Sifting Out

It really should not come as a surprise to me.

The simple phrase “Let go and let God” was something I first heard somewhere during my college days. It was an almost trite phrase, yet it defined God’s ultimacy for a kid looking for something absolute. It has kept coming back to me over the years. It would later become a key theme in my life.

Early on, I would occasionally use it, yet I had not seriously plumbed the depths of its meaning until later in my ministry. As I continue to delve into its meaning, that deeper meaning tends to surprise me … usually in its raw simplicity.

That was the case as I read in Richard Rohr’s book, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. It is there that he quotes Neale Donald Walsch:

Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old, all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will always defy the new. The old will deny the new. The old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.

The truth in this is its remarkable simplicity. So why was it hard for me to see? I think it lies in the risk. As a child, I remember attending the circus where I watched trapeze artists swing from bar to bar. I can still recall my emotional response to that moment when the person would let go of the one bar and float momentarily above certain death before either grabbing the other bar or latching onto the arms of another person swinging from their knees on the other bar … it was sheer panic, with butterflies completely consuming my stomach.

Fear of scarcity … fear of loss … fear of death. That fear drives so much of our common life that it has become the primary motivator for our culture, our economy, our politics, and sadly, much of our religious life. We live with this notion that there is not enough to go around. Not enough power to share. Not enough resources to take care of everyone … food, water, healthcare, or wealth. Not enough grace. Not enough God.

It is this fear of scarcity that fundamentally drives systems of injustice. Racism, heterosexism, misogyny, ethnocentrism and any other of our “isms” that comprise systems of domination are rooted deeply in the fundamental notion that there is just not enough.

It is scary to let go. Even if we count ourselves among those who are subjected to these systems, we are afraid of losing what little we may have. Letting go just isn’t an option.

But Jesus came to challenge our fear with a gospel of abundance. Jesus says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35) He is not being rigid here or even being demanding. He is telling us that there is an abundant life … known in integration philosophies as the “True Self” … which is far better than the small, scarcity-driven notions of life … known by those same philosophies as the “False Self.”

I’ve preached about the abundant life that God is offering all of us, and I have preached about the pouring out of self that is the ultimate imitation of Christ. What I had not seen clearly was the idea that I still have not adequately made room for the new … the abundant life … the journey to my truest sense of self created by God.

What we are experiencing in our pandemic-possessed world is more than a letting go. It is not just a pouring out of self. It is a sifting out (like being put through the wire basket where the particles and particulars in our life are separated from one another). It is uncomfortable, and it is scary. We fear losing life as we have known it, and all we want to do is go back to the life we knew before the pandemic began to exact its toll on us.

The hard news for us to hear is that there is no going back to just what we had before. Something new continues to emerge.

Instead of thinking about this as a tragic loss, I wonder what would happen if we saw this as making room for something new. Perhaps this is a time like so many prophets and teachers in the faith envisioned as a just society … a radically hospitable society … a generous society. Perhaps this is an opportunity to create the world envisioned in Matthew 25 where we have adequately cared for “the least of these” brothers and sisters and found in them the face of Christ.

Perhaps this is the time to listen to the cries of our black and brown siblings … of women in the work place … of immigrants … who want to be seen as children of God seeking justice and equal opportunities. Perhaps this is a time to listen to those who express a fear of scarcity and assure them that, when they let go of the bar to which they so tightly cling, they will be jumping into the arms of a God who loves them despite the harm they may have done.

That is abundant grace, and it is what resurrection is all about. You see, Jesus was sifted out in a brutal execution, and his resurrection had nothing to do with going back. I have said before that it is not resuscitation … it is resurrection.

It stands as the greatest message of the Christian faith: when we let go of the old, God will most certainly bring about something new. I think this is Dr. Martin Luther King’s image of the Beloved Community. A community of justice, hope, and peace. And it has little to do with the good old days. It is a vision of a new community.

Let go of the old, my friends, and after the moment of panic, you will discover yourselves as children of the resurrection … safely enfolded in the arms of God.

2 thoughts on “Sifting Out

  1. I watched a movie recently (“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”) about the plight of a village in Malawi that was threatened with starvation because of persistent drought that ruined their food crops. There was no help from their government. The father of the main character had even given up on God. The boy had an idea to make a water pump powered by a windmill but needed his father’s one possesion–his bicycle–to make his idea work. The father finally offered his bike, the windmill worked and the village was saved. God’s grace can come from anywhere, if we can see it, and replace our scarcity with hope.

    1. Terry, that is a great story. It is scary to think of losing things of great value (like a bicycle in an impoverished village), but God so often uses that one sacrificial gift to bring about something new and life-giving. Thank you for sharing.

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