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Sunday, July 31, 2022: Trinity 7, Eighteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 13

Learning to let go!
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

By Robin (Robert) Gibbons
Greek-Catholic Melkite Priest; Honorary Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford; Chair of the Holy Land Living Stones Trust

Context: a parish Eucharist consisting of Arab, UK and European Eastern Catholics, University Students, some academics and ecumenical Anglicans
Aim: to make us think a little harder about our own attitude, responsibilities and commitments towards our personal property and possessions

Looking back over 43 years of priestly ministry in a variety of places, here and in the USA, as a monk, chaplain, assistant priest in a parish and an active academic, the common thread linking my vocation is certainly celebrating the Liturgy and Sacraments with a wide variety of people. I have enjoyed the task of helping others make connections with the Word of God and their own lives. However, one aspect of ministry that constantly challenges me, and opens my eyes to the workings of God on so many levels, is the task of accompanying the seriously sick and dying on their last journey.

TOWARDS ANOTHER HORIZON

I don’t know about you, but the TV adverts about non-religious funerals such as those that try to get us to part with money for a pre-paid funeral celebration really get on my nerves. We are told by a cheerful, usually partying, white middle class actor, that their funeral (or that odd term ‘passing’!) must be devoid of gloom, doom and any of the fuddy-duddy rituals surrounding religious funerals! They are so manicured, suggesting that once we have died all will be well, and that money that might have been ‘wasted’ can be used for a really good party or to get others something! All of these adverts seem, at least to me, to miss several very important points about our life and its death. They focus on money, goods, wanting to hand on things to the children and grandchildren. But they never deal with the deeper, darker side of our lives; the reality that death, ending, cannot be manipulated but has a starkness and poignant grief which hurts and needs time to sort through. We need to challenge their breezy approach and go back to the horizon Jesus puts before us in the Gospels. We need to see death for what it is, and to be prepared for it, because all of us will face its inevitability. We must not hide it, nor be afraid!

JESUS CHALLENGES US TO LET GO

Throughout this Sunday’s readings we hear another drum beat. The preacher in our first reading is stark, reminding us that we cannot take anything when we die. So perhaps we need to get used to ‘letting go’ of a greed for goods, objects, even people. Yes: ‘Vanity of vanities,’ says Qoheleth, ‘Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2). When I have ministered to the dying, I have always been very aware of this part of the task, literally to help them let go and not to be afraid of that final act; but careful also to hint that letting go is also our first step into the arms of God.

Each time I go through this, I am reminded of all my loved ones; of those animal companions, my beloved cats; of objects so much loved, my icons, books, chalice, a family heirloom, all I have had in my home over the years. Yes, nothing is mine for ever in this world. Yet I do not lose them. I gain something else where they mean something. Those words of Jesus in the Gospel, ‘Take care to guard against all greed; for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions,’ (Luke 12:14) show us what true stewardship is about: the stewardship in love of each other and of our battered and hurting world; the stewardship of the weak, the poor and of all animal life now in our care! To be on our guard against greed has a positive side too, for it means to understand the uniqueness of what we have; to know what is there; to really appreciate the treasure that each thing is; and to know that it is safe and loved in God’s hands.

JESUS CALLS US TO LET GO IN THE RIGHT WAY

So, let’s be positive. Another meaning is here in our scriptures today. Letting go does not mean loss. It means in human terms handing on in trust to others. In terms of our own end, it means to remember that Jesus came to bring life, that his resurrection is a victory, that the Kingdom is real. Letting go means a leap into joy without end where all that we have loved will be found again. May these words of great hope from Colossians remain firmly fixed in our minds; ‘For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory’ (Colossians 3:4,5).

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