Based on Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
Most everyone here today has moved from one place to live to another at least once in their life. We have a couple of folks within the Charge that are in the midst of moving right now, in fact. Moving is one of those life events that is both exciting and nerve wracking, joyous and tedious, a pain in the rear while its happening and a blessing when it is all over as you find yourself surrounded by boxes and disorder in a new place. It is the packing that I find most difficult…this is because before you decide to pack and move something, you must decide on keeping or letting go.
We have all acquired a bunch of things over the years that were nice at the time. People have given us gifts (candle stick holders were big when Lucinda and I got married), we have purchased things, children have created “works of art”, most of us who lived in the age before cell phone cameras have many more hard copy pictures than we would like to admit, clothes that are worn out or don’t fit anymore, etc. Many of these things have an associated set of memories that go with them, and we have to decide whether or not we can let go of the symbol and its corresponding memory. After all, when we decide to move, we have the opportunity to winnow a bit of the accumulated detritus of our lives and come out the other side a bit lighter and maybe even a bit freer. The key to achieving that is engaging in letting go.
Our scripture readings for this week speak to us of the reasons God has for us to let go of our worldly focus and acquisitions. The prophet Isaiah conveys God’s imperative to let the past be in the past as God is always doing a new thing. The Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Philippi that he has lost all worldly gains but in doing so has gained unlimited value in “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. Jesus is anointed by Mary (Martha and Lazarus’ sister) with costly perfume that Judas counted as a great waste/loss of earthly treasure – Jesus corrects his perception. Before we go farther, let us go to God now in prayer asking for God’s help in letting go of that which gets in the way of our relationship with God…
As I mentioned a moment ago, Jesus and the Disciples are in Bethany this week, six days before the Passover is to begin. They are sharing dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus when Mary takes a jar of expensive ointment and begins to anoint the feet of Jesus. The powerful scent fills the room as Mary lovingly applies it to his feet and then wipes them off with her hair. Judas takes offense at this display and wonders out loud why Mary didn’t sell the expensive nard and give the money to the poor instead of “wasting” it on the feet of Jesus? Jesus tells Judas and all that are gathered that Mary has done a great thing for him while he is still alive; a life that he knew was almost over.
This section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians has him teaching about the need to let go of the past and of clinging to the laws of Moses. Paul tells them all that he knows full well the burden of the Law – having been a zealous Pharisee. His encounter with the risen Christ helped him to see that he needed to let go of his worldly “gains” in order that he might have far more in knowing the Christ as Lord and Savior. He has let go of his former glory, and now is able to see that all the rules that he used to observe were garbage compared to truly coming to faith in God through the Christ.
The prophet Isaiah is speaking the words of God to those who have returned from Exile in Babylon. This chapter of prophecies has God promising a restoration and God’s continued protection – reminding Israel that God has called them by name, and they belong to God. Our reading for today God reminds the children of Israel that God is Almighty and that no worldly power can stand against God. God reminds them of the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Sea – but tells them not to dwell on that past great act because God is about to do something even better. God will care for them and be with them…all they have to do is commit to God and look to the future.
Of what things do you need to let go? Perhaps it is letting go of accolades and slights, of past hurts and triumphs, of things that once were useful but now have fallen into disuse? Our lives are cluttered with the flotsam and jetsam of experiences in the world – of lives cluttered with acquisition and by being in relationship with each other. What is burdening you right now, which if you let it go would free you up for something new?
John Perkins, in a book entitled, “Dream with Me” has this to say about how we are called to let go of worldly things: “…Christ followers were first called Christians at Antioch – about fifteen years after the birth of the church at Pentecost. There must have been something remarkable about this particular group of believers – something that caught people’s attention and caused them to come up with a new name for those who previously had been known simply as ‘Followers of the Way.’ What was happening at Antioch that was deserving of such special recognition? Acts 13:1 lists some of the leaders of this church at Antioch, and if we pay attention, we see that these deacons and other leaders represented various ethnic groups. They came from very different backgrounds, but there they were, worshiping and serving God together in equality. They were living out what Paul describes when he writes, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!’ (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV), and ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28 NKJV)….”
Scripture tells us that early Christians…followers of “The Way”, sold all that they had and shared equitably with all who came to be baptized into the Body of Christ. They clung together when the persecutions came, and they grew in number in the times between persecutions. They focused on prayers, sacraments, evangelism and on sharing each other’s lives to the fullest. They came to realize the truth in what Jesus said that they only had one brief life to live and that they had to be free to engage in the great tasks in front of them. Jesus spoke truly when he stated that there would always be things like poverty that needed to be addressed, and that he wouldn’t be there to do it for them. They needed to let go of the things of the world so that they might engage fully in the kingdom work that God had in store for them; be freed up so that they might notice when God’s new thing sprang forth in them, with them and through them. It can be the same for us, if we engage in letting go of all the excess baggage that is keeping us from living the way that God intends. May God help us release all that needs letting go…amen!