The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 27, 2022
Critics view the photos of celebrated nature photographer Freeman Patterson as works of art. His photos bring to light the often unnoticed magnificence of landscapes and animals.
Freeman says that he gets good photos by getting good looks at his subjects, and good looks by letting go of self and its preoccupations. Letting go of self, he says, is a precondition for seeing initially-missed dimensions of what is there. Letting go of self keeps you from blinding preconceptions, opens your soul to experience reality directly, and opens your eyes to discern its full glory. Letting go allows you to study wonders deeply and gives them the chance to reveal their splendor to you.
I believe that what is true about artistic perception is also true about spiritual perception. In studying scripture and God’s activity in the world, it takes letting go to take in what is before you.
Israel had just miraculously crossed the Jordan River in full flood from the spring melt of Mt. Hermon’s snow pack, and just set up a basecamp in the Promised Land. There on the River’s west side just a mile from Jericho, in a place called Gilgal (whose name, based on the verb “to roll”, means “circle”), they created a memorial circle from twelve stones pulled up from the Jordan’s river bed. They immediately worshipped there, conducting a circumcision ceremony and celebrating the first Passover in the Promised Land. In a place called “Circle”, God decisively “rolled” away the disgrace of their Egyptian enslavement.
And God made a home there for these homeless wanderers, a place they’d farm and harvest food from for years to come. As a sign they would settle there a long time, right after Passover, God stopped sending them manna from heaven. For they were instead to eat “the produce of the land”, “the crops of…Canaan”. They were to let go of supernaturally provided food so as to enjoy naturally provided food – a different gift of God’s grace and no less a blessing. It was in fact one that better fit their new lifestyle and gave them the honor of closer collaboration with God in putting food on the table.
Letting go is always an essential part of life with God. We let go of our status quo life to gain a better life, of physical enchantment to know spiritual enthrallment, of self-centeredness to experience the joy in loving others. Blessings abound when we let go – let go of having our own way, making our own way, taking the easy way, or holding on to anything or anyone other than God with an iron grip. Permit me to give some specific examples.
Some of us need to know the blessedness of letting go of more of our money. Richard Foster says, “As we grow and let go of money, we let go of a part of ourselves and our security. But this is precisely why it’s important to do. It’s a way to obey Jesus’ commandment to deny ourselves. When we give money, we release a little more of our egocentric selves and our false security. Giving frees us to care…It makes life with God an adventure, one that’s worth living for and giving for.”
That more worth-living life, that more blessed life, is one that makes us happier. When we quit loving things and using people and instead start loving people and using things to help them, the change lifts our heart into a higher happiness. Letting go of materialism and greed leads us into fulfilling lives of generosity and self-forgetfulness in something bigger than ourselves.
Others of us need to know the blessedness of letting go of resentment or revenge.
A professor once asked his students, “If I gave you $86,400 and someone stole $10 of it, would you spend the $86,390 you have left to try to get it back, or would you just let it go?” All the students said they’d let it go. Then the professor said, “Each and every day you have 86,400 seconds to live. Now, time is more valuable than money, right? And, while you can always make more money, once a second passes you can never retrieve it, right? So, if someone upsets you – and it typically takes no more than ten seconds to do that – why would you throw away the remaining 86,390 seconds of that day by stewing about it? Seeking to make someone pay for the wrong they did you is a waste of time. It’s a rat poison that poisons the poisoner first.”
Finally, at times we all have to let go of good things to know the blessedness of better things. For instance, each of us is good at making certain good things happen, but our enjoying the employment of our talents and abilities in a valuable cause may leave little room for others to do the same and advance the cause even more. So we have to let go of focusing on our own contribution exclusively. We have to share power, get out of others’ way and encourage diverse leadership. Enabling others to make their impact for good gives great joy.
Ultimately, we are to let go of everything we are and everything we have by putting it all under God’s governance. That may at the start feel like nothing but self-denial; but in the end it brings us into a higher and deeper happiness.