Be a Kid Again The Little Book of Confession
Luther's favorite name for the Apostles' Creed was Der Kinder Glaube, the Children's Creed. Tonight, as kids again, we take up the First Article in the 3rd way Luther said it could be used: as The Little Book of Confession (Peters, 103). In Luther's time, manuals for private confession were popular. They guided the priest in rooting out sins. Luther didn't have much use for them, but he did incorporate the concept in his catechetical writing. But his manual' was for use by the penitent not the confessor. In the 5th Chief Part, Luther asks the question, "What sins should we confess?" And then guides the penitent through examining his life. The First Article can also be used as a guide for confession said Luther (Ibid.).
Examine how absolute God's claim on you is. In the Large Catechism we say, "we learn from this article that none of us owns himself" (LC, II, 16).
He owns us body and soul. He can do with us what He wills, and we have no grounds for complaint. This is Jeremiah's pot and potter illustration. The Lord sent him to watch a potter at his wheel. When the pot didn't come out the way he wanted, he used the clay to make another. "O people of Israel," says the Lord, "can I not do with you as this potter has done?" In the depths of suffering, body and soul racked with pain, Job says, "Who could say to God, What are You doing?'" Yet we say that all the time, and for that we are to repent.
When we think we have a volunteer relationship to God rather than a salve relationship, we deny this article. When we think of the church as a voluntary association, which we attend as much as we please and do as much as we want, we sin. It's not your life, and so you can't do with it as you please. You belong to God, and you are to do what He wants, and He owes you no more explanation than a master does a slave or a potter a pot.
But look how much your Master provides for you: After listing all that He gives "body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses," we take a breath, and continue. "He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have." He not only provides He "still takes care of them," and "He defends me against all danger and guard and protects me from all evil." Some cruel, evil, master, huh?
And what does He expect from all these gifts? "For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him." Yet you don't. You think a day of Thanksgiving is sufficient. You don't praise Him but you say such unbelieving and ungrateful things as "luckily," or, "I just happened to be in the right place," or "fortunately" And you are not only to thank but serve and obey. You serve the God you can't see by serving your fellow man that you do, but you don't. You serve him to the extent you think you can spare. As for obeying Him? You do that to the extent it suits you.
Pretty intense, right? If you use this article as a little Book of Confession, it quickly becomes too hot to handle. We confess as much in the Large Catechism, "This article ought to humble and terrify us all" (II, 22). Terrify us it does, so much so we need help now. The First Article drives us to the Second where our Jesus redeems, purchases, and wins us with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.
Ready to dive back into the Little Book of Confession? So far, we've only exposed the obvious. A closer look at the First Article exposes how deeply the I remains entrenched in me. Poet e.e. cummings wrote without capitalization. Type an email and then change all the upper-case I's to lower case. It will look different; it will be different. We take it for granted that I is to be capitalized but English is the only language that capitalizes the first person singular pronoun I (mentalfloss.com/article/30743/why-do-we-capitalize).
Although body and soul, our members, and our very self are gifts of God, although our continuance in this life is totally dependent on Him, we think life is about capital I. We're King Hezekiah. When envoys from Babylon came, Scripture says, "Hezekiahshowed them all his treasure house and his whole armory and all that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that he did not show them."
Hezekiah ruled after Ahaz who practiced child sacrifice, brought a pagan altar into the Temple, and adopted contemporary worship practices to please the king of Assyria. Hezekiah was a godly king, but to paraphrase the 60's classic, no matter what he did he couldn't get away from himself. And neither can you, and self is going to sink you as surely as it did the Rich Fool. Remember him? He referred to himself 12x's in 3 verses. He thought he was the captain of his soul. He gave no thought to the truth that he didn't own his soul. That it could be required of him without notice.
