March 21, 2021

"The Wonder of Letting Go"

Pastor Scott Landis

John 12:20-33

In his famed little book, “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum cites among his 16 wise aphorisms one that I think is particularly relevant for today, it goes like this:

Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up
And nobody really knows why,
But we are all like that.

Why did that line stick with me all these years – that image that we all know (I suppose from kindergarten) and was the basis of “Keiki Time” today? It’s an image that stirs our imagination because not a one of us really knows why – why it works that way – why it happens some of the time but not all of the time (those without green thumbs know exactly what I’m talking about) – and so – we wonder. [Pause]

I wonder if that was the reason why Jesus drew upon this same image when those outsiders – the Greeks – came to see him. This was a pivotal time in his life. A distinct shift occurred when Philip and Andrew came to tell Jesus that a group of NON-Jews had come during the celebration of Passover – the most holy time in the Jewish calendar – and wanted to see him. “We want to see Jesus” they demanded. A request that elicited the strangest remark from him, “That’s it! Time’s up! The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

And then he followed that response with this interesting metaphor about a grain of wheat that has to be buried in the ground – it needs to die in order for it to sprout and reproduce many times over. Which he followed by saying,

“In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is – destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you will have it forever.”

Humm. Imagine that. I wonder. How can that be? The inference being, we have to “let it go” in order ultimately to receive it. [Pause]

I asked Kahu Danette Kong to sing that beautiful and familiar hymn, “All to Jesus – I surrender” because the words are as haunting as is this passage. “I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee – my blessed Savior. I surrender all.

Whoo. I don’t know about you, but that’s a hard one for me. Surrender? No, I rather like controlling things and I like when things are well-organized, efficient, and run smoothly. I suffer from the illusion that “If I do it, (whatever “it” is) it will be done right. So, group projects have often been frustrating to me. Surrendering control, letting go – that feels like a sign of weakness – a loss of power. And, guess what? It is. But that was precisely Jesus’ point.

If you listened carefully, it’s more than just surrendering control of some THING or some SITUATION – he actually invites us to surrender our life. “If you hold on to your life – just as it is – you will destroy that life. But if you let it go. Reckless in your love – you will have it forever.” [Pause]

In his teaching on this passage, Fr. Richard Rohr speaks often about the importance of this image and of our willingness to yield to Jesus’ invitation to let go – to surrender all. Borrowing from contemplative mystic Thomas Merton, Rohr reminds us of the need to let go of our “false self” often referred to as our ‘persona’ – the self that most people see – our façade as it were, in order to allow our “true self” to emerge. Our true self, both Merton and Rohr remind us, is the self that God sees anyway – and it is the only self that God can honestly and intimately commune with. The false self simply gets in the way.

When we let go of our false self – that is, when we surrender to and honor that which is true in our lives – we receive an amazing sense of renewed strength. It’s a power so strong that nothing can ever defeat it. It’s an honesty that other truth seekers will resonate with – but those living from their own false egos – their false selves – will find frightening, offensive, and will either flee from or resist with everything they have. One doesn’t have to stretch their imagination too far to see that Jesus was the supreme example of such honest living.

But, letting go of our false self is rarely an easy thing to do. There are reasons why we try as best we can to keep it intact. It becomes for us a form of self-protection – even though holding on hurts us deeply. Our false self often serves our needs to look good, to maintain the status quo, and to make sure everyone is happy – everyone, that is, except us. [Pause]

Years ago, when I came out to my family and to my congregation, I knew there would be costs and I knew some of that involved hurting those I loved the most. That’s why I ignored my truth for so long. Keeping my false self intact was advantageous – even though I felt trapped. I had convinced myself that if kept the real me neatly buried, everyone would be happy. It’s a way of living that consumes a lot of energy. It turns out hiding from others is no way to live with any sense of integrity. What was even more ridiculous was my foolish attempt to hide from God.

In fact, God was my biggest problem. Having been told all my life that who I knew myself to be was sinful, I had to let that go – to surrender – and risk being fully honest in order to live my truth.

The costs were dear. It meant both the end of my marriage and the dissolving of what appeared to be the perfect family. I was invited to leave my position as senior pastor of a tall-steeple church, and my reputation in the community was severely tarnished. These were costs that took years to heal – and it’s still difficult to revisit all of that even today, but the benefits of letting go – of surrendering my false self in order to embrace fully my truth resulted in an awareness of myself that is grounded, solid, and growing in new ways each day.

Humm, imagine that. Just like the seed in the cup, the roots go down, the plant goes up. And nobody really knows why. But we are all that way. The seed HAS to die. The seed is only the beginning. It’s the container for the essence – the plant that can only emerge when the seed had been buried and surrenders its life so that new life – real life – can begin.

I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee my blessed Savior. I surrender all.

As we walk together these next few weeks as we conclude the season of Lent, we will see our Savior do just that. Showing us the way, Jesus will let go, stand in his truth – wanting his cup to pass – but instead, he remains rooted in his truth. And, as he is lifted up from the earth, he will gather everyone unto him.

Jesus did that then – AND, Jesus is still doing that today – through you and me.

Mahalo ke Akua – Thanks be to God.


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