by Anita Wansley
February 28, 2010
My mom was an awesome cook! She was also the queen of leftovers. She even had a term for leftovers: Mustgoes. Everything must go. So she would make a delicious roast with mashed potatoes, green beans, corn…you get the picture….on Sunday. Then on Monday she would take the leftover roast and make a gravy and serve it over rice. That was a delicious meal as well. Then maybe she would skip Tuesday, but you could be sure that Wednesday we might have vegetable soup with the leftover bits of roast and of course the green beans and corn from Sunday. Again, a delicious soup nonetheless.
Why I am talking about food right before lunch and our stomachs are growling? Well, it seemed to me that this lent theme of holding on and letting go is like the ever giving roast. Each Sunday you might get a variation of this theme. It might seem like a leftover, but I assure you this theme is one that we need to hear over and over. Each time we hear it it is a delicious, profound word from God. May God speak through this vegetable soup version of holding on and letting go.
The lectionary texts for today are stuffed full of this theme of letting go and holding on. Reading over them it occurred to me that if we are to hold on to God’s care and promises we have to let go of some of the things that keep our hands and hearts full and distracted from God. But even when we don’t let go totally, the hope in it all is that in our pain, our stubbornness, our apathy God still holds us and has a plan of transformation for our lives.
Let’s look first at this familiar text from Genesis. Here Abraham has just rescued Lot with God’s help, been blessed by the priest, Melchizedeck, and recognized God of the most high by accepting nothing from the king of Sodom. Then starting in our text for today, he hears God say to him:
Vs. 1 Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield your very great reward
He is on somewhat of a roll here with God.
Abraham’s response? (read vs. 2 and 3) What, Lord, can you give me since I remain childless? A little selfish and ungrateful if you ask me. He goes on to complain that since He has not given him children that a servant would have to be his heir. He sort of sounds like that whiny child on Christmas that even though she got 9 of the 10 things she asked for, still asked where the 10th is.
But our loving, patient God goes on to say to Abram the famous promise that Abram’s heir would come from his own body and his descendants would be as many as the stars. (read vs.4 and 5) Oh, what an awesome promise to get!
Keep looking down the verses….It says that Abram believed the Lord but when the Lord went on to say that He will give Abram the possession of the land, Abram once again questions God with “how can I know that I will take possession of it.
Okay, Abraham had a limited vision. He knew how children came about and how land was acquired. He heard God’s promises but they didn’t measure up to what he was seeing in his life. He had to let go of his earthly, human understanding in order to hold on to the divine promises of God.
We might be saying we are not this shortsighted or selfish. Who among us would actually question an audible promise of God? Oh, let’s take a hard look at ourselves. When we are in pain, when things are not going like we would like, when we are experiencing difficulty we can often times only see what is in front of us. Reality just doesn’t line up with what we might be hearing from God. When we let go of what we can see then we can hold to what we can’t see and hold on to God’s promise of love, provision, and transformation.
Abraham had to let go of his limited understanding of how God was going to provide an heir and keep his promise. What limited understanding of reality do you have to let go of?
- When the reality of your bills outweighing your check book
- when your spouse doesn’t seem like the person you married….
- when there is no job
- when people hurt you
- when you feel all by yourself
What do you have to let go of? What expectations or understanding do you need to let slide from your hands in order to hold on the promises of faith that God sets in front of you?
Sometimes the hardest thing to let go of is our timeline. Abraham knew his and Sarah’s time for having children had already run out. When our timelines are not matching God’s here is a promise and a challenge to hold on to:
One of the other lectionary texts is Psalm 27, and in verse 13 and 14 God’s word says:
I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Oh, no that is not what we want to hear…to wait. Waiting on God is too hard. Waiting for life circumstances to change is hard. Waiting with someone who is in pain is hard. Waiting for our own pain to subside is hard.
But Psalms 27 also offers the best challenge to us in the waiting:
Verses 4 –7
The one thing that I ask of the Lord …that I might dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life!
