First Mennonite Church
June 7, 2020
Confusion of Face
Text: Daniel 9:1-9, 17-19 (American Standard Version)
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, 2 in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem, even seventy years.
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 And I prayed unto Jehovah my God, and made confession, and said, Oh, Lord, the great and dreadful God, who keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned, and have dealt perversely, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even turning aside from thy precepts and from thine ordinances; 6 neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, that spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. 8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness; for we have rebelled against him;
17 Now therefore, O our God, hearken unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. 18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies’ sake. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name.
I have titled my sermon for this morning, “Confusion of Face,” using the phrase as it appears in the ASV.
We look at our face in the mirror, each new day, as we go through the morning ritual of getting ready for the day. The look of our face changes so slowly that we cannot notice it happening even before our very eyes. Once in a while we do find something in our face that we did not have the day before, a blemish, a spot, a pimple, or a little swollen eye bag, if we did not sleep well. But basically, we find the same look in our face.
Am I my face? The answer is clearly “yes” and “no.” Yes, because that is the face that appears in my driver’s license, which identifies me. And, no, because, for instance when I see a sad face, the person whose face is sad, is not always a sad person.
Beneath every face there are layers of self. The most common one is the smiling face we often have when we are with others. But the deeper self is the one only God and those closest to us know. That is true about every one of us. Interestingly, there are times when even we ourselves can barely recognize who we are. As proof of that, let us simply go over the stuff we have saved along our life, the notes or letters we wrote or by remembering the things we have said or have done. These things make us wonder, “Did I really write this stuff? Did I really say or do that?” We barely recognize ourselves by those thing. And that can help us understand why Paul could so powerfully and articulately write: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good (Romans 7:15, 16).
Beneath the face there are layers of self. To dig deeper into those layers of self is to do introspection and self-examination. Usually, people shy away from introspection and self-examination. Many even consider these practices not only as unhealthy but also see them as distasteful or morbid. However, digging beneath the layers of self is the way we can hear the voice of the heart and as the apostle John would say, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20).
Therefore, as you stare at my face on your screen this morning, you would not be far off to wonder what is behind the face you see. You might wonder, “Is his mind completely in what he is talking about, and if not, where is it?” Or, could it that your face revealed a little confusion when I announced the topic of my sermon this morning? Just by the looks of someone’s face we can know if that person is confused.
But not only individuals can have confused faces, even nations. And that was precisely what Daniel was referring to in his prayer of confession. Daniel realized that the Israelite nation had violated the covenant they entered into with Yahweh. Israel’s injustices, idolatry and constant refusal to heed the words of the prophets caused God’s judgement to come upon them in the way of the exile. Daniel and his people were in a foreign land when he made this prayer. In it he confessed to God the sins of Judah, its people and leaders. Daniel pleaded with God, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face, as at this day.” Daniel pleaded with God for forgiveness, mercy and healing for the people of Judah.
Newer versions of the Bible translate the phrase “confusion of face” as “open shame.” It is a power and somewhat disturbing description for anyone bearing such a thing. You might remember what I said some Sundays ago about the meaning of shame in the Bible. The meaning of shame in the Bible is not simply the feeling of embarrassment. Shame is the overwhelming sense of failure in meeting the expectations of another. So, what Daniel was confessing to God was that Israel had failed miserably in meeting God’s expectations. Their sins, their injustices, their idolatry and their constant rejection of God’s voice were the complete opposite of what God was expecting from them. Their shame laid bare and there was no way of hiding or denying it. Confession and admission of failure on Israel’s part was what Daniel was doing. Confusion of face or open shame could only be lifted up or removed through humble and heartfelt confession, accompanied by a new way of life.
Daniel’s prayer of confession in light of the Israel’s failure is most appropriate in our day. These last days we have seen the faces of lots of people, even if these were covered with a face mask. The face our nation is showing the other nations of the world is one of confusion of face or open shame. What is happening today is not what is expected of a great nation as ours. If indeed the US is a Christian nation, as many claim, then certainly we bear confusion of face, because what is happening today is far from what is expected of it.
There are various important lessons we, followers of Christ, can learn from Daniel. Daniel could have dismissed the condition of his people as something he, personally, did not have anything to do with. He could have shrugged off the perils of his people, especially because he was thousands of miles away from Jerusalem. Daniel could have blamed those responsible for the condition of the nation and its people. But no, when Daniel prayed, he included himself as if he had participated in the sins, rebellion, and perversion of justice that took place in his nation. Daniel did not point out finger on those who were responsible for the sins and injustices that took place. He stood in solidarity, not only with those judged by God, but also in bearing the open shame overshadowing the dignity of his people.
Confession involves the great awareness of violating God’s will for us and the world. Confession means that we admit failure on our part to live according to God’s intentions. Confession also involves admission about our inability and lack of inclination to seek the wellbeing of others. Through confession we recognize our self-centeredness and self-interest that stand in the way of loving God and loving our neighbor.
Dear people of the Lord, brothers and sisters, there is lot of reason for open shame on us, this day and in this nation. You and I are not directly involved in the reasons for confusion of face. But we can step in as Daniel did. It is time for God’s people to lament before God for what is happening. It is time for us to confess the sins and atrocities that have been committed along the long history of violence and deaths against Black Americans. It is time for us to plead with God for mercy, justice, healing, and transformation of our institutions. It is time for reconciliation and healing. Let us not give in to the temptation of pointing out fingers. It is easy to do that, especially when many are doing it. It is easy to feel that we are not part of the problem and who much less have an obligation towards finding a solution. Let us become the modern-day Daniels. Let us come in solidarity with those who suffer. Let us come in solidarity with those who are to be blamed. Let us come in prayers of confession and supplication for healing in our society. Let us pray to God as Daniel closed his prayer:
“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servants. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on our desolation. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of cities and town that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because of our cities and our people.” (Paraphrased version of verses 17-19)
May the Lord impress his word in our heart. Amen!