The Way of Surrender - Reservoir Church
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The Way of Jesus

The Way of Surrender

Steve Watson

Nov 12, 2023

This Way of Jesus series we’re in is a look at what people call discipleship or spiritual formation. We’re talking about the most enduring qualities of the life and teaching of Jesus and asking what this means for us, as we try to find peace, as we try to live more just and joyful and flourishing lives. 

And any discussion about the way of Jesus has to reckon with the two most famous things about his legacy. One is that he was crucified, executed. And the other is that his followers claim he rose again. 

So this week and next, I want to talk about the way of death and the way of resurrection. Not so much what that meant for Jesus – what happened and why? And not so much for the theological meaning of these events – what do we learn about God or how does our connection with God change as a result of Jesus’ death or resurrection. That’s important. 

But death and new life aren’t just events in the life of Jesus, or in the life of God. The Way of Jesus talks about these things with participatory invitations, like crucifixion and resurrection, death and new life, surrender and victory, are patterns in a life of faith we are all invited to. 

So next week, we’ll talk about the way of resurrection. 

And this week, the way of death, or as I’m calling it, the way of surrender. 

Let’s read a text I’ve often thought of this fall. It’s one of the turning points in the story of the life of Jesus the way it’s told in the book of Luke. It’s from the 9th chapter. It goes like this. 

Luke 9:51-62 (Common English Bible)

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to prepare for his arrival,

53 but they did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.

54 When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

55 But he turned and rebuked them.

56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 And Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

62 And Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I lead a Bible study on Saturday mornings here, and a week ago, we read this passage together. 

And we were like what in the world is going on here? 

It’s grumpy Jesus. 

Someone’s like – I’m coming, Jesus. Let me join your movement. And he’s like:

sure, if you want to be nothing, have nothing. 

Other people are compelled by what he’s doing but have these reasonable sounding excuses for why they’ll catch up to him later, when they’re not so busy. 

And Jesus seems insulted, offended. 

Jesus has a reputation for love and kindness. Why so serious, so intense here?

Another person in our group was like:

Why is he telling people to follow him? He’s going to Jerusalem where he thinks he’s going to be abandoned and killed. 

What is the invitation here? Suffer with me? Die with me? 

Is the way of Jesus masochistic? A way of death and suffering?

Well, for some people, yes. 

Jesus knew that his message of the Beloved Community, of the coming Kingdom of God, was disruptive to the world as it is. And so for him to speak his truth, to speak God’s truth of life as it was meant to be, was a death sentence. 

And the same was true for many more when these gospels were first written. Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of the life of Jesus were written in the second half of the first century – times of great distress and persecution for Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem and for the early Christian communities throughout the Empire as well. 

Many of the early leaders in the Jesus movement were, like Jesus, executed for their faith. 

A friend of our church from years ago sent me a book that a friend of hers published recently. It’s a fabulous illustrated children’s book called Stories of the Saints: Bold and Inspiring Tales of Adventure, Grace, and Courage. 

There are these two-three page entries about all of these highly admired people in the first centuries of the Christian movement. The book doesn’t try to sift out what in these saints’ lives is history and what is legend, so the stories are epic, fun.

These people choose truth over power and justice over wealth. They do good and love boldly. They have integrity, they’re humble. It’s pretty refreshing actually, because this is not the kind of stuff Christian heroes are famous for anymore. But in the end, they suffer.

Now these people – in the legends – are hard to kill. Sometimes the soldiers sent after them become followers of Jesus instead of arresting them. Or they’ll be thrown to the lions and the lions will curl up for a snuggle. But eventually, power finds a way, and they’re killed, martyred for their faith. Like Jesus was. 

So you know, at times the way of Jesus has been a way of suffering and death, of literally taking up your cross as Jesus did. And since that was so common in the early decades of the faith, the gospel accounts in the Bible prepare people. 

They’re like: be ready to follow Jesus to death.

Nowadays, we have to receive this message with some caution. 

Some religious people have a persecution complex. Anytime someone speaks ill of them or doesn’t do things their way, they call this persecution. But not having power, or being criticized or resisted for your meanness is not persecution, it’s not the Way of Jesus. It’s natural consequences. 

