Psalm 77 & Luke 9:52-63
Letting Go

Letting Go 

Psalm 77 & Luke 9:52-63 ~ Northwood UC ~ June 26, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook  

You are likely not very pleased with Jesus’ teaching this morning. I am sure the disciples weren’t either. We aren’t pleased because it is our nature to hold on to, to store up for an emergency, to pile up things for a ‘rainy day’. We are NOT people who are prone to letting go, are we? We are people who like to store up, hold on, and pile up…that is our nature…we are ‘human packrats’. And the text before us puts a challenge in the ways we want to live versus the new way Jesus calls us towards. This morning we take a deep dive considering the call to ‘let go.’  

Looking back at the ways of Jesus’ disciple followers, they certainly present as responsible, ‘God-fearing’ people. They are good people, with the best of intentions...just like us. Yet Jesus’ challenges them to let go, rather than hold on. Following Jesus’ birth, the wise men want to memorialize Jesus’ birth by giving him weighty gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. When the first disciples are called at the seashore, they must decide between holding onto a boat full of fish and Jesus’ calling to leave it behind and follow him. When Jesus challenges the religious authorities who proudly love their opulent temple, he tells them about “something greater than the temple” as he describes the unfolding Kingdom of God. And when the disciples see Jesus transfigured on the mountain top, revealed in pure light with Moses and Elijah, the disciples want to build wonderful dwellings. They want to lock them down in mansions, rather than freeing them to the world. And Jesus teaches time and time again of ‘a better way’…a way that will require them, and us…to let go. And in Jesus’ penultimate act of letting go, he gives away his life to the powers of darkness in the world and demonstrates the true power of God’s grace.    

To be sure, this is a difficult call for all who seek to follow Jesus’ way, both then and now. It is difficult because, if truth be told, we like the comforts of things that are safely stored up and ready for the rainy days ahead. We like the comforts of our temples…the thought of God’s presence on terms that comfort, rather than confront. We are people who like to hold on, rather than to let go in our way of living. I wonder what the most challenging thing for you to ‘let go’ of might be? Might there be some anchors that are weighing you down? Are there things that are best for you to let go of? Are there some things / ways of being that you need to be let go of, in order to truly live the way of Jesus that your faith calls you to?  

This month has been Indigenous History Month, and as members of one of the church bodies who ran Residential Schools on behalf of the Federal Government, we had some very deep conversations about letting go in the aftermath of this mistake some years ago. We had what we thought were the best of intentions and a zeal for the gospel, we made horrible mistakes. We far overstepped what was in line with our call as a church with actions that moved towards cultural genocide, rather than gospel friendship. There is an informative piece of history that occurred in 1985. Alberta Billy, a We Wai Kai elder demanded that we apologize for our role in colonization, the loss of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality. And after much deliberation, our General Council was warned one such apology comes with huge financial risk. An apology would admit our wrongdoing and open us up to the potential for legal consequences: buildings, property, all our assets could be lost in a massive lawsuit. What would we do, the General Council meetings prayed? Do we hold on / protect our assets, and not apologize for the wrongs we had done? Or do we proceed by doing what our faith teaches: apologize…seek reconciliation, and let go, and let things unfold as they should? The 31st General Council, that met one year after Alberta Billy’s demand for our apology, let go of their fears, and followed their faith, and apologized. Healing funds have been established, the All Native Circle, and many other extensions of Indigenous ministry continue now. And most all churches that meet today, acknowledge the sacred land we have the honour to gather upon for two reasons: as a continuing effort for reconciliation, and as part of our sincere desire for true friendship and growth into the future.  

I wonder what it is that you need to let go of? What things you might be holding so tightly, that you are unable to make space for growth, and grace, and new life? Jesus’ final metaphor in the teaching was with the guiding of a plough. When you are guiding a plough in the field, you must look ahead and guide it on the path ahead. If you are looking back at the mistakes; if you are looking back at the sections when you went awry…then your ploughing direction in the future will go even further off course. The plough operator must ‘let go’. She must not look over her shoulder to see the mistakes or celebrations of past efforts. She must let go of the past, and look ahead into the horizon.  

One of the deep challenges we have in our personal lives with letting go is with forgiveness. It can be  so hard to let go of the pain and anger we have experienced in the past; to let go of the wrongs done against us; to let go of our hatred and anger of those who have harmed us. Yet, in those times when we actually find the ability to forgive, when we let go, we allow our lives to be open: open to healing, open to reconciliation, open to the gift of new life. When we let go, we refuse to let those pains from the past have any hold over us in the future. When we let go, we can actually begin to move into a future that is not defined by the past. Jesus talks a lot about forgiveness, and we could do a whole series on this complicated area, of course. But, suffice it to say, that forgiveness begins with letting go. I can tell you that I try and forgive…I’m not great at it. But I’m getting better. Forgiveness is not about being a doormat, but it is also not about getting stuck from moving ahead. There are some whom I’ve forgiven, that I no longer consider to be friends, and I will not place them in a position to hurt me in the future. But when we forgive; when we let go of the past, we are freed to look ahead towards healing and growth. Letting go allows us to move ahead in ways of new life.    

In addition to letting being so hard, letting go also comes with a cost; it comes with a requirement…a requirement that we trust in God. You see letting go isn’t a movement towards despondency. It isn’t throwing your arms up in defeat. Letting go is about realizing that this God who created in the beginning is still alive and creating today. Letting go is trusting in God’s providence; it is trusting that God will be there to guide us in the right paths, even when we walk through the valleys that are filled with shadows and death. It is trusting that, even there, God will guide and bless us. For those of us who have navigated the grief journey, we know this all too well. The moment of letting go is so hard when it comes to love. Gathering for a ceremony, interring ashes, closing accounts, cleaning out closets…and the many, many ways that we ceremonially let go. For those of us who have lost a loved one, for those who have lost a beloved relationship…you know all too well the pain that accompanies this. And for those of us who have let go, we also know how essential these actions were, in due time. For as we are ready, and as let go, it is then that God’s gentle hope begins to spring up…slowly…like a seed planted. Hope begins to reveal the promise of something new…slowly over time. If we were never to let go, the healing and the hope that God yearns to offer will never have the chance to blossom in our heart in the journey ahead.  

Ultimately, what letting go offers the faithful follower of Jesus is what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr taught us as leading to serenity in his famous prayer from a 1932 journal entry. The Serenity Prayer means letting go of situations beyond your control and taking action toward things within your control. It also means being able to know when things are within your control and when things are beyond your control. And so, I will close with Niebuhr’s famous prayer that lift up Jesus’ teaching so well:  

God, grant me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.