Sermon for September 2, 2018 15 after Pentecost “Not Letting Go”
When Nelson Mandela was a young man, he was determined to change the course of South African politics and the oppression of Apartheid. The correct way, at the time, was to meet force with force. For many years that was the way. One day he was arrested and sent to prison and there he was for 27 years. There he learned a new way and learned to let go of the former way. After he was released, he started a peaceful movement to heal his homeland. It was in that letting go of conviction that force must be met with force, that life was restored for himself, his nation and set an example for the world.
Jesus spent 30 of his 33 years living and working in and around Nazareth most likely as a carpenter. Biblical historians believe he was content with his life and community. One day he let all that go as he headed toward Jerusalem and the Jordon River. It was in the letting go that brought forth the teachings and wisdom of Jesus that inspires and informs even today.
The Gospel teaching today is about clinging to the past at the risk of not living today. At issue in not the washing of hands but the setting aside of justice seeking and tending to the marginalized. The Elders had fallen into the belief that if they followed the rules and rituals then they were being faithful. What was slowly lost was compassion for the people. They became guardians of the rule and not caretakers of the mind, body or spirit. The simple message of Jesus for us today is; what are we hanging on to so tightly that abundant life alludes us and those around us? And it’s companion; what is it that we need to let go of to make way for truly spirit filled living?
Jesus reminds us today that following rules is important but tending to the hearts of people is more important. Now I like rules mostly when I am driving. For example when folks come in the lower parking lot, or when people stop while making a right hand turn from Westmoreland to Lock Lomond. At the end of the day though I get to where I am going.
St. Mark’s has rules or at least practices that make sense to some and not so much to others. Jesus reminds us that it is the human connection that is vital and important, not that I miss a hymn or mess up the order of worship. If our practice hinders me or another from fully participating in the life of our church then it is our perception of rules and practices that need challenging.
This is Labour Day weekend, a time to remember the long history of labour and the work that is emerging. Even there things changed, from workers being not more than slaves to the wealthy owners and aristocrats to workers having a place of esteem and worth. There was change and hearts and minds had to change, some easily some not so much so. It is important that we give the early champions of labour their due and continue to seek ways to make the relationship between labour and management advantageous to all.
All this being said the essential truth of Jesus to love one another, to do justice and show mercy is not debatable how we go about that may change over time but to do it does not. If the great teachings of Jesus to the Christian church and the world are melted down to “whatever feels right at the time”, then we are in grave danger of extinction. As we move into a time of planning and visioning at St. Mark’s we are committed to holding to the core teaching of Jesus and at the same time inviting ourselves to let go of those things that no longer serve us well. This summer, Kathy and I saw the movie “Winnie the Pooh”. There is great wisdom that come from that wee bear. There is a scene where Pooh is sitting on a log contemplating what to do and he says: “well, I suppose if I’m to go somewhere I’ll have to leave where I’m at”. Indeed, if we are to get somewhere we have to let go of some practices, words, rules that no longer serve our vision. We say thanks to the ways they have served us well in the past, let them go and then live into new and even scary ways of being, that will in time have to change again. The teaching of Jesus to love one another especially those that do not love you is what we cling to. How we do that has, has to and will change. Pooh’s wisdom is both spatial and spiritual, for we will have to leave where we are to get where Jesus is calling.