What we can't do, what we can do, and a Law and Gospel refresher. There are a lot of places to hook into the Confessions this week, and the first one is confession!
Verse 12 is cited in several places: Augsburg Confession , Article 11: Concerning Confession (AC 11.2); Augsburg Confession , Article 25: Concerning Confession (AC 25.7); Apology of the Augsburg Confession , Article 11: Confession (AP 11.8); and Smalcald Articles , Part 3, Artcile 7: Concerning the Keys (SA 3.7.1). The point is consistently the same--that no human can actually list all of their sins. It is not possible in this life to know of all the wrongs we have done. But there is more to say on each of these sections.
I know that it's a bit confusing that the Augsburg Confession has two articles with the same title, but it does make sense. AC 11 is part of the undisputed articles, the part of the theology the reformers presented that they thought showed they were in agreement with the teachings of the Catholic Church. In this article, Psalm 19:12 is cited to show that the reformers still do confession, just without the expectation of anyone being able to list all of their sins.
AC 25 is part of the disputed articles, the part of the theology the reformers presented that they thought challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church. In this article, this verse is cited to show that no one can list all of their sins, therefore the rite of confession cannot justify us before God. There are other points of difference between AC 11 and 25, but for this psalm citation, this is the distinction.
Melanchthon doubles down on the argument from AC 25 in AP 11 with this great line, "For it is evident that we will neither remember nor understand most of our sins" (AP11.8). Ha! That's a mic drop and/or meme waiting to happen.
Luther, who considered confession under the binding and loosing of sins, which is refered to as the Office of the Keys, uses the logic from this verse to show that the forgiveness God gives the Church the authority to declare (or not, but beware!) must necessarily also include the authority to forgive the "subtle, secret" sins "that only God knows" (SA 3.7.1). Without such authority, the church would not be able to declare either God's judgment or God's forgiveness.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Verses 22 and 23 are cited in the Large Catechism , Ten Commandments, Eighth Commandment (LC 1.287) as young Luther (I can't imagine an older Luther saying this) unpacks the complex meaning of this commandment for Christians. "Thus in our relations with one another all of us should veil whatever is dishonorable and weak in our neighbors, and do whatever we can to serve, assist, and promote their good name. On the other hand, we should prevent everything that may contribute to their disgrace" (LC 1.288). This topic can always preach as congregations, denominations, this country, what have you--we Christians in the United States--for certain break this commandment almost every time we open our mouths. Lord, have mercy!
Verses 16 through 21 are cited in the Formula of Concord , Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ (SD 8.73) in an interesting moment of reading the text differently. Within the argument being made, the reformers after Luther's death use this passage in Luke (and Isaiah) to argue that what makes Jesus different from any other saint or holy person is that Jesus does not receive either the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit because the Spirit proceeds from Jesus just as the Spirit proceeds from the Father. If it were otherwise, Jesus would not be fully divine.
Verse 18 is cited earlier in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 5: Law and Gospel (SD 5.9) to make a point about the necessity of the Law in preparing us to hear the Gospel. "For the gospel proclaims forgiveness of sins not to crude, secure hearts, but to those who have been crushed or are repentant."
Knowing that we get the rest of this story of Jesus' trip home next week, I should warn you not to push any of these ideas too far when you preach. As we'll hear next week, this moment did not end well for Jesus. I would not expect any better. But there are probably some questions here worth pondering:
- Where do we make time for people to wrestle with their shortcomings, especially in their relationship with God and other Christians?
- Who, in your worship, is clothed with the most honor? (Hint: If you're a pastor in a liturgical worship setting, it's probably you. Yes, this means you (and me, too) are the inferior member!)
- How is honor determined among people?
- How is honor determined by God?
- What implications does Paul's argument have for your congregation, the Church, the world, etc.?
- Does Jesus' proclamation confront us with God's gospel in its general sense (FC 5) still today?