Some years ago, when I first heard the phrase “bright sadness” to describe the season of Lent, I loved the way it sounded, but I didn’t really understand it. I was already struggling to know, practically speaking, what repentance looked like. Could I just confess my sins and be done with it, or was I supposed to be thinking about my sin a lot—was Lent a time to feel extra-guilty? Lots of uncertainty. So the idea of figuring out what “bright sadness” might mean just didn’t compute.
The question of what to do about our sin is an incredibly difficult one for human beings—whether you’re a Christian or not. Sooner or later, the realization hits that we’ve done something wrong, and often it’s something that we are helpless to fix. So, what do we do about our sin? What can we do? How are we supposed to feel about the problems we cause?
It’s easy to list the theological words that apply to sin: confess, repent, lament. But the church doesn’t always do a good job of unpacking those. The main thing my early training in the church taught me about sin was: just don’t do it. Honestly, that’s mostly what I internalized: sin is bad, so don’t. Not super helpful.
So what I found was that I ended up absorbing and imitating attitudes toward sin that I saw in the larger culture, outside the church. Stuff like, don’t think too much about your own sin. Excuse or deny it if at all possible. If it’s not possible to ignore it, feel real, real lousy about yourself.
But things are really interesting in this particular cultural moment and how it deals with sin. For the first time in my lifetime, there is actually a national dialogue of ...
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