Homily, Letting Go
Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Little Tree by Loren Long
Once there was a little tree filled with little leaves…
who was surrounded by other little trees who had little leaves of their own.
In the heart of long summer days, Little Tree’s leaves kept him cool. The squirrels would climb up on his branches to play. The mourning dove landed in him and sang her flutey song. The little tree was sure to grow up big and strong.
Autumn arrived and cools winds filled the air. The wind tickled the Little Tree as it passed through his branches and ruffled his leaves.
The air grew cold and the leaves on all of the trees changed color, becoming yellow, red, and orange.
Then, one by one, the trees began to drop their leaves. But not Little Tree. He just hugged his leaves tight.
“Hello, Little Tree,” said a squirrel. “You’re supposed to drop your leaves now.” But Little Tree was unsure. What would he do without his leaves?
Winter came. “What are you doing with leaves still on you?” Asked the doe. Little Tree just hugged his leaves tight.
Springtime arrived and the little forest burst into life again. The other trees grew bright new leaves. The squirrels played in their branches. Little Tree could hear the mourning dove singing her flutey song.
The seasons continued to come and go. “Little Tree,” quacked a duckling, “your leaves are brown. Are you feeling sick?”
A fox said, “Little Tree, it’s autumn. It’s time for you to drop your leaves. You can do it. Ready? One, two…”
But Little Tree just hugged his leaves tight. All around, the forest grew and grew.
One summer, Little Tree could no longer feel the sunlight. The squirrels played high above on the broad, tall trees. And the mourning dove sang so far away that he could hardly hear her flutey song.
Autumn came again. Leaves began to blanket the ground.
Little Tree looked up at the other trees, at their branches reaching high into the sky. He remembered when the trees had all been his size.
And then he let go.
As his last leaf floated to the ground, for the first time Little Tree felt the harsh cold of winter.
But in time…
Once there was a little tree…
Our gospel passage this morning is about letting go. Four separate times, Jesus asks his followers to let go of something. And every time he does it feels cold and harsh, but Jesus knows that unless we let go of whatever keeps us from answering his invitation, we end up sick. And so four times he offers an invitation to let go. Let’s unpack them.
The first invitation came when Jesus and his disciples were traveling through the region of Samaria where they stopped in a village for the night. But they were unwelcome, and so James and John, upset at the audacity of the villagers for rejecting them cried out, “Who do they think they are? Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to consume them??” But Jesus rebuked them, inviting them to let go of their rage.
The second invitation came along the road when someone rushed to Jesus and proclaimed to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus, knowing that his journey had no destination on this earth responded to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” and thus he invited the person to let go of their attachments.
The third invitation happened when Jesus said to another standing there, “Follow me.” “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Scholars say that perhaps the man’s father was not actually dead and that the man wanted to wait until his father had died to follow Jesus, so that he might not give up all his plans in the meantime. But Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury the dead and you proclaim the kingdom,” thus inviting the man to let go of his expectations for the future.
And finally, the fourth invitation came when another man, perhaps overhearing Jesus’ response to the one before said to Jesus, “I’ll leave my parents and follow you, just let me say goodbye first.” Jesus, looking into his heart and perhaps seeing the man more worried about what had come before than what lied ahead, replied, “No one who looks back can move forward into this kingdom” and thus he invited the person to let go of their past.
Letting go of rage. Letting go of attachments. Letting go of expectations for the future. Letting go of the past.
Each person who came to Jesus carried something—was clinging to something like Little Tree and his leaves—that kept them from fully being able to receive and share the love of God in following Jesus. And so Jesus invited them to let go.
And so the question for us this morning is, what is Jesus asking us to let go of today? What things are we clinging to that keep us from receiving and sharing the love of God in the way of Jesus?
Perhaps like James and John it’s anger and rage. Because while there is so much to be angry about in this world, maybe your anger has started eating you from the inside. What would it look like to let go?
Perhaps like the first person who came to Jesus it’s attachments to a home and the things with which you fill it. Maybe your possessions have become more important to you than receiving and sharing the love of God. What would it look like to let go?
Perhaps like the second person it’s your expectations for the future. Perhaps you’re so set on what you’re planning in life you can’t see what God is planning for you. What would it look like to let go?
Perhaps like the third person it’s your past. Be it the good ole days or old trauma, maybe your past is preventing you from moving forward in life. What would it look like to let go?
Or perhaps it’s something entirely different. Just as Jesus’ words were different to each who came to him, his words are different for each of us. So what is Jesus asking you to let go of? What is keeping you from fully receiving and sharing the love of God?
Letting go is not easy. Like Little Tree, it takes courage to muster up the strength to let go of something that feels essential to us. And when we do, it can be scary to feel the harsh cold of winter. But in time… Something happens… God makes us grow.
And so this morning, may we let go. May we let go of whatever is keeping us from the love of God. And may we grow. Amen.