Lenten Series: “Having Our Mind Transformed Into the Mind of Christ”, Sermon #4–Surrender
Surrender: The Faith to Let Go
By Kristen Rae Nelson
Millard Community Covenant Church—March 26, 2017
Philippians 3:4b-14; Luke 9:18-27
One of the quirkiest and most memorable field trips I remember taking as a Junior-High student was a trip to the circus. My fellow students and I piled into the “big top”, as it was still called back then, smelling popcorn and hotdogs. We were dazzled by the vendors that hawked glow sticks and stuffed animals. There was excitement in the air as we waited for the show to start. And then, when it did, there was all sort of pageantry and wonder that we had never beheld before! Fire-eating men, lion-taming women, contortionist twins. But the greatest and most grand act of all—the act that the entire audience waited with baited breath to see—was the flying trapeze artists.
We watched as the pair climbed the sky-high ladders to their platforms, far apart from each other on opposite sides of the circus arena. They were so high-up, they seemed like ants! Slowly and methodically, they each took ahold of their trapeze bars. And then, with great bravado, they leapt in tandem into thin air, swinging towards each other on the suspended bars!
With my breath held and my eyes wide, I remember watching them swing. The greatest moment of their act—the moment everyone in the audience waited for—was the moment when one of the trapeze swingers would decide to let go of his bar. As soon as his hands left their grasp on the trapeze swing, he would soar through thin air with nothing to hold him up but faith and courage, trusting completely that his partner will be swinging from the other side at the perfect time to grasp his extended arms, and bring him to safety. The whole audience focused on that moment—that moment of letting go.
We who are walking the road of discipleship, the Christian life, have a word for that moment of “letting go”. We call it “surrender”. “Surrender” is letting go of one thing in order to reach out in trust for another thing. It’s that moment of letting go of something in ourselves in order to grasp new life in Christ. Do you know what this kind of “surrender” feels like? Have you felt the fear, the exhilaration, the courage, the trust, and the relief of letting go, swinging through the air, and being caught by the strong and capable and trustworthy hands of Jesus? Do you know what it’s like to surrender?
As we walk through this journey of Lent, discovering what it means to have our minds transformed into the mind of Christ, we quickly find that the road we’re on leads us to a place of surrender. Our journey leads us to a place of letting go of our own mindset, and taking hold of the mindset of Jesus. We find that as we walk with Jesus, as we learn more about Him, as we trust in Him, that the walk of faith we’re on is all about surrender—that moment of letting go.
Jesus taught us what surrender looks like. In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul uses the ancient Christian hymn to remind the early church that Jesus was the One who refused to hang onto heaven, but instead released His grip to come and be with us—all the way into death. And in that self-emptying love, He is raised to new life in the resurrection. “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name…” (Philippians 2:6-9)
And Jesus made it clear that His form of surrender—letting go of even His own life—is what He expects from His followers. In Luke 9:23-24, He said, “’Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’”
This whole business of “denying yourself” is a pretty difficult teaching, isn’t it? I mean, if there’s anything we don’t want to do, it’s that!
As many of you know, I love watching HGTV, a home improvement television station. One of the shows that I often watch is called “Tiny Home Hunters”, which follows people who are interested in purchasing homes that have received the designation as “tiny”—these home are usually under 300 square feet. I remember watching one show, as the prospective female buyer was walking through a 100-square-foot tiny home with her real estate agent. As she peaked into the bathroom, she remarked to her agent with an exacerbated look on her face, “It’s okay, but really—I definitely need two bathrooms!” I’ll never forget the look on that realtor’s face!
Just like that woman shopping for a closet-sized home—but with two bathrooms—we often have a hard time with “denying ourselves”. We’re more into affirming ourselves, satisfying ourselves, celebrating ourselves, and getting what we want!
The Apostle Paul challenges us to look not to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. He teaches us to listen to the call of Jesus to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him. He challenges us to let go of that self-centered, arrogant mindset, to let go of our desires to “do it my way”, and to grab onto Him—surrendering to His way.
This business of surrender is a daily occurrence. When we begin walking with the Lord, we’ll soon notice that “letting go” becomes a basic life-pattern. It turns into the fundamental mindset by which we live. We let go of what we hang onto so tightly, so we can take hold of Christ. “In Christian discipleship, letting go of our own prerogatives, surrendering ourselves to Christ, becomes the ordinary pattern of our daily lives.” (“Living with the Mind of Christ” by James A. Harnish, p.31)
Remember—Jesus said that anyone who tries to save their life will lose it. If we try to hold tightly to our life—our plans, our hopes, our dreams—they’ll shrivel up in our tight grip of self-absorption.
It’s like the bunch of bananas that my 5-year-old niece Eva got ahold of. She had wanted to get a banana for herself, but couldn’t quite get one separated from the rest of the bunch. Her solution was to attempt to use brute force—squeezing the bananas with her hands, as she attempted to rip them free of each other. Now, anyone who’s ever dealt with bananas knows that what she—and the rest of the family—was left with was a bunch of bananas with severely bruised skins, and squishy middles.
Our tight grip on our life doesn’t produce life—it produces death. It produces, in essence, bruised and battered fruit. Life can only come when we let go of our tight grip, and are set free in the arms of Christ. Life comes when we let go of our own self-interest, and are caught by something so much larger—the love, grace, and abundant life of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul knew what it meant to let go, to surrender, in order to gain so much more in Christ. In Philippians 3 he gets personal with the early Christians, describing what it meant for him to let go of his own plans and prerogatives, in order to take hold of the new life being offered to him by Christ. Paul had a lot going for him in his previous life—a lot to “hang onto” with a tight grip. He had prestige, power, education, and probably even wealth. But, he says, he let go of it all, lost it all, because of Christ. “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:7-10)
Paul surrendered—he let go of the things that he was holding onto so tightly in his life—so that he could hold onto Christ. Only when his hands were free of his old life was he able to grasp onto the new life being offered to him by Jesus. And only then was he able to begin his journey of transformation and growth.
Today, we are being called to let go—to release our tight grip on all the things that we “think” are important, and to turn to Jesus, who is holding His hands out to us, ready to catch us. We’re all holding onto something different today. We’re all being called to “release” something that only we know is a hold on our hearts. What is God calling you today to let go of, so that you can take hold of new life in Christ? What surrender is the Holy Spirit leading you to, so that you can continue on in your discipleship?
Family, this thing I can assure you of—that when you let go, when you surrender, Jesus will be right there, ready to catch you. Will you surrender today? I pray you—and I—will. Amen.
(*This sermon series for Lent is adapted from the book, “Living with the Mind of Christ” by James A. Harnish. Many ideas have been used from this helpful book.)