Letting Go

Scripture Passage:  Mark 8: 31-38 (Lent 2B)

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.What things in your life could you never be without?  What things in your life really sort of describe who you are?  I think that’s what Jesus was trying to get across to Peter—the point that all of this was more than that, that Peter’s very identity was affected by who he thought Jesus was. Sure, I think Peter got that Jesus was the Messiah.  He knew the words.  He had been taught the meaning probably from his childhood, the idea that this Messiah would come and bring victory and glory. Put yourself in his place.  Here is this great man who you have grown to dearly love.  This ministry that he has begun has been great.  He truly IS the Messiah for which you have waited so long.  What great plans for the future Peter must have imagined! 

But then Jesus starts talking about his own coming suffering.  This wasn’t the plan that Peter envisioned.  Most of us identify with Peter here.  This cannot be!  There is no way that it is time for Jesus to leave us.  This was our Messiah sent here to save us, the Messiah for which we have waited for generations upon generations!  Jesus’ harsh statement to Peter jolts us into reality, though.  For we do often limit our thinking to things of this world.  We want to protect and possess this Messiah.  We want a Messiah who will save us on our terms, someone to be in control, someone to fix things, someone to make it all turn out like we want it to turn out, someone to make our lives safer and easier. 

Now, contrary to the way our version of the Scriptures interprets it, I don’t think Jesus was accusing Peter of being evil or Satan or anything like that.  Who could blame Peter?  He’s just like us!  Listen further…If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  We’ve all read that verse before.  We’d like to make it read a little easier.  We would rather skip through the end of Holy Week and go straight to Easter morning.  That’s why this season of Lent is so difficult.  It won’t let us do that.  The cross is not something that we look to only in the past.  The cross is not something that we look to at the end of our lives.  This is not some goal for farther down the road. This is not some plan laid out for our lives.  This is here; this is now. It’s talking about the journey.  It’s talking about our listening to God’s calling us in our lives now.  It’s talking about letting your life go NOW! If this were easy, then we wouldn’t need Christ.  We’re not asked to just believe in Christ; we’re asked to follow….all the way to the cross.

I know what you’re all thinking.  I’m not so sure I signed up for this.  What happened to that Messiah that was going to take away all our troubles—you know calm all the storms and such?  What happened to that Savior that would solve all of our problems so that life wouldn’t be so hard?  Ooops! Wrong Savior!  

Now, don’t get me wrong.  We are not called to be martyrs.  We’re not called to suffer unbearable pain as proof of our devotion to Christ.  I’m pretty sure that none of us will ever be victims of first century Roman persecution.  Our crosses are as unique as our DNA.  Taking up our cross means simply letting go, letting go of those things that shield us from God, that get in the way of us really living, that stand in the way of who we are called to be.  For some of us, it means letting go of a plan for our lives and instead journeying a little farther into the wilderness as we follow God’s lead.  For others, it may mean letting go of our life security so that others may share in it.  For still others, it might mean letting go of hurt and pain and instead picking up the mantle of forgiveness that leads to life.  It may just mean finally getting up enough courage to quit standing on the shore to our lives and finally, finally jump into the deep end with no fear of how far you will sink before you rise.  Each of us is different.  Taking up our cross means, as Joseph Campbell said, being willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

There is an old story that originated somewhere along the banks of the Mediterranean that tells of a really old man, who had lived a long and very happy life on a beautiful island.  He loved his island, where all his family, for generations, had lived and made their home.  And so, when he realized that he was approaching his last days of his life, he asked his sons to take him outside one last time.  There, he knelt, and gathered a handful of native soil, and clutched it tightly.

Soon afterwards, the man died and came to the gates of Heaven.  He was greeted joyfully and was told by one of the angels, “You have lived a good life.  Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Please come in.”  But when the man tried to cross the threshold, he was kindly told, “You must let go of the soil that you are clutching.”  “Oh no, I could never do that,” he cried, “This is my native soil, the earth of my beloved island home.”  The angels at the gate were sad as they went back to heaven, leaving the old man wandering, lonely, outside.

Many years passed, and the angels came again.  They brought the old man a taste of the heavenly banquet and feasted with him there, outside the gates, trying to persuade him to come into the fullness of the Kingdom.  He wanted so much to join them for all eternity, but again, when they asked him to let go of the soil he was clutching, he couldn’t bring himself to do so.  And again, they had to leave him standing there, alone.

Finally, after many more years had passed, the angels came again and this time, they brought with them the old man’s granddaughter, who had grown old in the meantime and had died herself.  She was delighted to see her beloved grandfather standing there. “Oh, Granddad,” she cried, “I’m so happy to see you.  Please come and join us in the heavenly Kingdom.  We love you so much, and we want you with us for all eternity.”  The old man was overwhelmed to see his little granddaughter there, and in his joy, he flung out his arms to embrace her.  And as he did so, the soil slipped right through his fingers. With great joy, the angels now led him into his heavenly home, and the first thing he saw there was the whole of his beloved island, waiting there to greet him.

