Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany--Fifth Sunday in lent Seth Moland-Kovash
We come to Lent, the season of ashes, fasting, prayer, and works of love. For many, Lenten preaching is about confronting sin and repenting or responding to God's grace. "What about preaching sin," younger preachers regularly ask me. They remind me that "the proclamation of God's message to us is both Law and Gospel. ... Through the Word in these forms, as through the sacraments, God gives faith, forgiveness of sins, and new life." (1) Their unspoken concern is that I am soft on sin, that grace is getting cheap, and that we need to say more about discipleship. My concern is that I hear lots of scolding and shaming, conditional grace, and a brand of discipleship that comes with a hidden ultimatum--do this or else.
Apart from making the preacher feel all smug and self-righteous, I don't think that it works to convince people that they are sinful, or that they ought to feel sinful. That approach may get people to agree with the preacher, but it will not lead them to grapple with sin. Moreover, I question whether guilt is consistent with Jesus' own preaching. Law and Gospel implies much more than the simple movement from making people feel guilty to relieving them of their guilt. Guilt in preaching presumes a Christian culture. Guilt heaped on by the preacher often leads hearers who are not grappling with sin to put up their defenses and tune the preacher out.
Law is about God's purpose for and relationship with a humanity created in God's image and how we fail to live that purpose and relationship. So, rather than explanation and accusation, Walter Brueggemann argues that lamentation is a better way to name sin. By lamentation, Brueggemann means that preachers "state what is happening by way of loss in vivid images so that the loss may be named by its right names and so that it can be publicly faced in the depth of its negativity." (2) Brueggemann directs preachers to address the loss to God, who is implicated in it. Preachers should dare to give voice to the pain, loss, grief, shame, indignation, bewilderment, and rage that the congregation is feeling, and employ extreme images in order to cut through denial and self-deception. When this happens, preaching holds up a mirror in such a way that people say: "Yes, that's me! That's us! That's the church. That's the world!" Through this kind of preaching about sin, the Spirit leads people to claim the psalmist's prayer as...