Letting go, by Pastor Noel

February 4, 2018  5th Sunday after Epiphany, B


      “Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.”

      Think on that for a moment.

      Now, a question. Do we really want to be set free from the bondage of our sins, or are we so enamored of them that we don’t want to let go?

      I am not talking about what we usually think of as “sins.” All those things our mothers told us not to do—and things that there are laws against.

      The only sin that we need to be concerned about is the sin of being human. Being human is truly wonderful!

      We are filled with God’s breath and Spirit, AND, our humanity puts us at odds with God—in tension with God’s will for us which is living in the kingdom now.

      The story of Adam and Eve and the serpent—that serpent is still here in many guises and we still reach out for the fruit and then blame others when things go wrong.

      So our humanity puts us at odds with each other, too.

      Fueling our human desire for control is fear. Fear is what moves us more than we know, more than any other factor.

      We probably don’t even realize that it’s there because fear is so deep-seated that it’s invisible.

      One of my sins comes from fear—the fear that I won’t have enough. So, as I jokingly say, I have more shoes than I could ever wear—only two feet, after all. And sweaters—I could start a shop!

      Is it a sin to have so many sweaters and shoes?

      I guess I’d have to say that it IS a sin IF I think that those clothes are my salvation and hope for the future, IF I think that because I am so well dressed that people will like me and I’ll be popular and have lots of friends and be happy forever.

      Fortunately, I do know that my salvation and happiness don’t come from my wardrobe—but I also know that I am in bondage to that want.

      Remember—freedom from that bondage gives us “liberty of that abundant life” of the gospel.

      That liberty is realized lives of peace, hope, abundance, joy…..rejoicing in God’s love for us.

      OK—so I have an abundance of sweaters—is that what we prayed about? I don’t think so!

      The abundant life we are promised has very little to do with material abundance and has everything to do with the abundance of trust in God and gratitude for God’s presence in our lives.

      One way to deal with abundance and fear is to move! In the past 13 years I have moved four times. Downsizing each time, and having to lighten the load. It feels good to have less and less to care for—and I still have LOTS!

      The abundant life is not about things. The abundant life is a life filled with peace and hope, joy and compassion, filled with God’s love.

      The abundant life is SO filled with God’s love that sharing this is the only option.

      So the abundant life is a life reaching out to others so that they are filled with God’s love, too.

      The opposite of the abundant life is fear.

      Fear saps all the positives—peace, hope, joy, love—and leaves us wallowing in negativity—anger, scarcity, jealousy, despondency…

      We may not even realize what we are feeling is fear—maybe we call it anxiety or worry.

      In Christian Century, Lauren Winner wrote about her anxiety that keeps her worrying that she’s missed an appointment, that she’s catching some terrible disease, that she hasn’t turned off the stove—every time.

      She says, “For as long as I can remember, anxiety has been my close companion, having a long time ago taken up residence in the small, second floor bedroom of the house that is my body. Sometimes my anxiety takes long naps. Sometimes it throws parties.”

      She wonders if anxiety will ever move out of her neighborhood for good, and she plans to give up anxiety for Lent—to “sidle up alongside (it) with prayer.”

      Prayer won’t automatically take away her anxiety, or assure her of the abundant life that we are offered. She has to accept the love that gives us that life, and maybe the rest of her life she has to remind herself of that love and then, maybe slowly or maybe in a heart beat, she will feel the joy of that abundant life.

      She may not wake up singing and dancing, but her life will be grounded in God’s love, wrapped in God’s love, filled with God’s love.

      This love will help her let go of what is causing her anxiety—that phrase, aphemi in Greek. “Let go” is used when the disciples leave their boats (they let go of them) and the fever leaving Peter’s mother in law (she let go of the fever). The demons in last Sunday’s gospel “let go” of the young man they had tormented.

      With God’s help we can let go of whatever is holding us back from the abundant life. I “let go” of stuff.

      That is why, like Paul, I say “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”

      The good news that is the gospel shows us about the abundant life and how to have it.  

      This abundant life is such a wonderful gift from God that I invite—I urge—us to make it our way of life.

      Wake up thanking God for all the blessings we enjoy—and keep that gratitude all day long. Let God’s love bubble up in you so that it bubbles up and over.

      The abundant life God gives us is an attitude, a way of living and loving the way Jesus did—not being like Pollyanna, or seeing the world through rose colored glasses.

      The abundant life is seeing life in reality and truth—and seeing God’s love at work to bring healing and reconciliation in all things.

      The abundant life is about giving ourselves away FOR others.

      I was at Dick Laremore’s funeral yesterday. I learned a lot about him during the service, and I have to say that he knew and lived the abundant life.

      He loved God so much that he became a priest to better show others how wonderful that love is.

      He once was so filled with joy that he did summersaults down the aisle after worship! Can you see him doing that? It’s pretty joyful!

      I hope that you have felt that joy—and seen the joy in others you have found God’s love through you.

      Whatever we fear, whatever we are anxious about—that reality may not change. What will change is the way we feel and think about this reality and how we face it. Part of the abundant life is knowing that God is with us every moment of our life. With God’s help we can face any reality and do so with the abundance of God’s love and peace.            

      I pray that we will make the abundant life our way of life. And share it with everyone we see.


The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details