Prayer of Presence:
Let me not lose myself in tedium, errands, obligations.
Holy Spirit, still me once in a while.
Stop me sometimes.
Let me breathe now and then.
Holy Spirit, teach me to pray.
Not many words, just one: Abba. Amen
(Jack Levison, Holy Spirit I Pray, Paraclete Press: Massachusetts, 2015, p.2)
Scripture: Today’s reading is from Psalm 107:17-22
“Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.”
This portion of Psalm 107 speaks about those that rebelled and sinned against God in the desert. Our United Methodist Communion Service of Word and Table IV uses a traditional text from the rituals of the former Methodist and former Evangelical United Brethren Churches that claims the nature of our rebellious hearts and our need for a new life that follows and walks in God’s holy ways.
The corporate church’s prayer of confession in the traditional text that precedes the breaking and sharing of the bread and cup reads: “Almighty God, Father our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all people: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against they divine majesty. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father. For they Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 44)
This is indeed a weighty prayer of confession. In fact it is so weighty, that we often prefer softer confessional prayers of access to the Communion Table of the Lord that affirm our high estimation of our goodness rather than our lowly state of sinfulness. For example, the prayer of confession in another more common Communion liturgy we use reads, “We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own goodness, but in your unfailing mercies. We are not worthy that you should receive us, but give your word and we shall be healed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 51)
Whether our confessional prayers are weighty or not, what matters is we offer our confession with a pure and right spirit seeking the comfort of God’s mercy, assurance of pardon, and deliverance from all of our sins, God hears our prayers and is merciful to forgive and pardon our past sins and bring us into a new life in Christ. We receive divine strength through God’s pardon to live in goodness and the assurance of deliverance from sin through Jesus Christ.
Scripture offers comfortable words to all that truly turn to the Lord.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
“If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
If any one sins, 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.” (1 John 2:1-2)
Many of us have lived through a season of rebellion, sin, and separation from God, Christ, and the Church. I lived through such a season myself in my young adult years. That season brought me “near to the gates of death,” as the psalmist says (107:18). Like the people in the desert, I cried out to the LORD in my trouble, and he saved me from my distress; he sent out his word and healed me, and delivered me from destruction. So today, I thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works. And I offer thanksgiving sacrifices through my life and ministry, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.
You may find yourself separated from God today. But, you are sensing the holy desire to be reconciled to God, Christ, and the Church. Lent is a time for putting aside the sins and failures of the past in the light of who we are yet to become by the grace of God. I invite you to pray the confessional prayer (preferably the first one) and trust that the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ can, and will save you from your distress, heal, deliver, and reconcile you with God, giving you a new life. Afterwards, read the comforting scriptures of pardon and healing.
Questions for Reflection: