
Theft undermines the love, transparency, honesty and trust that hold the community together against outsiders. It is a failure to love, honour and respect the dignity of the other. Theft includes kidnapping or hostage taking that denies the Covenant promise of freedom, long life and prosperity.
9. How have I contributed to the breakdown of truth?
False witness and deception destroys covenant trust. In our lifetime a destructive new post-truth culture has arisen which confuses personal opinion with truth - and considers telling someone they are wrong as disrespectful and even hateful. Words such as inclusivity have been turned inside out to mean including only politically correct groups and excluding those who disagree. We are all guilty of at least condoning deception and lies.
10. What wrong desires and thoughts have I had?
Coveting is putting self-interest above the interest of God and neighbour. Wrong thoughts lead to wrong actions (above) and destroy trust and our love relationships within the Covenant family of God. The essence of our relationships is our motivation or attitude. Jesus summarized the Law as loving God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves.