Letting Go

“Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” (Philippians 2, the Message Translation)

I’ve always wondered what Jesus really was getting at when he talked about losing your life as the way to find it. That image, that invitation, that command to some kind of life of losing doesn’t seem attractive. Intriguing, maybe, but not attractive. Yet this is the word of Jesus that has haunted me more than all his others during this time of our country’s racial reckoning, at least its beginning.

As Christians, and in particular as those who’ve committed ourselves to follow Jesus, our primary symbol is a cross, and our primary call is to cross-bearing. And this is self-sacrificial work, because we bear a cross not for ourselves, but for others, for the love and well being of others. In the midst of a world and culture obsessed with power and wealth and privilege, ours is a call to let go of things for the sake of Christ, following Christ. And this is particularly tough for those of us who in this world have much power, wealth, and privilege.

Maybe what Jesus means about losing life to find it has to do not with dying a physical death as much as letting go of our living selves, of crucifying, or as my friend Bret Widman says it, being discipled out of our power, wealth, and privilege so that we can focus instead on helping others, loving others, serving others — and in these things working toward a just and right world.

I’m thinking about this a lot — that maybe denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Christ is not meant to be a punishment, not a miserable life — but rather life’s truest joy and meaning after all. That in letting go and losing ourselves there is a free and open space to care deeply and serve the needs of those who are and have suffered. There is freedom in losing ourselves in the sorrows of our neighbors. And there is the chance to honestly repent of what has been, without needing to make it about ourselves and become defensive.

As The Message has Paul saying it, “Put yourself aside.” This is the way of our Lord Jesus, and our way into the pain and suffering of our African American sisters and brothers. We choose as those following the cross-bearing way of Jesus to bear their pain, and to lament with them injustices of the centuries. We choose as those following the cross-bearing way of Jesus to acknowledge our part in this unjust system, and to work for it’s change. We choose to offer up our power and privilege to Christ in hopes of helping others get ahead. We choose to love, and with some imagination and hope work together for God’s Kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done on earth.

All this depends on our willingness to let go of ourselves and live a New Life in Christ for the sake of others. As God says through the prophet Amos, “Do you know what I want? I want justice — oceans of it. I want fairness — rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s ALL I want.” (Amos 5:24, the Message)

May God help us in these our days of life, to let go of ourselves and lean into God’s Holy Work of restoration, of reconciliation.

Peter Hawkinson

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