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Cleaning Up Our Messes - By Pastor Thomas Engel

As you know, I teach one course of college English. Part of the course is to learn how to present a strong position in an argumentative essay. For the midterm, I give the students this scenario.

A company depends a lot on their wholesome public reputation, so they have a hiring policy where they check out what candidates do on social media. After a candidate leaves the interview, they go to google to search his name to see what comes up-just to be sure this candidate fits the high standards of the image of the company.

The students are to argue their position on whether or not a company should take into account in their hiring practices what a person does on social media.

I’ve had students ask me if companies actually do look at social media posts to determine if they should hire a person or not. I say that I don’t know. It’s just a scenario that I’ve made up although there are some articles written on the subject.

What I’ve had heard from students, who are thinking of their future careers, is that they want to go back and clean-up their posts.

I’m not sure what students mean when they say they have to clean-up their posts, for I try not to imagine or get too involved in what they do in their personal lives.

As with anything, social media has its benefits and drawbacks. If you don’t mind that I throw in my opinion here, I’m not sure why someone would add literally thousand of friends-who are actual strangers-access to his page and have posts that are very personal in nature for all to see.

Again, in my opinion, and well, I guess that I am sounding so out of touch with this high tech world of communication that has so many ways of getting stuff out by even asking this-are some things best kept in small familiar circles or even private between me, myself,and I?

I’m not sure just how much that we are to be transparent with each other-at least, how much are we to be sharing with other people who are virtual strangers to us?

But, let’s look what at we do here every week. On Sunday mornings, we come to church and give a general confession of sins.

We confess to God in the presence of one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. And if we think about it, we do Livestream our services, and each service goes out on our web page by Facebook Live for all the world to see.

Oh, will it go viral that I have a closet full of sin?

Scripture says a few things about confessing sins. We are to confess our sins to one another. I am not sure that it means that we are to go on our rooftops and yell to everyone, “Hey, I have done a bunch of sin today. Here is the list of my sins.”

And you take out a list of sins that looks as long as a roll of toilet paper and read every detail.

Although we are going public that we are sinners, we do not have to get specific.

The reason that we do confess our sins together as a group is part of something that is meant to keep us sincere, humble, and real.

In my decades as a pastor, I’ve never had a church member say, “Oh, by the way, Pastor, You will be so proud of me, I can skip the confession this Sunday morning, for I’ve had a pretty good week. I’ve kept a good guard on all of my thoughts, words, and deeds.”

We do start out our confession by saying something about a truth that we get from Scripture, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”

Everyone here today is a sinner, and we can all point to ourselves and say, including me.

If you pinch yourself, and it hurts a little that means you are human, and all humans sin.

We cover a lot of ground when we say we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. With all that has happened this past week in our lives, it’s possible a lot of sin has happened.

So, what are those sins? Don’t answer out loud, but dwell on it for a moment. And if you don’t mind, can I help you?

I mean, did you do at least one eye roll and one expletive under your breath that showed a lack of patience?

We could go on with those questions for a long time.

Even if we have a mountain or two of sin, I’m not sure how far we have to dig into all that has happened and try to uncover every sin.

For the most part, we do not have to agonize ourselves trying to recall every sin, but we are to be aware of our sinful nature.

It’s true that sin can only make us miserable, for sin can only make messes. But, I’m not sure how much we are to get all worked up about them for the sake of making a “good” confession.

We are not to rend our garments or need to pour ashes on our heads. On Sunday mornings, we do not need to be tearing our nice clothes or be getting the church dirty with ashes.

Even on Ash Wednesday, we only use a smidgen of ashes on our foreheads to remember that we are human and are sinners.

Scripture does say that we are to rend our hearts.

The main point is that you know that you are a sinner, and in all humility and sincerity, you do admit that you have sinned in thought, word and deed.

Of course, we might have committed a sin this past week that is really troubling us. With that sin, we might want to spend some time with it, so we can see what happened that caused it.

Then, we want to be sure to hear the absolution for that one sin, so we can move towards healing. This healing may take some time, for as we said, sin can cause big messes. When talking about our confession, I used the word “dwell” when it comes to a self-examination. We need to spend some time in thinking about our sins, but we are not make sin a permanent dwelling place.

