Sermon of the Week
Learning to Let it Go
Keywords: New Year Resolutions, Jesus at the Temple, Time.
Scripture readings (which you may wish to read prior):
So, every year, about this time,
when the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over,
and we’ve eaten too well and spent too much,
we have the chance to think about life. 
Well, at least I do.
Time seems to fly by.
How did it get to be almost 2019 already?
Where did the year go? How did I get to be this old?
(Yes, I think that also…all the time)
What do I have to show for it?
Every year about this time, we make our resolutions.
This year, I’ll lose weight.
This year, I’ll be more patient.
This year, I’ll read more books,
write more letters,
give more to charity.
And often, when we give ourselves time to think about it,
or when we’re brave enough to think about it, perhaps, we ask:
How did we spend our time? Was it worth it?
It’s been said that a glance at our checkbooks and credit card statements
tell us where our real priorities lie,
and there’s something true about that.
But it’s just as true that our CALENDARS will reveal our values too.
How much time do we spend:
on making money,
on our jobs;
on ourselves, our clothes, our good, good looks;
how much time on food and entertainment;
how about on our kids?
on friends and loved ones;
how much time in service to others?
how much time thinking about things that matter
or just trying to evade the important conversations?
Beneath these records of our allocation of time and money,
what do they tell us about we really care about?
What REALLY matters to us? What do we spend our hearts on?
When our daughters were a bit younger, we used to have a family calendar.
Today they can use their cell phones, so we still keep a calendar
But we used to have an honest to goodness, 12-month, paper calendar.
Sometime around this week we’d go to get a new one
And we would unwrap it, and mark up all the school vacation days
and dates for work travel and special events like birthdays and
important Royals games, that sort of thing
and place it back up on the wall.
You can do that, for the things you’re expecting.
But even more, I think,
there are these turning points in our lives
when these questions loom even larger:
Maybe when we’re embarking on a new adventure,
like going to college,
or starting a new job,
or deciding whether to get married,
when you leave a long time job and enter retirement,
or maybe when you’re
STARING into the eyes of your newborn child and realizing
just how mortal you really are.
Or maybe when we’re facing serious difficulties and trials,
our own illness or that of someone we love,
or the loss of work or home or a relationship.
Those are just as momentous, just as profound.
Or when we’re growing older,
and coming to grips with the inevitable decline
of friends and loved ones whom we’ve known forever.
Indeed, there are turning points in our lives—stress points, good and bad—
that open our hearts to the big questions,
the important questions of meaning.
Where the questions can easily progress from ordinary to sacred,
From the merely profound, to the deeply spiritual, deeply religious.
It was at such a point as this that Jesus
went to the Temple in Jerusalem with his parents.
It was Passover, a major holiday,
but he’d been there a million times before,
kind of like going to church on Christmas and Easter.
Only this time, something was DIFFERENT.
He was twelve years old, an age of turning away from childhood,
an age of turning toward young adulthood. A momentous Age.
In his age, in that culture:
It was time for him to stop being a little kid,
and time to start growing up;
time to be a young adult, and time to decide what to spend his life on.
Time to decide whether to go the possibly more ambiguous route
of following God’s plan for him,
or whether to go the easier way
stepping into his father’s carpentry shop.
Time to decide whether he’d be “a good kid”
who LISTENED to his MOTHER,
or whether to listen to the divine voice
that demanded even MORE of him than she did.
Time to start deciding who he would listen to
—to discern the truth
—to figure out what he really believed
—to figure out what he was sent here to do.
Just as, sooner or later, we ourselves had to figure out all those things, too.
It is not just once in our lives that we confront this, though,
but again and again,
just as Jesus did, at key moments in his life:
first when he was twelve,
and then at the beginning of his ministry,
and then when he wrestled with the dark one and his own doubts
in the wilderness,
and when he faced his opposition in the synagogues,
and when he faced his betrayer at the dinner table, at Passover,
at Passover 20 years after he’d come with his parents
as a young man to the Temple.
There are turning points in our lives
when the BIG questions of life loom large.
Where we have choices to make, where we search for guidance,
When we have some things we need to let go of,
In order to get ready for the next thing God has in store for us…
Often times, when we’ve got big decisions to make,
some of us might go to the house of God and pray.
Like Jesus did at age 12.
The truth of the matter is that our lives, or the lives of those we love,
or the very existence of this building that we love,
can be snatched from us tomorrow,
and all the regrets we have accumulated can’t get them back again.
But the converse is true also.
We have today, and if we’re fortunate, we may also have tomorrow.
and we have the opportunity to live FULLY today and FULLY tomorrow…
How do we choose to spend our lives? How do we choose to LIVE them?
Author Frederick Buechner once put it this way:
You are alive. It needn’t have been so.
It wasn’t so once, and it will not be so forever.
But it is so now.
And what is it like:
to be alive in this maybe one place
of all places anywhere where life is?
Live a day of it and see.
Take any day and BE ALIVE in it.
Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter.
A few years ago, a couple of weeks before Christmas
I sat on a bench at Oak Park Mall,
waiting for Brook to emerge from JC Pennies.
A big, big man was rolling my way,
and I knew, sure enough,
that he’d sit down beside me and take up
more than his share of the narrow bench. And he did.
That’s ok. He was nice enough. But clearly he was brooding.
He plopped down, huffed a bit.
“Have to get exercise. Doctor says so.” he said without explanation,
as if we were long time friends.
Had one heart surgery already;
can’t afford another, no-sir.
Walk the sidewalks as long as I can,
but not in this-here weather.
So I walk up to JC Pennies and then back to Sears.
And then I sit down awhile and catch my breath.”
I wondered to myself how,
since there wasn’t time for a breath between his words.
