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New Beginnings

By Rev Julie Yarborough

January 1, 2006

Luke 2: 22-40

[ Audio (mp3, 2.3Mb) ]

couple weeks ago I was listening to Public Radio as I was driving in my car, and I heard the end of an interview with a woman who has just written a book on Feng Shui. Now I donít know a lot about Feng Shui, but I understand that it is an Eastern philosophy of how you decorate your house and place your furniture in order to best tap into the energy of the universe. She said something that was really fascinating to me. She was talking about clutter in our homes, and how clutter keeps us from tapping into lifeís energies, into that universal force. And she talked about the need to clear out clutter in order to make ourselves ready for new possibilities in our lives. She was talking about physical clutter. And she talked about people who have financial trouble and how if you clear out stacks of old bills or receipts that are just accumulating in your house (either file them away, or just toss them, shred them, whatever) that you can open yourself up to new financial possibilities.

She talked about a woman she had worked with who was desperately wanting to get married, but there was no one in her life. And so she helped her clear away figurines of single women in her house that she said were taking up space and that they were impeding her access to ďcouplehoodĒ. I donít know if that works, but it sounded like an interesting theory to me, and I began to think about the spiritual and emotional clutter in our lives that gets in the way of our tapping into the possibilities of new opportunities in our lives. And I do think that there is something to that, clearing out of clutter in order to be open to the new. So as a New Yearís resolution this year, Iíve already started clearing out clutter Ė physical clutter Ė in our home office. We spent all day Friday working on it, and it felt good just to get rid of some of that stuff and do some cleaning and organizing.

So, back to spiritual clutter. I think that there is a need to say goodbye to things that are holding us back from fully experiencing life. What kinds of emotional or spiritual clutter are we holding onto? What do you need to let go of in order to make room for new possibilities in your life, as this new year is starting?

One of my favorite books is by an author named Joyce Rupp. The book is called Praying Our Goodbyes. Iíve used it a lot with the womenís retreat. She has some really practical exercises for saying goodbye to old grief or loss Ė things that hold us back from experiencing life fully. She says that saying goodbye is seldom easy, but it is part of life, part of our daily life. We say hello and goodbye all the time, everyday. We say hello when someone walks in the door, we say goodbye when our spouse leaves for work or our children leave for school. Our lives are a process of saying hello and saying goodbye, and you can think about that on any level.

As I was preparing the sermon for this morning I came up with some quotes that I thought were fun, that had to do with saying hello and goodbye. The first is from T.S. Elliot, from Little Gidding, part of the Four Quartets. ďWhat we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.Ē Hereís another one that all you Beatles fans will be familiar with (Sing along with me!): ďHello, hello! I donít know why you say goodbye. I say Hello.Ē And one from Joyce Rupp, from Praying Our Goodbyes: ďFor the Christian, hello always follows goodbye in some form, if we allow it. There is or can be new life, although it will be different from the life we knew before. The resurrection of Jesus and the promises of God are too strong to have it be any other way.Ē

Joyce Rupp gives four steps in the process of saying goodbye.

The first step is to recognize what it is that we need to let go of. Perhaps itís old resentments or grudges, perhaps itís need for control in a certain situation. Maybe you have emotional scars from your childhood that youíve been holding onto for a very long time. Maybe you have fear or anxiety about something in your life, something thatís coming, for instance, or something that you have no control over. Maybe youíre in an unhealthy relationship, and you need to let go of people around you who are holding you back from doing what you need to do in your life. Maybe youíre in a dead-end or life-draining job and itís time to quit and move on and find something else that gives you more life. Perhaps youíre dealing with old grief or loss from a divorce or a job or a move. Perhaps you need to let go of a person, someone who has died, a friendship that has ended, or a child who has gone off to school or who has gotten married. Maybe itís the loss of health that you need to say goodbye to, or the loss of your youth Ė the aging process is certainly a time for saying goodbye. Or maybe itís simply the image that you had of where you would be in life by this point, or who you would be at this point in your life, and it hasnít been realized. You could come up with your own things that you need to let go of, things that are holding you back from experiencing life to the fullest. Iíll let you think about that.

The second step that Joyce Rupp gives us is to accept the wisdom and necessity of not clinging to whatever it is thatís holding you back, and to realize that it often takes more energy to stay in one place than it does to move on. Consider the image of a hovering humming bird. Do you realize that it takes a hummingbird over 1,000 heart beats a minute just to keep flying in the air? Imagine the energy that is expended by trying to hover in one place, instead of moving on into the new Ė the emotional energy, the psychic energy that we expend just trying to hold onto what we know because of fears of moving on into the future.

