Text: Mark 14:32-36
“At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.” This thought by Maya Angelou describes the tension that we have witnessed this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the presence of such violence and hatred that is being played out in our nation right now, how do we discern the wisdom of knowing when to practice resistance and when to practice surrender? If both are indeed honorable, as the poet suggests, how do we discern or recognize the rightful place of each?
In the last 24 hours, tweet after tweet, we have heard from politicians words that are like empty water bottles sitting in the middle of the desert. Of course, “The bigotry and hate and violence on display in Charlottesville has no place in America.” But today, I’m feeling a bit like the person who posted the comment, “I’m getting kinda tired of just setting intentions for peace and love.” As people of faith, we need more right now than tweets from politicians who take to tweeter to say the obvious. As we thirst for justice-love, we don’t need empty platitudes handed to us. We need a path to living centered in this splintered and daily splintering world. We need a path to honorable resistance and a path to honorable surrender, and we need the wisdom to know when it is time to practice one and when it is time to practice the other.
Five of our fellow Pullenites participated in the counter-protests yesterday in Charlottesville. For them, yesterday was a moment to literally put their bodies on the line for their moral and spiritual convictions. Being in Charlottesville, was, for them, a time to resist. Clinton, Tony, Elena, Beñat, and Bryan. They are here this morning and I have asked them to join me in a sermon conversation as we try and understand these two paths: resistance and surrender.
(You may listen to the podcast to hear Rev. Nancy interview 4 of the 5 Pullenites who were in Charlottesville)
So here we are, in worship, holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, asking the question, “What does our faith say to us about Charlottesville—about standing against injustice while learning how to practice spiritual surrender?”
Most often we think of surrender as giving up. Throwing in the towel. Waving the white flag of defeat. But hear me clearly this morning, spiritual surrender is not resignation. It is not a defeatist or fatalistic attitude or a posture of no longer caring. It isn’t going numb to the suffering and pain of life and of this world. Spiritual surrender is an act—a practice—of abandoned trust. And the key to this abandoned trust is answering the question: To whom are we surrendering?
Think for a moment of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Having led a movement of resistance—resisting hatred, violence, bigotry, xenophobia, exclusion, religious righteousness, political power and oppression, nationalism—after leading a movement of resistance of all those things for a world centered in justice-love, he kneels down in the Garden and prays, “Abba, Father/Mother for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not my will, but yours.”
“…yet, not my will, but yours.” That is spiritual surrender. Knowing to whom we are surrendering is the key to living a centered life in a splintering world. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan Friar, writes: “The life of faith is learning how to rest in an Ultimate Love and how to draw upon an Infinite Source. On a very practical level, you will then be able to trust that you are being held and guided. In fact, you can trust after a while that almost everything is a kind of guidance. When you doubt the possibility of guidance, you’ve just stopped the flow. But if you stay on the path of allowing and trusting, the Spirit in you will allow you to confidently surrender…” to Ultimate Love—to God.
I must make a personal confession: my tendency to surrender, if I consider surrender at all, most always comes at the end of a struggle. My thinking goes like this: after I have done all I can do, then it is time to practice spiritual surrender. But Rohr challenges me and maybe you if you are share my tendencies. He writes: “I am saying that what first comes to your heart and soul must be a yes instead of a no, trust instead of resistance. When you can lead with yes and allow yourself to see God in all moments, you’ll recognize that nothing is ever wasted.”
Spiritual surrender is not waving a white flag in defeat. Spiritual surrender is saying yes to Ultimate Love, and raising the white flag of faith before heading to Charlottesville, while risking resistance on Jones Street, when battling cancer or living with mental illness, and when we lay our heads down at night and close our eyes for rest from these weary days.
What we have to come to grips with, in the face of all our Charlottesville’s, is the reality that “God is not a problem solver.” But when we can surrender to God’s spirit, then God is in the problem, and a part of the problem and we are more able to see possibilities and solutions. I don’t know about for you, but that’s helpful for me to hear. If we can surrender our will, to what God represents, Ultimate Love, and trust in that Ultimate Love, then we can widen the frame. We can glimpse a deeper truth, a longer view, a wider angle. Yes, bigotry and racism are wrong. Yes we should challenge those viruses among us. And, there is a place and a season to surrender to God, who is Ultimate Love. We are all God’s beloved. If we go back far enough, or forward far enough, there is only that love. And so when we surrender to that love, we are not only practicing our faith, we are living our faith.
Surrender, resist, resist surrender, surrender to resistance, but ultimately know, our faith requires abandoned trust in God’s Ultimate Justice-Love. A life of faith will always place us on a path to resist hatred and violence. And, a life of faith will also embrace white flag moments. May we grow in the wisdom to know when to march and when to weep, when to protest and when to lie down, when to resist, and when to surrender.