“Autumn Brings…A Call to Letting Go” (Part Seven)
Ephesians 4:25-32 & Luke 23:32-43 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
November 4, 2018
Wow…we all remembered to change your clocks! Or our electronic devices did the job for us. But, either way, we appear organized and we are now well into the fall season. God has put on a tremendous show with an overly dry September, the colours of the leaves were spectacular this year. The fall rains have fully set in and leaves have mostly fallen. And while the seasons shifted from summer to fall, we pondered the shifts into autumn and considered how they provided a window into the grace, the nature, the divinity of God.
We began as fall commenced considering “change”. Change is that ever-present reality of God’s nature. We considered the changes that God offers. Changes which move one to new life from death, which brings hope from despair. As we considered Isaiah’s hope-filled words “I am about to do a new thing, do you not perceive it”, we were reassured how God’s nature is change. We then moved to a consideration of another dimension of God’s nature: “preservation”. And we pondered how God preserves and provides for us on the journey. We considered the importance, especially in this world which prizes our self-made individuality, for us to also rely on God’s grace and strength in the journey. We remembered how in the story of Moses striking the rock with the staff and receiving water for the thirsty people they named that place “Massah & Merribah” ~ the place of quarreling and testing, for it occurs in these challenging moments of time that we realize God’s nature of preservation.
We next continued to consider God’s nature of bringing “comfort” as we recalled Jesus’ teaching of taking his yoke and learning that his burden is easy and his yoke is light. It is that reminder that in our following Jesus’ Way, that it will be OK, that it will be manageable, achievable, something we can all can bear. Indeed God brings comfort. We next considered the element of “mystery” as a part of this season with the sunlit days diminishing and the evening arriving sooner and sooner. We considered the beautiful paradox of the journey of knowing the unknowable God and the grace for us found in loving the questions and knowing that the answers will be revealed in God’s gracious time. Rev. Mary built upon this and helped us to consider that vital element of relationship with God… “trust” as you sang ‘Michael, row your boat ashore, Hallelujah!’ It was a reminder of the trust that was essential and lived out in civil rights movements, in personal faith experiences, as people of faith took the risk and trusted in God. And finally, last week, we considered the nature of God who is “protection”. As we considered the analogy of the shepherd protecting her sheep we considered how God’s nature is to provide protection ~ sometimes to us and in other cases (as we heard in the story of our sponsorship to the Hammoud family from Linda) to provide protection through us. Yet another dimension of God’s nature is protection.
This series was the result of the brainstorming of our Worship Committee back in August as we considered a “Fall Theme”. And, they have guided us through a deep and thoughtful journey. We conclude with what I would suggest is among the most difficult dimension of Autumn… “the call to letting go”. Autumn is that time when all has been completed and it is a time to let go and turn things over to God. The harvest is in, the land is prepared for the coming winter, the foods are stored in the cellar and silos, and we sit back and we wait and … we let go. I’m looking forward to the VSO’s complete performance of Vivaldi’s performance of “The Four Seasons” next month and this symphony that lifts up the character of the season of Fall takes on that distinctive shift in its presentation. The texts we heard are among the most difficult and challenging in the biblical cannon of scripture ~ for they teach us about the nature of letting go.
In the first text, Paul instructs the Ephesians to let go…to put away falsehood and speak truth. To be angry, but not to sin … not letting the sun go down on your anger. To not let evil come from your mouth, but only words of grace. Letting go of bitterness, wrath, anger, slander, and malice. Replacing them with kindness, tender-heartedness and forgiveness. Paul’s letter is truly a challenging manifesto to letting go.
The gospel text is even more challenging for it truly demonstrates, with Jesus’ life, the depth and breadth of what it means to let go. To be sure, it would be difficult to think of a more painful way to inflict death upon a person than crucifixion. To hang high on a cross was not a place of glory, but rather it was a form of execution that the Romans cruelly inflicted. They did it for two reasons: it’s brutal nature added to the public shame and humiliation as an ever-slow death approached. Secondly, crucifixion served as a warning to other criminals of how severely they would be punished for the crimes they might be considering. And while they were inflicting this inhumane treatment upon Jesus, while they were mocking him, while they were spitting upon him, while the soldiers were going through his clothes to see what they would steal, Jesus demonstrates the ultimate form of letting go. He forgives them and prays for them. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Commentators argue over who the “they” is referring to when Jesus prays. Is he praying for the religious community who have convicted him? Yes… Or is he praying for the oppressive way of the violent Kingdom of Rome? Yes… “Forgive them for the do not know what they are doing” prays Jesus. And to the curious onlookers who beg Jesus to save himself from this fate, to fight to stay alive, he teaches them the true nature of letting go. Indeed, Jesus’ death does not contradict the claims that he is the Messiah, the chosen one, the King of the Jews but rather his willingness to let go of his life and allow God’s work of redemption truly confirm that this is who Jesus is. What would have happened if Jesus did not let go? For Jesus to have held on versus letting go would have been a denial of this very nature of God: a God who triumphs over every principality and power … by letting go; a God who brings new life…by letting go; a God who brings hope even after death… by letting go.
One of the hardest things for ministers who truly love their congregations I have discovered, is losing some of the saints they are called to minister to. Losing them as they prepare to let go towards the next. I served in my Burnaby congregation for a decade and there was a depth of love, much like Northwood, in that congregation. One of the sage elders of the congregation had shared some deep wisdom with me a year or so prior to his death. He said: “Rev. Scott, you know that I don’t miss many church services. It seems to me that in my 90 years, I’ve heard a lot of sermons” (we didn’t do the math) “and it seems that most every sermon I’ve heard boils down to this: ‘Let Go and Let God”. I thought about it and appreciated the wisdom in his observation and as we collectively wept at his memorial, I shared that observation. ‘Let go and let God’. That is a foundational message that are challenged to live, isn’t it? To let go and to let God.
Last Saturday, the world was shocked as the Tree of Life Synagogue was attacked by a man fueled by hatred and 11 people were murdered as they gathered in Synagogue for worship. Shock continues in the aftermath. This week, a campaign began in Pittsburgh that I found brilliant ~ ‘Stronger than Hate’. It is a campaign that is brilliant in its simplicity because it speaks to the call to letting go as we live in the aftershocks of this tragedy. “Stronger than Hate’s” brilliance is found in how it prompts us to complete the statement. It makes one wonder: ‘what is stronger than hate?’ Is our unity stronger than hate? Is it love that is stronger than hate? Is it faith that is stronger than hate? And the answer will be found to that question, not in how we will overpower violence and hatred, but in how we will let continue to let go… allowing love of neighbour to build us up and make us stronger; allowing unity to make us stronger; allowing faith to make us stronger, how we will let go and let God…let God make us stronger…stronger than hate. May we let go and let God.