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Sermon Ascension Day/Baptism/Mothers’ Day                           Jeffrey B. MacKnight
13 May 2018                                                                                    St. Dunstan’s, Beth.


I recently started the Netflix series “Call the Midwife,” about a young, well-to-do woman in the 1950s who has trained as a midwife and ends up working in down-and-out East London.  She sees sordid, filthy living conditions she never imagined existed, and women bearing child after child.  She asks a colleague, “How do you stand it?  How do you stay calm?” 

Her colleague responds, “When I first started, I was appalled.  I thought I should get medals for working here.  But now, I see that it’s the mums who are the true heroines.  They endure so much, and they just keep on going….” 

Moms are often the heroines – and happily we have recognized that since 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.  This Mothers’ Day, I give tribute to today’s mom, Hollis Boyd McLaughlin.  Leslie and I met Hollis here 19 years ago, and she helped us raise our own children.  Now a nurse, she has continued her calling to serve people in the most basic, life-giving ways. 

One quality of moms the world over stands out: their ability to focus on the needs of others, and respond to the need in the present moment.  Most mothers give up a lot in order to be moms – they must let go of past hopes and dreams, carefree living, and alternative lives they might have led.  And by and large, they do it gladly and without complaint…or maybe with just a little occasional grumbling!  As in “Call the Midwife,” the mums see their lives as a calling, and willingly let go of the life they led before.

What does that have to do with Ascension Day?  The connection is in Letting Go: putting aside some of our desires, or attachments, our loves, when we need to.  When Jesus departed from his earthly presence, the disciples had to set aside their desire to keep him here.  They had to let him go, in order to move forward.  I may need to put aside pleasurable things today, in order to study for the life I want to lead in the future. I may need to let go of my craving for alcohol or other drugs, because these substances are destroying my relationships.   I may need to let go of my hankering for a new house, a new car, or a big vacation, in order to save adequately for retirement. 

Buddhism, as I understand it, sees all desire, all craving, as the source of suffering, and teaches that we should renounce all attachments, in order not to suffer.  In other words, let everything go! 

Christianity is different.  We believe in seeking, striving, and loving what is important.  Attachment – the right attachments – are not a problem to be avoided, but a challenge to be engaged.  Yes, there is suffering with any love, any attachment or desire, but some suffering is worthwhile.  The love and care of a child, loyalty to a friend, difficult, sometimes risky, work against injustice – these are attachments we see modeled in Jesus, which we emulate ourselves.  We’re willing to suffer for these important loves. 

Many other cravings and desires in life we do need to let go of, just as the disciples had to let go of their happy times with Jesus, and learn to lead Jesus’ movement on their own.  After all, if Jesus had stayed on earth indefinitely, his movement would have been limited to a few square miles in Palestine.  Christian faith would probably have never spread as it did around the world. 

So what about you?  What have you had to let go of – perhaps with great sadness or pain – in order to move forward in your life? 

What might you be facing right now, that you will need to let go of, so that you can move on? 

Our men’s group at St. Dunstan’s gathers over bagels and coffee on Saturday each month to discuss our lives – spiritual matters affecting men.  Last time we talked about retirement – some men present are already retired; some are considering when to retire; others aren’t there yet.  Retirement requires a lot of letting go: men tend to tie up our identities with our jobs.  Our jobs give us structure, a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and a group of colleagues, who may also be friends. 

But retirement also offers a lot of new possibilities and freedom, if we choose to accept them.  (Of course, all this depends on having sufficient retirement resources to live without working. That’s becoming a rarer thing in America.)  How long should we continue working? What attracts us about retirement?  What are its promises and possibilities?  How might God be able to use us – our time, our skills, our passions - after we retire? 

Finally, the need to let go isn’t always a choice.  It’s often forced upon us, and this is a hard thing.  Losing a job, a marriage, a loved one, a way of life, is devastating.  But hope is a central gift of our faith in Christ.  Resurrection comes after death.  New life emerges from devastation. 

When Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving the disciples to build a new life without him, they were paralyzed briefly.  But two men – the same two angels who appeared to the women Easter morning at the empty tomb - said: “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”  Their work was here on earth, bringing good news to the poor and marginalized people who most needed hope and help.  The Holy Spirit would soon come upon them, with tremendous power – like fire!  And the Gospel would spread like wildfire.  Letting go of the bodily Jesus allowed this new work of God to begin.  It was worth it. 

Deciding what to cling to, and what to let go of in life, is one of our hardest choices to make.  Great suffering, but also great accomplishments, are in the balance.  Pray for God’s guidance as you make your choices.  AMEN. 


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