Is that the one thing we ask? I sure ask a lot more. I ask God to change people I love. I ask God to change me. I ask God to give people things. I ask God to help me. I ask God to heal people. I ask God to change circumstances. I ask God to take revenge on people who do bad. I ask God….. I ask God…. I ask God….
Maybe it is time to let go of all the asking and just do some dwelling. Just dwell in the marvelous presence of our heavenly father. To gaze on His beauty and bask in his love. God knows the desires of our heart. The spirit intercedes for us. When I let go of all the asking and just sing praises or when I just sit in His presence here in this sanctuary or alone in my car….I am held by his hands in a way that far surpasses the pain or the problems that I am experiencing.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t petition God or pray for healing or for protection. No, I am just saying when the asking part outweighs the dwelling it is getting in the way. It is filling up our hands so full of requests and expectations that we don’t have room to hold on to God or receive His goodness. When I am just dwelling in my heavenly father’s presence I am allowing Him to do the comforting and the transformation. Maybe the circumstance or the person I am dealing with doesn’t change right then, but God does a transforming work in my heart right then and that is all that I need.
This dwelling theme is something that Jesus alluded to in the New Testament text for today.
Let’s look at Luke 13: 31-35
In verse 31 some Pharisees come to warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. Jesus responds by telling the Pharisees to tell that old fox Herod that he will be continuing his work and what he was sent here for. He then says in vs. 34, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how I have often longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”
This imaginary of a hen gathering her chicks is a profound one for this letting go, holding on concept.
I did some chicken research by talking to my father-in-law who has raised chickens and chicks.
- He was telling me that a mother hen will sit on her nest of eggs for 21 days rarely getting off for even a drink of water.
- She will fiercely protect her nest letting a predator get her before giving up her eggs.
- Once the chicks hatch a chicken will attack a grown man who comes too close to her chicks.
- The last of the findings and now this is the most interesting to me: when a mother hen perceives danger she will do distinct clucking sounds that the chicks immediately know to come to her and get under her wings for protection.
I think Richard Fairchild puts it best in his sermon “of chicks and eggs” when he says:
- Sure it’s instinct, but for all of that even the least intelligent animal offspring stay close to the one who gave them life; they cry out to the one who nurtures and protects them.
But people? – that’s another story. Only human beings stray; only the children of God exhibit the unnatural behavior of turning away from the love and protection of the God who made them.
It is true, isn’t it? We don’t always listen to the voice of our creator, our protector. We don’t run for the protection of our Lord Jesus when He calls. We don’t heed the distinct voice telling us that there is danger, that we may be on the wrong path. No, we stay running around the barnyard thinking we are just okay. Some of us stay frozen in our own panic. Some of us try to find our own protection. Some of us might look and say, but I am busy doing what I enjoy. But all we need to do is come up under the wings of the ultimate protector. There we can find all that we need to hold on to. Once we let go of our fear, our selfishness, our arrogance, our own understanding we can find the holding presence of the wings of Jesus.
Ah, if only we would realize what protection is under those wings:
There are several versions of the story of a hen and her chicks in a barnyard fire. After the fire the farmer goes around cleaning up and finds a charred, dead chicken and goes to move it and as he does he sees movement. As he lifts up the dead mama chicken 4 little chicks scurry out from under their mama’s wing. She had gathered the chicks, protected them, and gave her life for them.
This is the protection that Jesus offers when He wants to gather us. He will protect us so that we can survive the fire or storm that is in our lives. He already died for us…When we let our savior hold us we let Him take the flames.
Jesus longs to gather his followers but He won’t make us come up under his wing. He calls us, he longs for us, but it is up to us to move our selves to his presence. It is up to us to let go in order to hold on.
Sometimes we stumble in deep darkness
Even then, God is our shelter
Sometimes, we clutch the things of this world
Even then, the spirit can pry us loose
Sometimes, we insist on staying the way we are
Even then, even then Jesus can transform our lives!