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.(Steven Pressfield)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Wilderness Re-Created

14-11-02-#6-Sermon-Thin PlaceScripture Text:  John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

Whew!  We made it through the wilderness.  The tomb is open and all is good.  The morning was glorious, full of light and life and, finally, alleluias.  THE LORD IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  The long Lenten wilderness journey is behind us.  Whew!  We made it!

But don’t you remember what kept happening in the wilderness?  In the wilderness, when we’re so unsure of where to go, when darkness seems to overtake us at times, when we often feel stripped of all we know, God comes.  God comes and re-creates in the most incredible ways.  God comes and brings light into darkness and life into death.  God comes and we are changed forever.  That happens in the wilderness when we no longer have the familiar and the comfortable to which we can hold.  Like Mary at the tomb, we are reminded to not hold on to what we know but rather to open our hands to the newness that God offers.

After Lent, we go back to our lives.  The time of giving up and emptying out is behind us.  So with what do we fill our lives?  If we go back and pick up where we left off, cramming our lives full of all the stuff that we just stored in the closet for the season, it will all be for naught.  But if we finally know that in all of God’s resurrecting, we, too, were raised.  If we remember that in all of God’s re-creating, even the wilderness, the chaos, was made new again.  If we find ourselves with eyes that see differently and hearts that beat in new ways, we will see that the wilderness is where we are meant to be.  We were never meant to settle into ways of thinking and be satisfied with routine ways of being.  Instead we are called to go forth into newness, into what we do not know, down roads that our faith calls us to follow.

It seems that God is continually calling us into places and times that we’ve never been, constantly empowering us to push the limits of our “comfort zones”, to embark on a larger and more all-encompassing journey toward a oneness with God.  It seems that God always calls us beyond where we are and beyond where we’ve been, not to the places that are planted and built and paved over with our preconceptions and biases but, rather, to places in the wilds of our lives with some vision of a faint pathway that we must pave and on which we must trudge ahead.  Perhaps, then, this wilderness journey is not one in which we launch out and pursue a new life but is instead one that brings us to the center of our own life, one that brings us home, but changed.

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.  (T.S. Eliot)

FROM NOW ON:  Make the wilderness journey your home.

 

Well, we have come to the end of the season.  I am honored that once again so many of my old friends joined me for the journey.  And along the way, there were others that I am so grateful chose to join us.  That’s what happens when you travel unfamiliar roads!  I’m going to take a break from the “every day” writing and will try to post at least once a week or so.  Stay tuned!  Keep journeying!  AND, email me and let me know YOUR thoughts!  I’m going to try to put my email in “code” below my name so the spammers don’t find me, but you are smart people and you can figure it out!  Thank you again for journeying with me!  Happy Easter!  WE ARE RISEN!  WE ARE RISEN INDEED!

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Shelli Williams 13 (run all those together), then [that funny little a with the circle], gmail.com

Let My People Go (Into the Wilderness)

Open gatesScripture Text:  Exodus 5: 1

 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’“

We know the story. The people had been taken away, held in slavery. And now, God is insisting: “Let my people go.” The truth is, it probably wasn’t slavery as we think about it. There were probably not prison bars or shackles or anything of the like. Their slavery may have resembled more of an indentured servant or perhaps an economic enslavement. They could not leave, of course, but not because they were held but because they were bound. It was just as bad and in some cases, it is harder to claim release.

 

So God screams, “Let my people go.” The truth is, maybe God wasn’t worried about the economic enslavement at all. Because, you see, they had been there awhile, a couple of generations if you’re counting. And as generations go on, we forget, we forget who we are. It would have been so incredibly easy to lapse into the Egyptian society. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it would have been easier to do just that. But it wasn’t who they were. Somehow, I think God’s concern was not that they were economically enslaved but that they had forgotten who they were.  In God’s vision, the wilderness, the place where darkness loomed, was better than the place of safety that enslaved the people.

 

SO, does this sound familiar?  We are not enslaved.  We are, however, bound.  We are bound by our lifestyle, by what our life expects us to be.  We are bound by the expectations of others.  We are bound by our plans for what our life holds.  We are bound by what we think we are supposed to be in this world.  We, too, have forgotten who we are.  And, just as God did so long ago, the Divine screams into the night, “Let my people go.”  We are not enslaved in the usual sense.  There are no prison bars and no shackles.  But we are enslaved.  This season of Lent is God’s time, God’s time to scream “let my people go,” and be heard.  And even the wilderness is better than what we have.

 

The wilderness is calling.  The place where we are not bound, where we can finally learn to be free, where  danger meets us and we know that rather turn to the ones who enslave  us, who offer no help in the wilderness, we will finally look to God.  Let us be the ones who finally, once and for all, know that we are offered freedom, freedom, mostly, not from whom holds us, but from the one who we are not.  Let us be the people who, finally, go and be the one that we are meant to be.

 

I think most of the spiritual life is really a matter of relaxing — letting go, ceasing to cling, ceasing to insist on our own way, ceasing to tense ourselves up for this or against that. (Beatrice Bruteau)

 

FOR TODAY:  In what ways are you enslaved?  What would it mean to be let go?  God is waiting to do that.

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli