“It’s not our fault!”
That is proclaimed so much by so many about slavery, racism, poverty, etcetera…and they’re right. Yet, here we have the example of the Jews. It was the fault of their ancestors. However, their ancestors were dead.
All things new
Often, you cannot figure out the right way without figuring out the wrong way. Confessing the wrongdoing of one’s predecessors isn’t taking responsibility for it (i.e., guilt and shame for what they did). So what? Now is the time to forge a new path. Granted, the Jews of Nehemiah’s time were the descendants of those who rebelled against God. Yet, at least I can see a recognition that this confession is also a warning to themselves that this could befall them, too.
This passage in Nehemiah really causes me to pause and think about today in the US with our laser focus on our individuality. Perhaps our personal confession is too much about ourselves and not enough about others.
Ours to Confess
In the Lutheran tradition (especially during Lent), the following is spoken by the church body:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.
Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.
We are being forged. It sounds impressive until you recognized the forging process. Tossed in a hot furnace until you’re so hot that you almost melt. Put onto a hard surface and hit with a hammer, and maybe bent with tongs. If that’s not enough, you might be tossed back into the furnace and brought back out, and hit/bent some more. Then you’re tossed into a vat of oil or water to cool off. If you come out warped, enjoy the next trip through the furnace.
I’m not sure about you, but somehow that sounds kind of like now (and the previous couple of years).
As a white, middle-class, middle-aged male, I could be threatened by the riots, the challenges to my faith, the challenges to the church, the challenges to “my” culture. I might even feel threatened (or insulted) that people think that their understanding of each of these things actually represents who I am.
Or, I follow the example of Nehemiah and the Jews. I could confess that those who went before weren’t perfect, made mistakes, and even did things I believe are wrong. I’m not taking their guilt upon my shoulders, for that is not mine to bear.
However, leaving the wrongs things wrong just because they’re someone else’s fault is…wrong. And, because we are called to love others…it is often sin.
Sin, From a Certain Point of View
As someone from the Wesleyan theological family, the Lutheran confession of being in bondage to sin is irksome. It rubs me the wrong way. It superficially violates much of our understanding of being freed through Christ and can be seen to conflict with Entire Sanctification (aka, Christian Perfection).
We are in bondage to sin. Yes, I said it. Yet, it may not be our sin that we are in bondage to, but the sin of others. I am kind of “wrecked” (in a good way) with this. It transforms (in hopefully a Christ-like way) my thinking in regards to the concept of institutionalized racism and even the gap between wealthy and poor.
We are the church. Being free to follow and fulfill the love of Christ is our holy calling.