He told me how they didn’t have much money,
but the missus sometimes came to the mall too,
to stroll and dream of things in the windows,
and how he wished he could have her spend as much as she wanted,
and I should make sure my pension was good,
cause if it’s not, you suffer for it the rest of your life,
after giving an honest life’s work.
He was nice enough
but truth be told, I glanced at the store. No sign of Brook.
Instead I noticed two young women emerge from Pennies, talking,
while the kids in their strollers made noises at each other too,
talking as much to themselves and their toys as to each other,
but apparently glad for the company.
And at that moment, I thought to myself,
“Those kids are going to grow up, and have kids, and grow old,
and sooner or later they’ll be walking the malls,
hungry for company,
reviewing their lives,
sorting out the mistakes and the hopes and the pleasures and the regrets
while they rest between JC Pennies and Sears.”
Yes, every year about this time, we take stock of time’s passing.
Maybe that’s good practice for a church to do this time of year, too.
We get to ask ourselves again
maybe the most important question that we ever ask:
what REALLY matters?
How will we choose to spend the years and days and moments
that lie ahead of us,
however few or however many they may be?
At the turning point between the end of his childhood,
and the beginning of his life as a young man,
Jesus had a CHOICE he had to make about how he’d spend his time.
He could have chosen the easy path,
the one before him that was more clear, more obvious
but much less risky
than the unknown future that God was calling him toward.
In fact, everyone EXPECTED Jesus the Carpenter’s son
to become a carpenter
even IF he showed aptitude in the temple
the ability to ask GOOD QUESTIONS
and seek out FAITHFUL answers.
But, that’s not what Jesus chose.
He chose to spend it doing the faithful thing, even the risky thing:
Jesus chose to urgently seek the will of God for his life.
The text is somewhat amazing.
The last time we dug into this passage in bible study,
people marveled with how LITTLE we know of Jesus’s childhood.
That’s true. Other than the two birth stories
one in Matthew, one in Luke
and these little snippets where, depending on which one you read,
the family either goes into exile in Egypt for a few years
or the family loses Jesus at the temple in their very own
Home Alone moment…
but that’s it. That’s all we get.
Nothing about the previous 12 years, or the next 18 really,
not until Jesus appears to be baptized by his cousin John.
Luke tells us: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,
and in divine and human favor.”
For Luke, that’s enough.
That’s enough detail. We are left to fill in the story and to imagine
what Jesus was like as a precocious teenager
as a young man moving into adulthood
with his other seminal moments that are skipped over,
the other life changing, life defining opportunities
where Jesus must have taken stock, reviewed priorities
pondered the future
and then choose
like we all MUST choose
to do THIS rather than THAT
to go THERE rather than HERE.
So much that’s missing.
But for Luke, and for the other gospel writers, apparently,
Maybe it is enough for us to ask for the same blessing,
that we might increase in wisdom as we increase in years
that we might find divine and human favor.
Maybe that is enough.
For we ourselves, as a church, as people,
will continue to have our priorities before us
our everyday, every year things that arise
what we can mark on our calendar today
and plan for around the corner.
And we will have, also, those seminal moments
those defining moments, who knows when
where we will have to look anew at our priorities
and make choices.
Over the next year, as in countless years past,
we will experience love,
we’ll laugh till we cry,
we’ll breathe delicious smells,
see heartbreaking sunsets,
set our jaws in silent rage.
We will grieve until our bones ache,
and every tear that can be shed is wept.
We will find courage beyond our maturity,
and we will fail those who most need us.
We will speak truth, and alas we’ll tell lies.
And no matter how we spend that time, time will pass, and we will grow older.
My prayer, for us as a church and for our individual lives,
is that we also grow wiser, more loving, more faithful,
more willing to take risks in serving God and in serving others.
The author of Colossians reminds us how life and the worship of God are
intertwined for those of us who follow the example of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, in just two short verses he encapsulates much of the gospel teaching
of what life in Christ is all about:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and,
if anyone has a complaint against another,
forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you,
so you also must forgive.
The author talks about being clothed with love,
about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.
About letting the word of God dwell in us.
Let us remember that the dwelling place of God is no building,
as beautiful as this sanctuary is
as many events that have happened here to strengthen our faith.
but rather indeed in the hearts and deeds and faith
of those who follow where God leads them…
And as we continue our faithful work to maintain this gift of a building
that enables our common worship and our common ministry
let us keep these BIG questions before us: what really matters?
What is it we, as a church, as individuals,
are going to spend our time and talents on in 2019?
If we listen to the voice of Colossians, we hear these suggestions:
Compassion, Humility, Patience
Forgiveness, Thankfulness, Clothing ourselves with Love
Letting Christ, letting God, dwell in our hearts.
What better kind of living is there?
Reverend John Buchanan often quotes a benediction he received
from the Lutheran historian Martin Marty:
“Life is short
and we have not much time for gladdening the hearts
of those who travel the way with us.
Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”
As we ponder these big questions at the turn of a new year, that’s good advice.
The only wisdom I would add to it
is what we get from the example of Jesus
from Luke’s Gospel during times like these:
let us urgently seek the will of God.
Let us listen for God’s voice,
above all the other voices that want something for us…
that WANT something FROM us.
It’s almost a new year. It’s a time of change for us, as it always is.
A time for letting go, and starting anew.
During this season of reflection on our past and our future,
May we seek the will of God for our life together, and I promise you this:
we will not be disappointed.
Let it be so.
 Much of the ideas of this sermon indebted to and adapted from Rev. Christine Chakoian, “Increasing in Wisdom and Years”, sermon of 12/28/03.
 Alphabet of Grace, p. 36, cited by John M. Buchanan, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, 1/3/93.
 Buchanan, 1/3/93