I am a “Type A personality.” I’m sure there are a lot of things that means, but for me it means that I like to have everything in order. I like to have my “ducks in a row” before going out to do anything. This is especially true when it comes to a church service. I want to know ahead of time who is responsible for what, how long each part will go, what we will use to read from, on and on… I thrive in organization and predictability.
I knew I might have to let go of some control when I found out my first service at Maggie Valley UMC was going to be led from the back of a trailer… in a parking lot… on a hot summer day. We rolled out speakers, hooked up an FM Transmitter, rolled out a piano, an altar, a podium. We lit the “Christ Candle” (a candle on the altar reminding us of God’s enduring presence with us), had green paraments (the cloths that hang from the altar and podium), we did all we could to try and make worshipping from our cars feel holy and good.
This morning as part of my daily devotional reading, I read this: “Then Jesus said to someone else, ‘Follow me.’ He replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go and spread the news of God’s kingdom’” (Luke 9:59-60, CEB).
I’ve never liked this passage really — I prefer the soft, grace-filled, easy-to-read passages about love and hope. This seemingly hard reply from Jesus can be tough to take!
Macrina Wiederkehr offers another way of thinking about it, however. She says,
“Jesus’ seemingly harsh answer may be a way of saying, you must learn to let go of your obsessive need to have everything in order before attending to the deepest desires of your heart.”
Yesterday during my first Sunday with Maggie Valley UMC, about half way through my first sermon (which always carries extra pressure!), my iPad kindly told me “Check the temperature — too hot” and promptly turned off. All of my notes for this sermon, a sermon that I’d been crafting for weeks, disappeared right before me.
What was I going to do? I hadn’t memorized the sermon I had spent hours carefully putting together. I knew the general outline, but I felt lost. I didn’t feel ready to try and preach without notes. I didn’t feel ready to try and share hope and love without the benefit of some outline for me to follow. My best laid plans had faded into black right in front of me!
I said a quick prayer under my breath and told God I was going to have to trust. Even more than my trust, I told God that God was going to have to do the heavy lifting. I needed God to share a word that went beyond my preparation and planning, beyond my ideas and my wants. Beyond what I thought was right and good to what God wanted to do.
The rest of the sermon went, surprisingly, fine! I knew enough of what I wanted to say that, with God’s guiding help, the rest of the service went great! The sermon was fine, I didn’t get to say everything in the neat and tidy way I had wanted, but the message of God’s enduring promise, God’s hope for us, God’s love for all, that was never in doubt. And that’s enough.
This morning that passage from Luke 9 and Wiederkehr’s reflections seem especially appropriate. “You must learn to let go of your obsessive need to have everything in order before attending the deepest desires of your hearts.” My deepest desire for yesterday’s service was simply that all who came would hear that God’s promises for love, redemption, grace, hope, joy, peace and so much more, God’s promises remain the same no matter what is happening around us. When I let go of my obsessive need to control every detail, there seems to be more room for God’s will and way in my life.
This morning, as I sit at my disheveled desk, I learn again that letting go can be one of the most challenging but most fruitful things we can do as we journey in love with God and each other. My desire to capture and control every moment and make it “just so,” can pull my energy and attention away from the deepest desires of who I am. Those deep desires that we name love and hope and peace and comfort and forgiveness and connection and joy and grace.
What are the deepest desires of your heart? Name them now. Hold them in your heart all day. Carry them with you as your top priority. Don’t let your desire to get it right or to do a “good job” get in the way of pursuing that which is deepest in us, love.
I’ll leave you with one more closing thought from Pema Chodron’s book, “When Things Fall Apart.” She writes “When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way… Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.”
Today, I pray you let go of your need to have everything just right. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s taught us how elusive the idea of our power is. How we are in control of less than we think in our own lives. And instead of letting that scare or worry you (because if I’m honest, it scares me!), let it be an opportunity to seek that which is most true in you. Let it be a chance for you to center in on what your heart is trying to tell you — what God may be trying to tell you. Let go and be present to those deep, deep desires. See how God comes and meets you right there, at the core of who you are. Always.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Cole
1. Macrina Wiederkehr, Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011), 129.
2. Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, (Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publictions Co, 1997), 10-11.