"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.”
This passage from 1 John 1:6-9 was a part of the Revised Common Lectionary (used by several church denominations) for this past Sunday. It always catches my attention when it comes up because part of the passage is used as part of our Confession and Forgiveness that we say most weeks in our tradition as part of our liturgy in worship. Seeing the words in their Biblical context helps me remember the greater context in which they were originally written. They were written for the Early Church that was trying to discern what the promise of the resurrection meant for them as a community, how they were to live together, how the spiritual and the earthly fit (or didn’t fit together) and how they could be called from darkness to light. Seeing the text in the Biblical context causes me to pause and think about why we so intentionally say these words together.
In this passage, we are reminded that part of being people of the resurrection and part of being able to live in the light is being honest about the ways that we fail and fall short of God’s callings for us. First and foremost, I believe this refers to a calling to confess to God the ways that we sin and fall short daily (and trusting in God’s never ending forgiveness). But, also, this refers to confessing to each other the ways that we have missed the mark.
Lately, I have heard an increasing amount of commentary brushing aside the concerns and criticism people express, especially when race, immigration status, sexuality or other forms of social difference are being discussed. I have heard many willing to brush aside concerns, labeling all concerns as “cancel culture.”
But, doing so, I believe, keeps us from walking in the light fully. It limits our fellowship. Indeed, we can not make all people happy or content with our beliefs, but we can look at ways we personally have missed the mark, express apologies when possible, accept necessary consequences (a part of life in this world) and move forward, hopefully, better together. When frustrations or criticisms are expressed, we can practice deep listening and look for areas where we need to confess and areas where reconciliation can occur.
To share an example of my own failing: As a college student, I spent some time abroad in Central America. As part of that time, we learned about situations of civil unrest and violence in the '70s-'90s where kidnappings and executions were common. We spent most days hearing speakers remember talk about that horrific time period in their history and ways they were painfully affected by it.
Meanwhile, in the evening, we would hang around playing card games on the patio. Not thinking, we often played the card game Mafia. One of the local residents heard and said to our professor, “How could they be playing this game? We lived that here.” I remember feeling ill when our professor expressed what the man had said, and apologizing to her (not knowing who the man was) for my part in being so insensitive to the struggles of those we were there to learn from.
In the end, the experience didn’t limit me, but, instead, helped me to grow. After that, I tried to be more thoughtful about how my actions might be received by a particular group. After all, if our goal is to increase our joy, fellowship and unity, why wouldn’t we want to tailor our actions so that those around us feel as respected and honored as possible? If our goal is to share the Good News of the Resurrection, why wouldn’t we want to help people feel new life in Christ in all areas of lives?
Of course, there have been hundreds of instances since where I have still not gotten it right, and hundreds of instances when I wasn’t quick to admit a wrong I should have, but working on this, for me, is a spiritual discipline. During this Easter season (seven weeks for many traditions), I am going to focus on this discipline of confession and receiving God’s forgiveness, trusting that this process will help me better feel the hope of the resurrection ... and better share it with others. Join me!
Jeanette McCormick is pastor at Worthington's First Lutheran Church.