Handing over what is not mine, or, Learning to let go

I was up worrying the other night.  It happens.  Worry is a spiritual gift I received from my mother, and I have worked hard to perfect that which was passed on to me.  I also work not to pass it on to my daughter, but I worry that I am failing in that.

Anyway, I was worrying the other night when what I really wanted to be doing was falling asleep.  It was the end of a long day, the house was quiet, all other living creatures under our roof were asleep, and there I was, worrying.  Someone once defined worry as “misuse of the imagination.”  Yes, it is.  Finally my desire to sleep won over my need to worry, and I decided to hand it all over to Jesus.

Now I really don’t consider myself that kind of Jesus person.  I usually don’t hand it over to the Lord, nor do I think that he walks with me or talks with me in the “In the Garden” sort of way.  My prayers tend to be to God, not to Jesus.  I mean, I’m good with him, but I do like to keep my distance.  But that night I decided I really needed to hand it all over to him.  So I pictured what I was handing over, and it was a spherical-shaped thing, a tangle of worries that might best be represented by barbed wire, lima beans, the insoles of my daughter’s summer Keens, and all those random electronic cables you stick in a drawer because you have no idea what they’re for.  Roll all that up into a ball, and those were the worries I wanted to hand over to Jesus.  Lucky him.

So I did.  In my mind’s eye I pictured handing him this messy, sharp bundle, and I pictured him taking it.  And then a funny thing happened.  As soon as he took it, it turned into a beach ball- one of those big plastic, colors-in-pennant-shapes beach balls.  It was like he was taking all my worries so very lightly, like he was saying, “Hey, I know there’s stuff that’s getting you down but I think we should go play on the beach.”

What the hell, Jesus?

Okay, not really.

But somehow, it worked.  He took my ball of lima beans and barbed wire and turned it into a beach ball and I fell asleep.  Not only that, but that night I dreamed I was about to marry George Clooney.  (I did confess that to my husband the next day and assured him that George Clooney was no match for him.)

The next day I had coffee with a friend who is a 12-stepper.  I am remarkably proud of her, and often inspired by the rigorous and truthful way she looks at her own living.  We talked about whatever step it is where you let go and let God, and she talked about the deep meaning the serenity prayer has for her.  While I listened, I was having my own internal conversation about letting go and the whole Jesus-turned-my-worry-into-a-beach-ball thing.  Here’s where I ended up.

Sometimes, in order to sleep, in order to get the rest our bodies, minds, and souls need, we have to let it go.  (Apologies for cueing that particular song.)  It’s not always ours to keep, the things we worry about.  But sometimes, after that rest, we take some of it back.  Some of it is mine to carry, or to deal with, or to wrestle with.  But maybe when I take it back, there are fewer lima beans and more grains of sand.

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Confession of faith, sung

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal if for Thy courts above.”

The Sunday after Easter is such a relief.  I do love all the pageantry and crowds and flowers of Easter, but somehow the Sunday after Easter feels more real and more to the point.  There are no processions to organize, no flowers to maneuver around, fewer handshakes and smiles after the service, and no eggs to clean up.  It’s normal worship again – or as normal as worship ever gets – and the folks who are there are there because it’s their church and they come rain or shine, flowery holiday or regular holy day.

Which is not to say that things cannot be wonderful and gut-wrenching and good.

It was the offertory that got me.  Our choir (who did not take off the Sunday after Easter because they love singing in worship) sang a beautiful arrangement of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  Now I love that hymn.  I love the poetry of the words and I am a complete sucker for any tune out of the Southern Harmony tradition.  So the choir starts in, the women first, and a little organ interlude, the men coming in on a new verse in a new key, a cappella.  And then it gets going with the culmination of that line “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be” and it hit me:

That is why I do all of this.

That was my first sense of call, my push toward ordination, the thing that motivates me week after week and year after year to be a part of the gorgeous flawed thing called church and to be a member of this hilarious and weird and flawed thing called the clergy.  It’s because I am indebted to the grace of God every single moment of my life, and in gratitude and penance and hope I do this Christianity thing and I do this ministry thing because grace has overpowered my will, my guilt, my ego, my sense of worthlessness, my sense of awesomeness, and all the misery the world can throw at me.  That is why I do all of this.

We have an ongoing conversation, the congregation and I, about the Apostles’ Creed.  Some aren’t happy we ever say it, some wish we said it more, and I insist on saying it when we have baptisms.  As I said, it’s an ongoing conversations and nobody’s really budging. But that’s okay.  Last year our choir sang Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass as the sermon one week, and the Credo in that is pretty much spectacular.  One of our folks, one of the ones who wishes we would never say the Apostles’ Creed again, did admit that if we could sing that Credo instead of saying the words, she’d be good.  But we don’t – not yet, anyway.

But what if our creed were those words Robert Roberston wrote in 1758?  What if our creed were the admittance of our utter reliance on the grace of God, and the hope that God would fetter us, and that all of this life is just part of sealing our hearts for something more?  What if those words were our confession of sin, and our profession of faith, and our proclamation of the good word, and our marching cry every week?  Would that my heart were tuned to sing that grace.

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The grace of the saints, and they didn’t even know it

easter.lily_Well, Easter is over; at least, Easter Day services are done and it’s “get a latte and put on comfly clothes and maybe take a nap” time.  For all of you who are church people, who in some way did something to help make this morning beautiful, thank you.  Thank you, flower arrangers and communion setters.  Thank you, sound system gal/guy, ushers, van drivers.  Thank you, coffee hour servers who had double duty today.  Thank you, bulletin stuffers and tenors, altos, basses, and sopranos, and organists, and choir directors, and custodians.  Oh, God bless all the custodians.  Thank you egg dyers, and banner makers, and families processing with azaleas and eggs.  Thank you, all you who showed up.  And thank you, all you who celebrated LIFE today.

I was a bit under the weather on Holy Saturday, and tentative about how I would be on Easter.  Admittedly, it was a slow start, but by the time the second service began, it was all good.  The sermon was early in the service, which meant that I got to worship without worrying for the last half.  My colleagues offered a beautiful invitation and beautiful communion prayer.  Our elders helped serve the bread and cup.  And then the saints showed up.

The woman I’ve never seen before carrying up her sleeping toddler.  The woman now using a cane, but by God she was here on Easter despite the recent stroke.  The man who’s mother is dying more quickly than any of us would like.  The person who is still a bit put out with me over a recent unpopular decision, who did not avoid my station but received the bread from me.  The teenager who was just confirmed a few minutes earlier.  The grandpa with his whole family in tow, even though they go to other churches they came with Dad today, because it’s Easter and because they miss their mom who died a few years ago.  Our administrative assistant who makes so much run so smoothly, bringing her mom.  The woman who prays without ceasing for all of us.  My daughter.  Her friend.  The strangers, the leaders, the wondering, the wandering, and the lost.  The saints showed up.

I had one critique after the service, from someone who doesn’t come that often.  She regretted that in my sermon I didn’t mention that Jesus had risen.  I thought I had, but perhaps too obliquely for her.  All the same, whether or not anyone there thought Jesus showed up this morning, spanking-fresh and resurrected, I will tell you this:  the saints showed up this morning.  Thank you all.

And for good measure:  He is risen!  He is risen indeed.