For our tradition, Lent is a season of repentance, which includes a) sorrow for our sin, b) trust that God in Christ truly forgives us, and c) plans to do better (see the Augsburg Confession, Article XII). Reflecting on repentance, I was perusing the list of entries in the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics
recently published by Baker Academic and edited by Joel Green, and looking for titles of articles semantically within the orbit of Lent and repentance. Entries such as "Almsgiving," "Use of Scripture in the Ars Moriendi Tradition," "Confession," "Contrition," "Courage," Cruciformity," "Penitence," "Repentance," "Self-Denial," and so on gave me food for thought. Chase any one of these down a rabbit hole, and I guarantee you'll discover some cake worth tasting and some Mad Hatter to eat it with.
 I have found, especially when approaching once again themes and topics I've thought through carefully (and who doesn't prepare the Lenten season more intensively than other seasons?) that a systematic method for breaking out of certain forms of thinking, or reminding me of the basic and deep truths of the tradition, has merit. In a dictionary, scholars have been tasked with an important and challenging assignment — say everything that needs saying about "repentance" in two pages. They've had to wrestle that beast to the ground. Essays like these are worth our time.
 In the case specifically of "Repentance," the editor himself, Joel Green, takes on the challenge, and pulls off a magisterial entry in just over one page. In his opening sentence, he offers a concise definition. Green writes, "[Repentance signifies] a turning from whatever hinders one's radical orientation to God, together with a turning to God in wholehearted devotion and faithfulness" (667). I'm seeking to evoke aspects of this definition this time around in my Lenten preaching series: Re: Lent (you can read a longer description of the series here, http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2012/01/relent.html). The preaching series we have designed in our congregation, though covering the "turning from whatever hinders," is actually more focused on the "turning to God in wholehearted devotion and faithfulness."
 Our congregation’s preaching series is asking this: What is the shape of repentance after the turn? What does it look like to start walking after you've spun?
 I get the impression, when I talk with people about repentance, or even when I assess my own response to the word, that the term repentance mostly evokes a sense that the goal of repentance is guilt. In order to overcome this faulty notion, we have some responsibility as preachers and teachers to remind all of us, especially during the Lenten season, that we do not make confession, live contritely, do penance, deny ourselves, and repent, only (or even primarily) in order to evoke a sense of guilt. No, we do all of these things so that a) we will be turned around to complete trust in God, and then b) so that we start walking in the right direction again.
 Repentance that ends in guilt is no kind of repentance at all.
 Getting stuck in the quagmire of our guilt and remorse often has to do with a failure of imagination. Awareness of our sin traps us in a mirrored room of our own devising. Repentance, on the other hand, according to Joel Green, has been related to a "change in thinking." Although repentance is also more than this, we underestimate the power of thinking and the imagination if we think that "change in thinking" is some small and partial thing. Gain the proper perspective or insight, change thinking in the right way, and like Archimedes' lever, and you can move the earth. Change thinking in the right way, and individuals and communities start "bearing fruit worthy of repentance" (Matt. 3:8 and Luke 3:8; one of those strange coincidences where the same chapter and verse in different gospels carry essential the same text).
 Sometimes a good dictionary entry can function as this kind of lever. Suddenly, repentance seems active in a way heretofore unacknowledged (it's about bearing fruit) and not passive (I feel so bad). Then, that same dictionary entry turns you back around at the very end to remind you that repentance, in trinitarian perspective, is passive. "Repentance itself is a gracious gift of God.... 'When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning you from your wicked ways' (Acts 3:26)." Just so Joel Green illustrates the relationship of Scripture and ethics at its best, when the narrative of scripture serves as a trinitarian prototype for ethical reflection now, in this time, in this Lenten season.
 If you are pressed for time, the above is everything specifically on Lent in this essay. However, if you would like to go down one more rabbit hole with me, consider this short additional entry.
 For our own purposes here at Journal of Lutheran Ethics
, it is worth celebrating that one essay in the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics
, "Lutheran Ethics," is authored by a frequent contributor to the journal. Gary Simpson's tight and focused summary of Lutheran ethics is a model of clarity. Perhaps my favorite sentence, one I hope to memorize, reads, "Traditions of Lutheran ethics exhibit a trinitarian dynamic and scope and regard Luther's originating theological and ethical reflections more as a prototype that can be critically explained and constructively extended within new historical realities than as an archetype that must be rigidly replicated. Luther himself took this prototypical approach to previous traditions of Christian moral tradition" (498).
 I am persuaded this approach to ethical reflection as prototype rather than archetype is helpful not only for an approach to Christian tradition, but to the ethical reflections in/of Scripture itself. Although there are clearly multiple "Lutheran ethics," I think this short definition of Simpson's could stand in as a mission statement for a good majority of them.Clint Schnekloth is Lead Pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and a doctor of ministry candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. Clint maintains "Lutheran Confessions," the longest running Lutheran blog in North America.
© March 2012
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 12, Issue 2