7/7/13, Let Go -- Travel Lite

Isaiah 66:10-14, Galatians 6:12-18, Luke 10:1-12

Last week we were given the opportunity to celebrate community in the setting of an agape feast.  We always look forward to this as a special quarterly occasion in which we enjoy the goodness of our life together with a simple communion ritual, potlucked food and conversational expressions of our loving care for one another. It was a special treat last week to gather in the community center where Al and Marcia now make their home and to have the chance to bless their new living quarters.

 I was a little disappointed, though, that we would not be reading the lectionary selections for last week, for they are among those I have always found most provocative. Fortunately, this week’s readings continue those provocative themes, so we do get to consider them after all. 

It’s not often that one finds a clear connection between the epistle readings and the Gospel selections, but in these past two weeks, the connection seemed obvious to me.  Last week the message was simply “let go” and this week the message is “travel light.” 

Please indulge me in a very superficial example of how those two phrases worked themselves out in my life this week.  For quite a while now, I have been thinking about whether or not to cut my hair.  Silly, huh? And yet there seems to be some kind of metaphor for me in this action I took on Monday. For much of my life I wore my hair short but at the beginning of 2007, for some unknown reason I just decided to let it grow out.  A psychologist friend of mine told me that when a woman changes her hairstyle there is some kind of inner shift going on.  Well, guess what?  In April of 2007, I heard about RCWP and by June, I was on the discernment track to ordination.  By the time I was ordained a deacon in June of 2008, I had long hair.  That was 5 years ago.  Since early this year, I’ve been thinking it was time to let that hair go.  Doing that meant an image shift for me personally and possibly for how others have come to know me.  It’s scary for a woman to cut her hair.  And yet, now that it’s gone, I can also get rid of all this other stuff that went with it: hair curlers and a big drier and clips.  I can travel much more lightly.  Whether or not this is indicative of an inner shift that is happening… only time will tell, I guess.  Just know that you have been warned!

Let me qualify that I know there was never anything wrong with having long hair, nor with owning the means to maintain it.  But when Spirit offers the possibility of a new season, the only way to get there is to let go and travel lightly!

For the past 6 weeks, our epistle readings have been from the letter of Paul to the Galatians. This letter was written to a community of pagans who had converted to Christianity as a result of Paul’s first missionary journey through that area. If you read this letter in its entirety, you might find it an emotionally tense piece.  The reason for its anger and defensiveness is that in this letter Paul sought to counter the teaching of another variety of Christianity. Christians who were originally Jewish came to this area after Paul’s visit.  They insisted that besides believing in Christ it was necessary to follow Mosaic law. The new community was confused about what one had to do to be a follower of Christ.  Was circumcision necessary? Dietary laws? What saved a person?

 

Last week Paul went right to the core of the issue in saying: “When Christ freed us, we were meant to remain free.  Stand firm, then, and do not submit to the yoke of slavery a second time. Rather, serve one another in works of love. Since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”  (Gal. 5:1-3)

And this week, he pens this line: “It means nothing whether one bothers with the externals of religion or not.  All that matters is that one is created anew.”   (Gal. 6:15)

The “externals of religion” Paul refers to are lifestyle laws and correct rituals of worship.  Paul says that these things have nothing to do with the freedom we are offered in Christ.  The freedom we are offered is meant to enable us to treat one another with love and dignity rather than judgment and chastisement.

In last week’s Gospel passage, individuals who wanted to follow Jesus asked that they first be able to deal with family expectations and farewells. Jesus told these followers that when one sets foot to the path of discipleship, one cannot look back at the life one had before.  One has to be willing to let go of the expectations of family life that offer identity and security, even if others criticize that.  “Whoever puts a hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the kingdom of God.” ( Luke 9:62)

And this week Jesus sends his disciples out to prepare the way in other places he planned to visit.  He instructs them to travel lightly, taking no walking stick or money bag or shoes. “Be on your way, sent as lambs in the midst of wolves”.  (Luke 10:3-5) Rather than making sure they have the “stuff” that will provide them with security and safety,  they are to depend on the hospitable reception of others, being grateful for whatever is given them in the way of sustenance. 

So to sum up these lessons from Paul and Jesus in two short phrases, may I suggest that we remember two phrases: “let go” and “travel light.”  We are called to let go of two things that hold us back from walking in deep relationship with the Divine: the need for religious externals and the insistence on a family identity.  Then, freed psychologically, we are to “travel light,” releasing our desire for the security of stuff. 

Wow--- that sounds like a scary set of requirements for following Jesus, doesn’t it? But remember that the literature we are reading is set in the culture of the first century.  It is the principle Paul and Jesus are teaching that we must consider and apply for our own time, not the literalism of the first century stories.  Could today’s religious externals and the need for Catholic identity have to do with the canon laws and sacramental rituals that our Catholic religion holds up to us as necessary for salvation?   Could our desire for “stuff” be the American consumer culture to which we find ourselves bound?   Just askin’…

“Let go… Travel light.”  Take a deep breath and let Spirit talk to you about what it might mean for you to let go of religious externals, ties to family expectations, or the accumulation of “stuff” in your life.  If any or all of these things are holding you back from deeper discipleship, you might want to consider the value of “traveling light.”

By Sandi DeMaster