By The Rev. Carlton Kelley
Yes, Lent is almost upon us. Many people do not appreciate this pivotal season as it seems too concerned with sin, repentance, self-denial, and fasting. Needless to say, none of those realities is popular in our culture or, for that matter, in the church. The burden that falls upon the church is to repeat the unpopular message that, as priest and noted preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says, “sin is the language of salvation.” Juxtaposing those two ideas seems odd at first glance, but the reality to which they witness is as true as life itself.
Sin is about the many deliberate decisions, both known and unknown, that we make to turn away from a loving, healing, creative, and redeeming God. We turn away from the gift of life that has been so freely given to us in Holy Baptism. We turn away from the cost of that life so wonderfully given to us in Jesus Christ. While that life of grace is free, it is not cheap to paraphrase the saint and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer understood the awful price of grace as he died in a Nazi concentration camp resisting Hitler’s evil with his least breath. Bonhoeffer understood this because he followed Jesus who understood it first.
Participation in the fullness of Jesus’ life requires us to deliberately turn from sin, but not to be afraid to look at its consequences to discover, with God’s grace, that we are not what we should be. And that is the good news. God did not create us to be sinners. Bishop Matthew Gunter of Fond du Lac writes that “though (sin) infects our very nature, sin is not the truest thing about us. And we are not stuck with the sinfulness of our egotism, greed, violence and unlove. We can become ‘children of grace.’ We can repent. Through the mercy of God, forgiveness is possible. Change is possible.”
Change and a certain freedom from sin are possible by immersing ourselves in love for God and each other. We do this, each in our own way, by regular prayer and the reception of Holy Communion, by Bible study, fellowship, giving of our resources, and fasting. Isaiah instructs us by asking, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (58: 7)
All we need to do is to let our imaginations run wild with possibilities for service to God and others. Think of things you would like to do for someone else – and then do them! Think of things you would like to do for yourself – and do them! Think of things you would like to offer to God – and then do them! Renew and deepen your discipleship this Lent.