The third step is to gather the energy and the will to take action. Again, itís never easy, and it often takes awhile. Itís a process, not something that happens all at once. Prayer can be very helpful in this regard. If thereís something that we need to let go of, praying about it can be a very helpful exercise.

The fourth and final step is to surrender whatever it is, to give it to God, trusting that God will take care of it, and take care of us, and that it is OK to move on. The Holy Spirit is that which enables us to move on, knowing that God is with us. When Jesus left his disciples, he told them (in the Gospel of John) ďDo not be afraid: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, and when I go, God is going to send an advocate to be with you, a comforter, a guide, and that comforter is known as the Holy Spirit.Ē

In our text this morning, Simeon is lifted up as a man who was full of the Holy Spirit. He was in touch with Godís presence in his life. In fact, he was so much in touch with Godís presence in his life that it was the Holy Spirit that prompted him to go to the temple that day in order to meet this new messiah that was coming into the world. And once he got to the temple and greeted the infant Jesus, he knew that his role in life was finished. It was time for him to let go, to let go of his very life here on earth and move on into the life which was to come. He was able to do that because he was so much in touch with the Holy Spirit, with Godís presence in his life.

When I left my last church, in Connecticut, I was reminded of a book that I first read in Seminary. It was a book called Running through the Thistles by Roy Oswald. In the book, Roy talks leaving a number of churches over a number of years, and saying goodbye to people in different churches. In fact he didnít really say goodbye. He was so bad as saying goodbye that he just left. When it was time for him to go, he just went. He didnít want to have any fuss to be made over him, he didnít really people to grieve and he didnít allow himself to grieve. So years later he was feeling an immense grief, and he couldnít figure out where it was coming from. Suddenly he realized that it was all of the grief that he had never dealt with as he moved from church to church. He had never allowed himself to feel the grief that he needed to feel, and to move through it in order to move on. He had just carried it with him. He said it reminded of him of when he was a child and he walked home from school. There was a short-cut that he and his brothers would often take, but it meant running through a field of thistles. For whatever reason, they were often barefoot. They would be coming home from school, and they could take the long way around but it would take a lot longer, so they would run though this field of thistles thinking that if they ran it wouldnít hurt as much. But the thorns would get imbedded in the bottoms of their feet, and it would take a while for them to work themselves out. He said thatís what this process is like when you donít deal with your grief as it comes up. Itís like running through a field of thistles. You think youíre going to get there faster, but the thorns get embedded and it takes a lot longer for them to come out. Sometimes taking a short-cut is really longer, in the long run.

Unresolved grief keeps us from fully entering into the new. And when I talk about letting go of things, you canít just let go of grief without dealing with it; you have to work through it. Sometimes the step of gathering the energy and the will to take action is a really long process because we have to work through unresolved grief. You have to go through the pain and the sorrow in order to get to the other side.

What is it that you need to let go of? What is it that you need to get rid of in order to fully enter the new?

I want to invite you to join me this morning as we enter into this New Year together. When you came in you should have received two pieces of paper Ė green and yellow Ė and a pencil. Iíd like for you to take the yellow sheet of paper, and draw on it a garbage can, large enough to write in. (It doesnít have to be a beautiful work of art, since nobody else is going to see it, just you.) And on the green piece of paper I want you to draw a picture of a suitcase. Now, take the yellow piece of paper, with your garbage can. I want you to think about some spiritual or emotional thing that you need to let go of. What do you need to leave behind, now that the New Year is upon us. Write this in your garbage can as a symbol of letting it. In your suitcase, I want you to think about what blessings you have that you want to carry into the New Year with you. Iíll give you a few minutes to do this. Bobís going to play a little background music while weíre doing this exercise.

When youíre finished Iíd like to invite you to fold up the green piece of paper with the suitcase on it and stick it into your pocket or your purse and carry it with you as a reminder of all the blessings in your life that youíre taking with you into the New Year. Then I want you to wad up that yellow piece of paper, and if you wish, bring it with you when you come up for communion. If you want to destroy it yourself, thatís fine, but if you would like to bring it with you, you can put it into this metal waste basket here, and Iím going to take it outside following the worship service and literally burn it in a grill. Youíre welcome to come with me, if you like. I wonít look at them, I promise, what you wrote here is between you and God; itís a symbol of letting go.

This new year, 2006, brings with it many unknowns, but we can find comfort in knowing that no matter where the new year takes us, God is already there. The Holy Spirit is with us as guide, advocate, and comforter, and with Godís help we can let go of whatever we need to in order to move into the new.

Please join me in prayer. God, help us to release whatever it is that we need to let go of, so that we might fully embrace this new year, so that we might more fully live in the present, and in your presence. Amen.


© 2005 Julie Yarborough. All rights reserved.