Put Sin in the Center of Lent This Year
On Ash Wednesday, March 1st, our “Invitation to a Holy Lent” in our liturgy explains: Lent “was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need, which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.”
While comedian Robin Williams used to describe his chosen Episcopal Church as “Catholic Light,” these core words about penitence and forgiveness do not suggest that our church let’s us off the hook all that easily. Our “Outline of Faith” in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 843-862) teaches, “The Ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors.” And, our failure to obey allows us to “see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.” The BCP defines sin as “seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation… Redemption is the act of God, which sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death.”
During Lent, Wednesday evening Bible Study will explore our Biblical understanding of sin, evil, and the nature of God. We will engage such questions as: What is sin? What do we mean by “original sin”? Does God send suffering and pain?” Is there a force for evil—the devil, Satan, the evil one—active in the world? What’s the connection between sin and disease? If God forgives our sins, what’s the point of being good? How do we deal with societal, systemic, or corporate sin?
From our religious upbringing, our sense of self, and our understanding and experience of God, we all form our beliefs about God and sin. Often I meet people who tell me that they grew up at St. Stephen’s but can’t come back because the church would collapse if they walked through the doors. They laugh as they say these words but their quip contains an understanding of sin, church, and God that denies forgiveness and burdens individuals with shame and judgment. Other people present outwardly perfect and faithful lives while inwardly condemning themselves, harming themselves, hurting others, or cheating the world. Still others maintain a list of behaviors forbidden by God and use their list to decide who is worthy and who is a sinner separated from God. Most of us ignore patterns and practices in our own lives that allow us to live as we choose rather than as God would have us live. And few of us take seriously our role and responsibility in such corporate sins as environmental degradation, consumerism, racism, militarism, and objectification of others.
As human beings with free will, we sin. We participate in systems of oppression. We turn from God and live as we choose. Lent is the season in our Church Year when we mindfully consider obstacles in our relationship with God. This Lent read, study, serve, talk, pray, worship, confess, act; it’s time to come back to God! God knows all that is right and off-balance in each of us. Lent is our time to turn to God, and accept God’s gift of love and grace. JSG+