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Archive for September 25th, 2013

On an episode of ‘The Big-Bang Theory’, Sheldon’s born-again Mother from Texas was visiting her son and his roommate Leonard when she regaled them with her recent “born-again ocean cruise” with activities like “Jonah and whale-watching”.  Her favorite on-board activity was “Gunning with God”, in which you wrote your sins on a skeet then off the side of the ship, blasted them away with a 12 gauge shotgun.

This reminded me of my first congregation I served as a pastor, the assistant pastor (This congregation was and still is in The Lutheran Church-MIssouri Synod).  At Ash Wednesday, the practice was for everyone to write their sins on slips of paper.  An old metal flower vase was prepared with paper towels soaked with flammable liquid, then the senior pastor and I knelt before the vase, as we led a litany of confession, with us putting the slips of paper, along with last years palms  to the fire with  the response to the effect, We commit our sins to the flame of the Holy Spirit,,,later we took the ashes, mixed them oil for the cross anointing during distribution of Communion (that’s another story!) 

I thought at the time, well, this is pretty cool…and yet kind of weird.  Watching that Big-Bang episode, it hit me like a ton of bricks what was wrong with the practice on Ash Wednesday burning of slips of paper (or skeet-shooting sins)  with our sins written  on them:

First and crucial:  neither skeet-shooting sins nor burning the words of sin on a slip of paper are Biblical at all which leads to the following observations:

  • This practice is not commanded nor promised by the Lord.
  • Our “record of debt” has been recorded on one place:  His Cross.  See Colossians 2:14
  • Creativity is a gift from God reflecting His creative Word, but in liturgy His Word alone is to have full reign to create and recreate, our creativity cannot.  Our creativity can make music, art, literature, for which we thank the Lord,but our creativity cannot absolve sinners.  “Creative liturgy” makes no Biblical sense.
  • It is confusing:  were our sins forgiven when we burned them? No, not really, because there still was the Word of Absolution, so why do it?  Sheldon’s Mom probably thought her sins were forgiven when she shot them away.  It would be an interesting poll to ask the worshipers at my first congregation on those Ash Wednesdays: in the Liturgy when were your sins absolved/forgiven? Such a practice is catechetically confusing. But you and I can not shoot nor burn our own sins away, only the Lord can do that as He has done so once and for all on Golgotha.
  • Faith comes by what is heard, not seen as in “burning sin on paper” (see   2 Corinthians 5:7Romans 10:17). His Word alone forgives, through the Word He has given us.  The Lord has given us the way to forgive:  confession and forgiveness.  This is much more difficult than a gimmick!  It is dangerous to use non-Biblical means because they can lead the faithful down the wrong road and wrong roads can seem the right way but we are still lost. The motto of the Reformation sola Scriptura, Scripture alone is more than a motto:  His Word shows us when we have made a wrong turn and sets us on the right path to Him.

St. John 20:  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

1 John 1: 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

St. Matthew 18: 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you havegained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

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