Even in the the biggest mess caused by some sin, we are to be sure to move on past it to a new life that God’s forgiveness in Christ brings to us.

I am saying that we are not to make too light of our sins, or on the other side, that we are to not get to heavy in our confession of sin.

As I am hearing myself talk, I hope I am not saying that we need to be getting our confession just right for it to be satisfactory in some way.

This week, as I read the Epistle reading, Philippians 3:4-14, something struck me about St. Paul when he was confessing the time before his conversion when he persecuted Christians.

In a careful study, we can see that the emphasis is not so much on his sin of persecuting Christians although that is a wallop of a sin that caused big messes for new converts to the Christian faith.

But, what we also can catch is St. Paul’s confidence in himself before Christ came to him.

After Christ came to St. Paul, he had nothing but confidence in God for everything.

When we confess our sins, we are to drop our own egos completely and trust totally in the Lord.

As we look at the world today, we can only sadly say it’s a mess. For our own lives, you might have a time now where things are messy, and I know we have some kind of mess in our lives because we do sin in any day. Life is never quite perfect.

What can be tricky here is how we get out of our messes.

I have seen a commercial that is giving a boost for science. The commercial talks about how we need to turn to what is most trusted to get us out of hard times like this virus. It says, “Science will win.”

Here is maybe the tricky part-Science will get us out of this time with a vaccine or some other treatments. Every time I see the commercial I want to add something to the saying, “Science will win.”

God does use worldly things like science to accomplish His means.

But to be clear, I want to say, “By the power and wisdom of God-Science will win.”

We are living in a time of confusion where clarity is essential. We always need to see that all things come from God. Now, in a world that has a virus and much social unrest, we need to know where our help comes from, and we need to know our help can only come from the Lord.

God has given us government to keep order in the world, but we are to know all nations are under God.

St. Paul was a very knowledgeable man. He would have been an awesome contributor to a cable news show. He could speak on many subjects.

But, after his conversion, he found that he needed to forget the confidence that had in himself and of the world and put all his confidence in the Lord of heaven and earth.

St. Paul could speak and address many

subjects and issues of his day, and he could certainly speak on today’s messes, for humans have always had messes since the fall into sin.

If St. Paul was here today, he would not speak on all the subject and issues, but he would speak on the one essential subject that is needed for all times. As he did in his time, he would preach that same message today, “Christ crucified.”

In that short two-word sermon on Christ and his death, the world can know of how Christ fought sin, eternal death, and Satan on the cross, and then the world can know how Jesus defeated all evil when he rose from the dead on the third day.

Today, we have confessed that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. Then, we heard how we are forgiven by the grace of God in Christ.

We leave here in that forgiveness. This forgiveness gives us confidence as we conclude that if we are free from evil and that it has no power over us, we can confidently live in peace, love, and joy.

In all the world, Christians take this confidence in what God gives by His grace in Christ to their vocations, families, schools, churches, and communities, so they may, too, may have peace, love, and joy.

It’s said, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” I’m a milk-alcoholic, so I just might “cry” over a spill of milk, and I might throw a tantrum if it is chocolate milk.

We are not to “cry” over spilled milk because it’s not the end of the world if milk is spilled, for there is always more milk.

We are to take our confession of sin seriously, for we know sin creates messes.

But, as sinful humans, we can do nothing to clean up our messes, even though we can only blame ourselves for them. Only God can forgive sin, and He does so by His grace in Christ.

To be sure, we are not begrudging science and government or anything of the world, for God can use such things to keep the world moving along as He wills.

But in all of our messes, we are to be sure that we put our confidence not in anything but the Lord. When we put our trust only in the Lord, we can know all things will work out.

Yes, because of sin, messes come, and for sure, they are our messes, but as we keep moving along in this very messy world and some times our own messy lives, we trust that God by His grace in Christ is cleaning it all up.

We are sorry for our sins, but we don’t need to be crying over spills and messes. After we confess our sins and hear absolution, it is time to be moving along in new life that is in Christ.

In this moving along, we can put all of our confidence in only God who is always taking care of all things for us by His grace in Christ.

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