Do you? Do you realize that the First Article testifies that you aren't a self-created or self-sustaining individual? Your life, health, wealth are all dependent not on you but God. You owe God everything every breath you take, every penny you make, every ounce of strength you have. Although we never forget to capitalize the I in writing and particularly in thinking, "I don't want to;" "I don't think so," or, "I don't care" are no answer to the sins the First Article exposes.
The "all's" are. The First Article answers the I's slowing sinking us into self and judgment by burying us under an avalanche of all's. Gift, gift, gift, grace upon grace are piled on to self so that it sinks under all that God does to support this body and life. The gifts and graces keep coming till we are humbled to the point of confession, till we return to our Father's house saying, "Father I'm not worthy to be called Thy son," and for the sake of His Son, our Savior the Father says, "Welcome home; here are more gifts than you had before you left for the land of I."
How comforting, but this Little Book of Confession isn't through with us. It wishes to expose how you sin with all of you and all your goods. When we think of our sinfulness, we rate ourselves according to the world's standard. We're not in jail, are we? Well, we can't be that bad. Everybody is doing it, so what's the big deal if I do? I'm surely better than that person or those people? The First Article holds us to a different standard: The standard of God the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth.
What do you with the eyes God has given you? What do you look at? Do you use them to lust, covet, hate? What about your ears? What do you listen to? Things that glorify God or that profane His Name? What about the rest of your senses? Does all your tasting, touching, smelling glorify God? Or do you become so hooked on them that you can taste, touch, smell nothing of the Father in this fallen world? Or worse, do the things of God you do taste and touch smell of death to you?
Let me ask you: If your earthly farther left you a treasure, would you use it for some disgusting task or for something against him? But isn't that what we do with God's gift of reason? With our God-given reason, we conclude it is reasonable to doubt God's promises. We believe there are good reasons for challenging the God who gave us reason.
Still not convinced how fallen and lost you are? What do these bodies do with the food and drink of this fallen world that are still beautiful in some sense? There is still the touch, taste, smell of heaven in a grilling steak or a layered cake. There is still the whiff of the eternal in cold milk, hot chocolate, dark beer, and white wine. But what do we do with these good gifts? First, we over indulge in them. Second, our fallen bodies turn God's beautiful food and drink into feces and urine that offend God (Deut. 23: 13-14).
We ruin house and home too. We turn these gifts of our heavenly Father into God-free zones. God belongs in His house not ours. There isn't room for both God and me in my home, and that's true. Someone has got to go, and who do you think the capital I kicks out? We ruin house and home by not wanting God in them, and we ruin the gifts of wife, children, land, animals and all we have by never being satisfied. I always wants more. 2 Peter says fallen men have "hearts trained in greed." And in a consumer driven economy, you are told this is good, noble, patriotic training.
Have you ever picked up a little book and been blown away by it? Have you ever found more than you were looking for in a little book? That's what happens when you use the First Article as a Book of Confession. Since it deals with creation, you find your falleness exposed at the most basic and deepest level. You find much to your horror that your sinfulness is entwined with your DNA and you can't separate it, let alone get it out.
If our Creator and Preserver were not also our Redeemer and Savior we would be lost without hope in this fallen world. But God in Christ came down into His own creation to rescue us. He gave up the full use of His divine powers to live just as we do in this world. Only He lived perfectly. He received all the gifts from His Father's hand and never once sinned with those gifts or against the Giver. But you did both and needed redeeming from both. That's where Jesus' suffering, dying, and damning on the cross came in.
The redemption God won for the world He proclaimed to the world by raising Jesus from the dead. And it comes to you through God's creation that you can still use. Through the Waters of Baptism your sins are washed away; through your ears the Absolving Word penetrates your body and soul to forgive your sins, and through created Bread and Wine the Creator gives you His Body and Blood to eat and drink in this life for life everlasting.
May the Little Book of Confession lead you to confess your sins against your Creator and lead you back to your Redeemer. You'll know it has if the First Article becomes not only a Little Book of Instruction and Confession but a Little Book of Prayer. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers II (20161207); First Article of the Creed