There’s another caution we might think about. Which is that suffering in the Way of Jesus has sometimes been expected of people who already have suffered enough. Christena Cleveland has said, for people with privilege, the way of surrender is great. Give up power, yield to someone else. But for people of color, she says, we don’t need more of the way of surrender. We and our ancestors have suffered enough, thank you. We need power. We need the way of resurrection. 

I find this helpful as we meditate on surrender and resurrection in the Way of Jesus. The way of surrender isn’t for everyone, all the time. Sometimes suffering is just bad, best avoided. So next week, the way of resurrection.

But I’ve been thinking about at least three ways the way of surrender has power for us all.

One is that sometimes, we face opposition for doing good. Let’s call this like martyrdom, Extra Lite.  

A friend of my mine was telling me about a conversation she had had a work. She had asked a co-worker some appropriate but hard questions about the improvements their company had committed to, and he was incredibly defensive. Kind of persistently so too. That was obviously discouraging to her. Is it worth it to do the right thing at work, if it just makes your life more difficult?

And I quoted this line to her about Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem. Or really, the poem in the Hebrew scripture of Isaiah that it probably alludes to. There’s a lot of poems about a servant of God in Isaiah that sometimes gets compared to ancient Israel personified. But sometimes Christians have also seen echoes of the life of Jesus in these servant poems too. 

And one of these poems talks about the servant setting his face like flint. Strong, sharp. It says my face is set like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. 

Jesus was steadfast in his purpose to go to Jerusalem, regardless of the suffering he’d meet there. He was steadfast in his purpose, let distractions, opposition roll off of him. 

Grace used to tell our kids when they were young that when someone said something mean to them, they could be like ducks. Let the water just roll off their back. This is an image like that. 

I was trying to encourage my friend – that co-worker’s defensiveness is their issue, it tells on them how much they need to change. Don’t take it in. Don’t let it hold you back from the good work you’re doing, making good changes. 

Friends, when we suffer, it’s not a sign we are out of God’s will or God’s favor. And when we suffer for doing good, we in some sense suffer with Jesus, who’d encourage us: be undefeated. Be steadfast in our purpose. Also, unlike Jesus’ disciples who wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans for their lack of hospitality, Jesus would say, don’t be distracted by your own outrage either. Let that go too. It’s probably not fruitful. 

Just keep going. Let it go. This is the way of surrender. 

This is kind of related to my second set of thoughts, which is about how we do hard things, not just how we face opposition, but all kinds of hard things. 

There’s an empowering way of surrender for this too.

I’m a new yoga practitioner. But I’ve been at it long enough now that I have a sense of the rhythm of how an hour will go.

And there’s this moment like 20, 25 minutes in where things kind of go off the rails. At that point, I’m pouring sweat already – it’s really hot in there. And several times already, we’ve had to sit down but with no chair. It’s called chair pose, really should be called no-chair pose. It’s hard. And we’ve done this several times for just a second or two. 

But then we hit this moment where we have to hold the pose with our lower half, and then kinda twist our body way to the side with our upper half, and just hang out there.

I have no idea how long it lasts, other than too long. It seems impossible to hold this pose. I’m pouring sweat, my thighs ache, my breath is speeding up. 

And then I hear the teacher saying:

surrender. Breathe. Hold here, keep your focus.

There’s nothing like the power of surrender. 

And I slow my breath, and check my technique, keep the pose, the pain kind of washes over, until I realize I can release. It’s over. 

And afterwards, every time, I have to catch my breath. I’m exhausted. But I’m also calmer, more focused – it feels like peace. And I feel stronger, more confident. 

Yogis tell you it works like this because you’re leaning into the experience, and you’re getting free of your resistance. That surrender to what is, instead of wishing for what isn’t, that’s peace. And that’s power.

We can do hard things. And with the help of God and friends, we can do them with a measure of peace, of love, of calm. 

Jesus shows us the way. Maybe he’s grumpy this moment, but he keeps going. He opens up a training clinic, expands his followers from 12 to 72. He teaches people patiently, how to love, how to pray, how to not be a religious hypocrite. He tells the truth about Samaritans – that they’re not the enemy, but that they too are infinitely valuable children of God. He faces immense resistance to his work, greater day by day as he heads to Jerusalem, but he stays connected to his purpose. He stays connected to his heart, emotionally available, healthy, never hides in flight mode or lashes out in fight mode. He has what Palestinian Christians call sumud – resilience. 

