If you put together the various liturgies most used at First Lutheran, you will find a confession of sins that includes confessing to the following:
- We are by nature sinful.
- We are by nature unclean.
- We have sinned against God in our thoughts.
- We have sinned against God in our words.
- We have sinned against God in our actions, what we've done.
- We have sinned against God in what we have failed to do.
- We have not loved God with our whole heart.
- We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
- We deserve God's punishment now and forever.
- We are unworthy before God.
- We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
- We are poor.
- We are miserable.
- We are sinners.
That's a lot. There's a totality to it. Thoughts, words, and actions are all sinful. What we do and what we fail to do are both sinful. Our sin is against God and against neighbor, the two greatest commandments according to Jesus. We deserve punishment now and forever. We are helpless.
We are miserable.
Miserable. There is a word with some baggage. I immediately think of how a person might feel if they had the flu. Miserable, achy, wretched, a person to be pitied.
Miserable has become almost entirely negative in its usage. Nobody wants to be miserable. Confessing that we are miserable might not be terribly true if we only think of miserable as a wretched, unhappy person that none of us wants to be around.
At the root of miserable is the Latin word miser. It’s where we get our English word “miser,” as in a stingy person, as in Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But it also appears in the Latin version of our historic liturgy in the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God).
It’s this phrase: miserere nobis, which means “have mercy upon us.”
To be miserable in that sense is not to be unhappy or stingy or wretched, but rather to be one who needs mercy. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser in both of these ways. He is a stingy man in need of mercy, and thankfully he receives it.
Looking at the laundry list of things listed above, we are confessing to our total depravity before God and neighbor, and I think we can all easily confess that we are miserable, for we are truly in need of God’s mercy.
And He has given us mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.