Reading time: three minutes.
I have a natural aroma, a scent all my own. It’s not that pleasant, but I’m learning to deal with it pretty well. I’m not talking about body odor. For that aroma, a daily shower with some de-odorant soap and a quick smear of de-odorant stick and I’m set to face the public.
The natural scent that follows me around that is much more deeply a part of me than my body odor is the smell of filthy rags. It’s the fragrance of the underside of a sheep. It’s the aroma of my natural tendency to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, think the wrong thing and usually at just the wrong time.
Fortunately, we have a Good Shepherd who is familiar with the smell of sheep, and willing to wrap them around His shoulders and carry them home.
I’ve heard of daring pastors who bring livestock into the church for the Christmas Eve service. Cleaning up afterward is a small task compared to dealing with the smell of our sins against God and against one another. The atmosphere in and around churches can be pretty nasty sometimes. The aroma of gossip and of antagonism, the foul smell of factions in the church and of long held grudges can bring the work of the kingdom to a halt.
The devil loves getting a foothold in our anger and lack of forgiveness.
On the evening that this blog is posted, I’ll be leading worship at our retreat for the LCMS Council of Presidents held up in Michigan. We’ve chosen the order of Compline (Prayer at the Close of Day) for our service of in the evening. I love the confession of sins in this service, found on page 254 in Lutheran Service Book.
The leader confesses first, and the congregation responds, “The almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, forgiveness and remission of all your sins. Amen.” Then the congregation confesses and is blessed. That’s the way it should be.
I often asked my confirmation students why the Pastor gets to stand up in front when we confess our sins. I’d tell them, “First sinner. The Pastor is supposed to know better, so he gets to lead the way in confession.”
When pastor and people can learn the wondrous and gracious dance of confession and forgiveness, the atmosphere gets cleared and the clean, fresh aroma of the forgiving love of Jesus fills the air. That’s emotional wellbeing, when the hurt that we inflict on one another, the disappointment over our failures and faults is brought to the cross of Jesus, everything begins again brand new.
After seventeen years of ministry at one congregation, when it was time for us to move on to the Lord’s next field of service, I used the same order of confession and forgiveness in one of my final Sundays. Without being maudlin or breaking any confidence, I was quite specific about the ways, in my recollection, I had been a disappointing pastor, and I asked the congregation’s forgiveness.
I’m glad to report that it was freely and generously offered to me. It helped us wind up our time together in grace and love and forgiveness. I wish I had made the practice a more regular part of our life together.
How’s the atmosphere at your congregation? I hope you’ll take a moment to tell me a story of God’s grace and forgiveness in the body of Christ where you live.
Thanks for reading.
A Congregational Wellness Weekend is designed to help create a ministry environment at your church or school where professional church workers can thrive and serve joyfully in their calling at top capacity. Let’s start the conversation today! Find more information on our website or contact Program Director Darrell Zimmerman to learn more.