Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Giving Up Control (5th in a series)

Lent is a 40-day season where, just like Jesus, we are called to confront our greatest temptations and try to identify things in our lives that we need to give up because they hinder our fully following Christ. In this series, we've been exploring deeper things that God may be calling us to give up, more than just chocolate.

As a basis, we've been looking at Jesus' 7 last words on the cross. We come to the last two utterances today. Now, these two words are believed to be two versions of the same thing as told by two different Gospel writers.

 In John, he says, “'It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30, NRSV) No loud voice. No shouting. He probably even said it with a smile. It is finished. It is done.

To fully grasp these words, we have to remember the struggle of the night before, in the garden of Gethsemane, when he struggled for control and prayed, “Father, if it is at all possible, take this cup of suffering away from me.” It was a spiritual tug-o-war. Can I have it my way? Is it at all possible?

But God prevails and Jesus goes through Calvary. Now, it is finished. What needed to be done has been done. Jesus yielded control, saying “not my will, but your will be done.” And now it is finished. And he breathed his last.

In Luke, "Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.' Having said this, he breathed his last." (Luke 23:46, NRSV)

It really wasn’t over until he died, physically. He had to die. But even in death’s uncertainty, he was giving God full control.

These final words of Jesus were actually from Psalm 31:5. It is a prayer every Jewish mother taught her child to say before going to sleep. Just as we were taught, maybe to say, "Now I lay me down to sleep," or some other evening prayer, so the Jewish children were taught, as the threatening, uncertain darkness came down, to say “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus must have said this prayer all his life before he closed his eyes at night. And now as he closed his eyes for the final time, uncertain of what death had in store, he says the same prayer one last time, “Into your hands, I commit my Spirit.” He yielded control. And doing so allowed him, not only to die, but to live again!

Like it or not, accept it or not, admit it or not, there’s a control freak in each one of us. We want certainty. We want to be sure of what’s next, of what lies ahead. And we want things to happen the way they should happen, which is the way we want them to happen. We want control.

That’s why darkness freaks us out. That’s why going down a long, steep slide freaks us out. That’s why death freaks us out. Because we have no control. But today we are reminded that perhaps the way to enjoy life is really less about our controlling it and more about trusting God. This Lent, God is calling us to give up control and grow in trust and faith.

Lent is serious soul work. It's not a mere sentimental journey revisiting Jesus’ suffering and death. It is preparing ourselves to truly live. In order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. We are to "die to ourselves so that Christ may live in us." We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live.

More than just chocolate, we are called to give up anger and bitterness and grow in forgiveness; to give up judgment and grow in grace and acceptance; to give up apathy and grow in compassion; to give up pride and grow in humility; and to give up control and grow in trust and faith. May it be so. Amen.

Your fellow disciple,

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