In two weeks, we will help Michala, our daughter who just graduated from Hendrix College, move to Madison, Wisconsin, for graduate school. This means, of course, that she will possibly never live here, only coming to visit. Now can you imagine the emotions that are behind this big smile? It is not a bad thing. At least I tell myself that. I believe it here (head), but it is not easy here (heart). It is hard to let go. It is so tempting to spend my spiritual energy trying to “hold on,” or keep things the same, keep things at the place that fits into my comfort zone.
I wonder if you have ever done that? The scriptures call us to a hard truth. Time marches on. Things change. Life has a way of making room for new acts of beauty, new opportunities for making a contribution, and for new voices to be heard. We are called to honor this movement and even cultivate it. We do so by developing the important spiritual skill of “letting go” -- letting go and then letting ourselves be blessed by what is to come.
This image of “letting go” is a powerful one, and one that I believe can help us hear what Jesus is saying to us today in his Sermon on the Mount. In this Sermon, Jesus invites us to “let go” through three important means of grace – giving, prayer, and fasting. These disciplines are the hard spiritual work to which we are called. Through this work, we let go of our delusions of “holding on” and of “securing our own way.” We let go of our trust in the treasures of this world. We let go of our need to keep others in that place that makes us comfortable. With all three of these disciplines, we let go and then let God in. We make room, if you will, for God to come in and fill us with the blessings that God wants for us. That is hard when there is so much clutter that there is just not any more room for the blessings of God.
Let’s look at these three disciplines. First, “Giving” – and here we are specifically talking about the giving of money. Jesus talked a lot about this – as much as he talked about anything. In our lesson today Jesus says “when you give, sound no trumpet before you." In other words, don't make a show of it. Don't use your giving to make yourself look good before others. Don't use your generosity as leverage for that position or prestige that you want. If you do, says Jesus, then you will have your reward. Give because you want to connect this world to God’s eternal blessings. Give to bring the treasures of heaven into your life and into the world.
Giving is so important, but, get this - it is not because God wants our money. What God want is for us to open a place in our lives for God to come in with the blessings that God wants for us. We miss these blessings when we try to hold on, when we are consumed by consuming and fill our lives with what we think we want.
Next is prayer. We focused on this in detail last week. For a quick review, prayer is also about us making room. The primary word for prayer in the original language literally means “advanced desires.” Prayer is our work of exchanging our little petty -- sometimes selfish -- desires for God’s desires for us. Prayer is opening ourselves to all that God wants for us and for the world. Here is one example. In the way of praying that Jesus taught, we work at forgiving so that we can be forgiven. In prayer, we “let go” of our anger, our resentment, and our judgmentalism so that we can make room for God’s forgiveness and grace to fill our lives. If we are holding on to these harmful dispositions in our life, there is simply not much room left for God to come in.
The next means of grace or spiritual discipline that Jesus mentions is “fasting.” This one is the one we tend to conveniently ignore. Why would we intentionally make ourselves hungry? And that’s what fasting is – intentional hunger. It can be done in many ways. Most common in the bible is a day-long fast – from sunrise to sunset. I know people who have engage in multiple day fasts. There are also fasts where we give up certain foods for a period of time.
With fasting the principle is the same as with the other two disciplines. Fasting is a way for us to “let go and let God in.” Although with fasting there is a direct, physical affect. With Fasting, Prayer becomes about something more than words. It affects us right here (gut). We quickly learn that we are dependent upon others and on God for our well-being. Through prayerful hunger, we are led to God and to a desire for God’s life-giving and nurturing grace. In a real and physical way, we learn that we do not “live by bread alone.” That is so important for us to know – not just here (head) but here (heart/gut) as well.
Through these disciplines we “let go” of our stuff and “make room” for God to come in. I wonder if any of us could think of an analogy in our physical lives. (I won’t ask for a show of hands). I wonder ... have you ever gone shopping and got a great deal on something, only to get it home and discover that there is simply no more room in the closet, or cabinet, or garage. Has that ever happened to you? Does your stuff spill over into other spaces? It is an analogy for our spiritual lives as well, and to the hard spiritual work to which we are called.
Through giving, prayer, and fasting we make room. We make room for mercy, and in this Sermon on the Mount we hear our Savior say, “Blessed are the merciful.” We make room to grieve over all the harm that is done in the world, and we hear our Lord say, “Blessed are those who mourn.” We make room for peace-making, by opening our hearts to forgiveness and understanding, and we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the peace-makers.”
We are called to this spiritual work. We are called to intentionally engage in the practices of faith – giving, prayer, and fasting. We don’t engage in any of these disciplines to show God how strong we are but to discover how strong God is. We don’t give, pray, and fast to show others how good we are, but to know here (heart) how good God is. Even when we fail or fall in our spiritual work, it is a way for us to learn even more of God’s forgiveness and steadfast love.
Here is the challenge for this week. Let go. Make room. Do so in real and tangible ways. Make prayer more than words. Prayerfully give. Prayerfully fast. I especially want to challenge you to fast, because this discipline is the one we most ignore, and because the blessings that come can be so great, so rewarding. Start small. Give up a meal. Sacrifice the cookie or the bowl of ice cream. Invite God in. Trust that you will be blessed. The rewards from God, to use the word that Jesus uses, will come in abundance. Amen.