Imagine that you are standing with a Nerf gun (or a bow and arrows) in front of a target. It is only a metre or so in front of you. Close your eyes and picture it. Or if you have a suitable gun and space, go outside and choose a target - perhaps a certain patch of wall, or a tree - and try this in real life.
Now turn away from the target, raise your gun, and shoot in the opposite direction.
How far away from the target did you get?
Now turn around and face the target, still only a metre away, and try again.
How many out of ten do you get when you try to shoot from close up?
Now you move back, to maybe five metres away, and try again. Then you move back to 10 metres away, 20 metres away, and so on, until you are lucky if any of your shots go anywhere near the target.
How far away did you have to be before you missed more often than you hit the target? And how did it feel to be shooting from so far away that you had little or no chance of success?
One of the words in the Bible that is normally translated as 'sinning' literally means something more like 'missing the mark'. It is a term from archery, about aiming for the target - aiming for a bullseye, perfection - but more often than not, falling short or going wildly off course.
Target practice can help us to think about what this really means, and how it feels to miss the mark. We want to hit it; we are aiming at it; but when we are a long way from the target, to our frustration, we find it very difficult to get that elusive bullseye.
Christian tradition tells us that we are so far from God that it is inevitable that we will miss the mark most of the time. But the good news is that God isn't keeping score. God is happy so long as we are trying to aim in the right direction.
At the beginning, when you shot facing away from the target, it didn't matter how good a shot you were. You were only going to get further away from the target if you shot further. Just as in target shooting, in living as a Christian the most important thing to get right first is to be facing in the right direction.
That's why, in the baptism service, when someone becomes a Christian, they are asked a series of questions about turning from all that denies God, and turning to God. In many churches, people will actually be asked to turn around at that point, as a sign of their commitment to going through life facing in the right direction. What matters in being a Christian is not how far on you are, but what direction you are facing in.
Its also why Christians confess their sins to God very regularly. In the Anglican and many other traditions, this happens in the main weekly church service, and Christians often also confess to God as part of their own regular private prayers. By confessing - naming where we have missed the mark - we are acknowledging that we have missed the target of living like Jesus (which of course we will!), we remind ourselves to make sure we are still facing in the right direction, and we commit ourselves to not give up bothering to hit the target, but to keep practicing.
And just as with target shooting, we will get better with practice. Missing the mark in target practice isn't failure. In fact, if you are seriously trying to improve your shooting, then when you have got so good that you are hitting the target every time from a particular distance you would move further back to give yourself a new challenge. When you are trying to improve at any sport, you keep pushing yourself. Missing the mark if you are practicing hard enough is an inevitable and good part of learning.
The very best target shooters practice loads. And someone who becomes an Olympic gold medallist at shooting doesn't stop practicing just because they have got good enough - if they did, they would quickly lose their touch. Similarly, confession is something we keep doing as Christians, and even the most experienced Christians, even the holiest saints, keep doing it. In fact, just like with sports, the people who are the very best are the ones who practice most! Maybe thats what we mean when we call someone a 'practising christian'?
So if you didn't actually try shooting at the beginning of this, have a go now. Choose a target, and grab your gun or bow - something like a Nerf gun that shoots foam darts is ideal.
First try shooting in the wrong direction.
Then turn, and try shooting from 1 metre away, then from further and further away until you are mainly missing the target (how far you will have to go will depend how good a shot you are!).
Each time you hit the target, think of one thing you did today or this week that was right on the mark, and thank God for that.
Each time you miss, think of one thing you did today or this week that missed the mark - a word that hurt someone, an opportunity for kindness missed, a rush that meant you didn't give someone your full attention, or maybe deliberate rudeness or wrongdoing. Admit that was a missing of the mark, and then try shooting again.