The way of surrender honors and imitates this sumud in Jesus. Faced with hard yoga poses, we breathe, we focus our gaze, and we hold on. More importantly, faced with people hard to love, work that is hard to do, families and workplaces and nations and worlds that are pumped full of chaos and pain, we breathe, we focus our gaze, and we do what we can to walk with love and peace.

Friends, the best way I know to try to have this Spirit of Jesus rub off on me is to pray it be so, daily. 

In my morning prayers, I have a variety of written prayers that I use – not all of them every day. But I have a number of them that I come back to. One of them is a prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. 

It’s famous. Perhaps you’ve heard it. Perhaps you’ve prayed it. It goes like this.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

That’s a prayer of surrender, right? Letting go of my need to always be understood and loved. Because I won’t be. That’s true whether I surrender to it or not. 

But the surrender doesn’t make me weaker, it makes me stronger somehow, gives me a better shot of being that peace and love and hope I want to be. 

By surrendering my rights to some things, I feel like God makes room for these better things I want to become. 

I don’t fully understand how this works, but praying it helps make it so. 

For decades, a prayer of surrender has been powerful for millions of us in recovery. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Power to let go of what I can’t change. Courage to go after what I can. 

This is the way of surrender. It prepares us to do hard things. 

Like choosing freedom over addiction.

Or even like dying well.

Friends, I know most of us think death is a long time away, and may that be so. It’s good to live, and it’s good to live long if we can. Thank God for life, every day!

But eventually, we will all die. 

And years ago, a small group of pastors and I studied and talked about the good death. When you’re a pastor, you learn something about good death, because you talk to people about death. Sometimes you visit people as they are dying, sometimes a lot. 

A good death, we all agreed, is to minimize pain and to be with people we love. But it’s more than that too. It’s surrender.

When I was a new pastor here, one of the first members of the community I accompanied in dying was Jim Carson, a man dying of cancer in his early 60s. We held his funeral right here more than nine years ago. In his final months, I remember asking him if he was scared of dying, or what he thought would happen.

He was slower with words at that point. His breath was a little labored. But after a moment, he shook his head no, and then said, “No. I think I’ll lean back into the everlasting arms.” I’ll lean into the everlasting arms of God. Jim knew he’d be OK. 

I don’t know that any of us are ever really ready to die, but when the time comes, if we are, it’s like life’s greatest chair pose – long, hard, painful beyond words. But if we can lean toward God, we get free of our resistance, and that gives us energy for other things – to say things we want to say before we go, to welcome the kindness of friendship of our loved ones, to have peace. 

I think this is what happened when on the cross, Jesus called out the words of the psalm, Into your hands I commit my spirit. 

Surrender. Peace. Right there, in the hardest of things. 

With the help of God, we can do it, friends. We can do it.

Friends, this makes me want to say one more thing about the way of surrender before we close. If we can overcome death with Jesus, maybe we can overcome stagnancy too, the going nowhere, committing to nothing struggle of our moment, for a lot of us at least. 

One of you sent me a speech recently, by the democracy activist Pete Davis.

It was called “A Case Against the Culture of Infinite Browsing.” 

Davis talks about what it’s like when we get on Netflix, spend so long browsing through our options, that we just get tired, and go to bed having not watched anything at all.

Back in the late 80s, my friends and I did this kind of thing at the VCR rental shop.

This infinite browsing seems appealing – so much choice – but it’s actually boring, it’s tiring. Browsing’s not where the art is, not where the joy is. It’s just the hallway to those things.

But what happens if we don’t leave the hallway?

That’s Davis’ metaphor for a lot of life these days. Particularly in communities of so much privilege and wealth and opportunity like ours. 

When it comes to careers, purpose, partners, we feel like we want more options, that it’s good that we have so much dang choice. 

And Davis is like, choice, hey, cool! No one wants to be trapped behind a locked door. But you know what else no one wants? No one wants to live in a hallway.

Davis says:

The most menacing dragons that stand in the way of reforming the system or repairing the breach are the everyday boredom and distraction and uncertainty that can erode our ability to commit to anything for the long haul.

I love that the word dedicate has two meanings— first, it means to make something holy; second, it means to stick at something for a long time. I don’t think this is a coincidence: We do something holy when we choose to commit to something. And, in the most dedicated people I have met here, I have witnessed how that pursuit of holiness comes with a side effect of immense joy.

