Sermon, March 20, 2016

Holding On and Letting Go, Part I
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
March 20, 2016 Sixth Sunday in Lent, Palm/Passion Sunday
Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:29-42, 21:37 – 23:56

The story we heard today
forced the people in it to choose
what to hold onto and what to let go.
It asks us to do the same.
The men said, “The Lord needs it,”
so we let them untie the colt
and lead it away.
The colt was unbroken,
not much invested in it,
not much risk to letting it go.
And then there was the power
of their self-assurance,
the hold they had on things,
the faith, you could say, that swayed us.
We knew somehow it would all be all right.
We held on to that feeling
and let go.
I will never forget the day
I dropped my basket of bread
right there in the street.
I took a palm frond someone handed me
and waved it like a sword over my head,
shouting “Hosanna” at the top of my lungs.
Imagine a married woman of my age
doing such things!
Longings for change and peace came pouring out,
and I just let them go soaring
like white doves into the blue Jerusalem sky,
praising God for the hope of a king
who would be holy and good.
Let me tell you,
there was a real power that day.
Anything could have happened.
It didn’t work out as we hoped,
and yet I went back and found my basket
miraculously intact,
not a loaf trampled or stolen,
and now I can put down my basket anytime
because the love of that man I saw only once
has a stronger hold on me
and feeds me so much more
than bread alone.
Pity poor Judas.
He chose the bread of this world
over the bread of Christ’s love.
He let go of the body of hope
and took hold of the body of despair.
He left the circle of friends
with their broken loaf and shared clay cup
and he joined the deal cutters
with their silver rewards.

It matters what we choose to hold onto
and what we let go.
Jesus let go of his will in Gethsemane
and took hold of God’s will instead,
he let go of needing to know
what the outcome would be
and took hold of trusting and seeking
the Spirit in each moment instead,
he let go of concern for himself
and took hold of concern for us,
he let go of his strength,
and in his weakness God’s angel came
giving him all he needed to hold onto
as he walked toward the ultimate letting go.
Buddhists talk of emptiness,
Taoists talk of emptiness,
Christian spiritual masters talk of emptiness.
They mean the letting go of the selfish self,
letting go of attachment to things.
The Apostle Paul said, “Let the same mind be in you
that was in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself….
to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
The Passion story is all about
the transforming self-emptying
that Christ calls us to undergo when he says,
“Take up your cross and follow me.”

It is not the noun, but the verb, that we need,
not emptiness but emptying that is our goal,
letting 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 empty of desire and find we have everything we need,
we let go of our old narrow way of life
and fill with the life that really is life.

We need to let go of the old contents
of our lungs with each outbreath
or we die,
but we need to hold onto
the process of breathing.
We need to hold on to the process of letting go,
and refilling, and letting go, and filling again.

Sometimes life forces us to let go.
We suffer devastating loss.
We want so badly to find
something to cling to
when we are empty, aching, desperate with grief.
In those moments it matters enormously
what we turn to, what fullness we try to hold.

The disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane
wanted to hold onto Jesus when Judas came.
They drew their swords,
did violence, but they could not have
the fullness they wanted—not that way.

The women lingered at the tomb at dusk.
They loved Jesus so much.
How could they leave him now?
They were holding onto him,
holding onto the precious tasks
of preparing his body for burial,
but the sun had set,
and the Sabbath had arrived,
and though it tore their hearts,
they let go of Jesus’ body and turned
faithfully to their Sabbath keeping
(Sabbath: a space we hold empty
for God to fill).
They found, when they came back after the Sabbath,
the blesséd emptiness of the tomb
that filled them as no body ever could.
I was a bandit, or so they called me.
I lived in the wild hills and
came down upon Romans and rich Jews
on the Jericho road.
I robbed them, it is true,
but I did it for a cause.
The money kept an army of us fed.
We were terrorists to some,
freedom fighters to others,
throwing off Caesar and Herod
to restore glory to the throne of David.
I had let go of the home I loved and my plow,
and taken hold of a sword.
So when they caught me, I had nothing left.

Then they nailed me to that cross,
and there, at the center of utter emptiness,
I found my heart filled at last.
The crowd was jeering,
my fellow freedom fighter was scoffing.
I have no idea why they could not see
what I saw: the greatest power in the universe,
our greatest hope for liberation.
I do not know why all the earth’s empires
did not fall right then and there,
all I know is that I let go
of everything I ever thought I knew
and everything I was, and held him alone,
and I was free. I said, “Remember me,
as you come into your kingdom.”
And he said, “Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And I truly was, then and there
even while hanging on a cross.
And I still am.
And I am here to tell you
that you can be in Paradise, too,
here and now, if you let go of all else
and hold onto Christ’s way
of self-emptying love.
You already are in Paradise.
You need just to look up
from your cross
and see…