Sermon, April 3, 2016

Holding On and Letting Go, Part III
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 3, 2016 Second Sunday of Easter
Galatians 5 & 6; John 20:19-31

This is the third in a series of sermons
on the theme of Holding On and Letting Go.
On Palm and Passion Sunday we heard
the Apostle Paul say, “Let the same mind be in you
that was in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself….”

We let go of one thing
so another can take hold of us.
We empty of selfishness and fill with Spirit,
we empty of fear and fill with love.
We let go of the old contents
of our lungs with each outbreath,
but we hold onto the process of breathing—
letting go, and refilling,
and letting go, and filling again.

On Easter we heard how Christ comes to us
as a father comes to his little daughter
who has climbed into an apple tree
and now clings to the low branches in fear,
not knowing how to get down.
The father says to the little girl,

let go, and I will catch you.
For a long time her frightened mind
keeps saying no, it is not safe,
it keeps her isolated and unhappy,
but finally she decides to trust,
and lets go and falls and lands
in those loving arms and is free.
She is reconnected to the source of love and joy
and the comfort of a deep, deep peace.

Emptying of fear and letting go our hold on things
is not the end but the beginning,
the birth of our true life in God.
We heard the story of the acorns
that were holding on so tightly to their shiny shells
that they would not let go and fall into the ground
and crack open so that a mighty oak could rise.
We heard about Mary Magdalene who came to Jesus
when she was tired of being the acorn that she was.
She came ready to be healed and changed.
She let go of her old life and took hold of a new life
rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.
She became an oak among the disciples.
She became a person she did not even know she could be.

Today’s passage took place that first Easter night
when Mary and all the disciples were hiding,
fearing for their lives, knowing that
the same people who crucified Christ
could come to arrest and crucify them.
They were clinging to the safety of a locked door,
when Jesus passed through it and stood among them.
They must have looked terrified,
because the first thing Jesus said was,
“Peace be with you.” Then he showed them
his wounds, and they went from wild fear to wild joy,
and again Jesus said, “Peace.”
They had to calm themselves,
letting go of their agitation, negative or positive,
because only then could they have room inside
for the peace and power of the Holy Spirit
that Christ wanted to breathe into them.
The disciples were trapped inside a cage
of confusion, fear and despair,
and then a cage of clinging to him,
and this is how Jesus freed them from it.
He did not come blasting the locked doors
off their hinges, he did not tear down the walls,
he blew in among them like the slightest breath of air.
He changed them from the inside out.
He gave them the key to the cage.
Part of that key was the same process
of death and resurrection, of emptying and refilling,
that freed him from the tomb,
and another part of the key was an inspiring reason
to unlock the door and fly free.
Jesus gave them a mission, a shared common purpose,
guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
That key was all they needed to pass through
every obstacle that tried to hold them back,
all the prisons of the Roman empire,
all the persecutions and coliseums,
all the inevitable human confusion, fear and despair
or craving and clinging.

Today Easter offers us the same way
out of our own cages into freedom
and a life of purpose and meaning.
The Apostle Paul cried out to the Galatians,
“For freedom Christ has set you free!”
And he warned them, “do not submit again
to a yoke of slavery.” Paul knew how easy it is for us
to retreat back into our old, habitual cages
and locked rooms to protect our vulnerability
when it feels too risky to love as Jesus did.
Paul urges us to use our freedom
to be slaves of love, to be empty of self
and filled by the Spirit of Christ,
and bear the fruit of love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control, for the good of all.

This sounds abstract and theoretical,
until you walk into a church full of people
Christ has freed to live a Spirit-filled life of love.
You can feel the difference in that church.
You can feel that the people really want to know you,
they draw you out, they share your joys and sorrows,
they accept you just as you are, flaws and all,
they surround you with unconditional love
and a readiness to work through differences
from the very first time you walk through the door.
You see their kindness and generosity of heart
in the way they respond to needs
in the community and around the world,
and you can tell that they will do everything they can
to help you through your hard times, too.
You would see the people of that church
learning new ways and practicing new skills
to be an increasingly loving and beloved community.
Such a church would have covenants
and guidelines and statements to remind them
of their common mission and ideals,
yet the power that you would feel
would be coming from inside their hearts,
from them having the same mind in them
that was in Christ, emptying themselves
over and over in self-giving love,
like the exhale of their breath,
only to fill again with peace and gifts to share.
Jesus sent the disciples out,
and this is what people saw in that first church,
and thousands joined it, and it changed the world.
People are seeing the same qualities increasingly
in this church, and the more they do,
the more will come, and the more joy we will have
as we change the world around us.
Christ is coming through the locked door
of our hearts right now, asking us to let go
of our fear or despair, breathing the Spirit
into us, giving us new freedom to hold onto,
and sending us out with gifts of love to share.
Christ is offering to transform you. You!
How will you respond? Let us pray in silence…