We may (want to) keep our options open, but I (believe) that the most radical act we can take is to make a commitment to a particular thing… to a place, to a profession, to a cause, to a community, to a person. To show our love for something by working at it for a long time — to close doors and forgo options for its sake.

So good, the holiness, the joy, of dedicated commitment. This, friends, in my marriage, in my work, in friendship, in parenting, has been my experience. 

This now is how I read that bit where Jesus is so harsh with all the excuse making.

“Let the dead bury their own dead.”

Come on, Jesus, what an awful thing to say. 

Unless what Jesus is saying is really, there’s never a great time to commit. There’s always doubt. There are always other options. There’s always the endless fears of what if, would’ve, could’ve. 

But man, who wants to live in a hallway

Davis one more time:

We need not be afraid, for we have in our possession the antidote to our dread — our time, free to be dedicated to the slow but necessary work of turning visions into projects, values into practices, and strangers into neighbors.

There are Jerusalems that need to going to, friends. There’s hard work to be done in our families, in our professions, in our communities, in our democracy, even in our church. It takes money, it takes time, heart, sweat, most of all, it takes commitment. 

But the long, slow work of projects, practices, and neighboring, of doing healthy and beautiful things together is where the power in life is. It’s where a lot of the joy is too. 

One more quote, a poem I came upon, also through my yoga teacher. 

Go to the Limits of Your Longing

Written by Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand

Oh, friends, the hand of God is stretched out to us today, offering us the strength of surrender. Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. 

Nearby is life. You will know it by its seriousness.

Maybe, doing hard things, committing to people, work, causes is serious business. Staying committed to the way of Jesus is too.

But the peace, the possibility, the joy we find in the way. 

Words fail. It’s too powerful. It’s too good. 

One more announcement: 

This is our weekly word this month about our 25th anniversary campaign. 

We started this campaign early in the year to fix up some old infrastructure issues on our property, pay off our debts, and begin new long-term investments in ministry beyond the walls and membership of our church.

We are ⅔ of the way to our total goal of $1.4 million. With the help of this whole community, we hope to raise the final third between now and New Year’s Day.  

We have listened to ideas from the community about how we can spend the large cash flow we free up once our mortgage is paid off from this campaign. We asked for hopes and dreams consistent with our church’s vision to share about and reflect Jesus’ Beloved Community as widely as possible. That listening campaign has resulted in four big areas of hope and possibility!

Last week I shared about encouraging the health and growth of vibrant, inclusive Christian ministries. Another big hope of ours is to make significant investments in community and mental wellness.  

We’re asking: What could our church do to help in our mental health crisis? And what more can our church do to promote spiritual and mental wellness?

This area is a research project, not an action plan at this point. But I’ve been meeting with a lot of mental health and wellness practitioners around this question, and it turns out there is a lot we can do! It’s actually incredibly exciting. 

We’re learning about where the gaps are between people’s need for affordable, culturally responsive mental health care and their ability to get it. And we’ve started conversations with a partner we might be able to work with to help close those gaps around here.

We’re learning about the kinds of groups and workshops and programs we can run for members of the Reservoir community and for our friends and neighbors that will support wellness, help with people’s recovery, empower regular people like you and me to better friends and resources to people in our communities who are really struggling. 

We’re learning about community mental health and wellness volunteers and how to help train more of those.

We’re thinking about spiritual direction and spiritual formation resources, for people who go to church and even for people who don’t. 

Over the next six months or so, we’ll be putting a team together on this and making more concrete plans about which of these opportunities we can move forward with first. But it’s going to take completing this campaign, and freeing up some of our debt payments to make it happen. 

I think we’ve a generational opportunity here for our church to be a huge asset and light in our region. For all those who have pledged and given already, know that we are so thankful. And We’d love it if more of you could pledge or give today. All amounts are welcome, really. We have paper pledge cards on that table in the dome. You can drop those in the black boxes this week or next. There’s also an online pledge form in the giving tab of our website – – where it says 25th anniversary campaign. 

I look forward to sharing more in the weeks to come. You can read a summary of our campaign on the giving tab at our website, and we also have some paper copies on the table in the dome. Thanks for your partnership, really. With all of our help, we can do some great things together.