Visit. Every. Disney. Theme park.
That has been at the top of my bucket list since EPCOT opened in 1982. Until then, in my head Walt Disney World was really just East Coast Disneyland, but when this whole new world opened up, I knew I had to go. Then Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983 and an international destination was added to my list. Just six years later, Disney-MGM Studios opened in Florida and three years after that EuroDisney opened in the Spring of 1992. My list was getting bigger. I finally visited Orlando in 1998, the year Animal Kingdom opened and knocked four of those parks off my list at once. Since then I have been blessed to be married to someone who is willing to indulge my dreams and together we’ve explored every other park except for Shanghai Disneyland which just opened last year. I need to convince Disney to keep opening theme parks. Then I know I’ll never die. By sheer force of will, I’ll have to live long enough to check those off my list, too!
But I don’t want to be remembered for my bucket list.
I don’t want people to evaluate my life on whether or not I achieved everything I hoped for. Because as long as I’m alive, I’ll probably keep adding to the list. Meeting the cast of Star Wars was a huge one. Never thought THAT would happen. Now I’ve added Scarlett Johansson to my list. Walk the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere. Check. But now I’d like to sing a duet with Lin-Manuel Miranda. No matter what happens, I’ll keep adding things because it’s good to have dreams. It’s good to have hopes for the future. But it’s also good to know your limitations and accept them. Sometimes we hold on to impossible dreams and let them define the success or failure of our lives and that’s not how it should be. Even Jesus knew that. Today we’ll be reading from Luke 9:1-6 so if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phones, if you would go to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, verse 1. Here’s the funny thing. In the time right before our reading begins, Jesus performs a series of amazing miracles. He literally dissipates a storm, drives out a demon from a man’s body, raises a girl from the dead, and heals a sick woman. But what happens next is beyond his ability. Think about that for a moment. It’s beyond his ability – the Son of God can’t do it.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
Not even the Son of God could make people believe.
For all of his power, for all of his might, for all of his love, not even Christ could convince everyone to believe. God wants us to come to faith on our own, but that means free will. That means there are limitations. Because we can always choose not to follow. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from trying. He still makes plans to move ahead. He simply knows there is only so much he can do. Instead of wasting time trying to convince everyone in every place, he maximizes his time and the time of his disciples by preparing them for what’s to come. He gives them super powers. Literally. These guys are like the Biblical version of the Avengers. They have the power to cure disease and drive out demons, but as for making people listen? They have no more power than the rest of us. But Jesus relieves them of that guilt. He tells them, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” “Shake the dust off your feet” is like making a gesture with your hands as if to say, “I wash my hands of it.” Basically, Jesus was telling them that there was only so much they could do and they needed to move on. The responsibility was no longer theirs.
But we have a hard time letting go.
We have a hard time accepting there are some things we just can’t do. Especially when we feel like we should be able to do it or that we used to be capable of it. It’s crushing to accept our limitations. There’s something in us that hates to fail. We tend to take it personally. But what we don’t often realize is that if we wait too long, we might miss out on other opportunities. Place yourselves in the shoes of the disciples. Imagine being in a town that didn’t want to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. You spend your time talking to the townspeople, going to meetings at the synagogue, eating meals with others, and despite your best efforts nothing happens. Jesus would tell you, shake the dust off your feet and move on. But instead you feel like, “I can do it. If I just keep trying eventually I can turn this around.” And that might be true, but how many people have you sacrificed because you were unwilling to move on? We have this mentality that if we save just one person, then it’s all worth it. But is it? Is it worth it to save one person if we let five others die? Or ten? Or a hundred?
Nobody likes to admit failure.
But the only failure is to recognize a chance to do something with the time we have left. The only failure is to recognize a chance to do something with the time we have left. It’s time to modify the bucket list. How many of you ended up in the career that you dreamt of when you were six? Maybe a lucky few, but for most of us we ended up doing something else. When you’re a kid, you dream big. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Dreams and hopes drive us to do things a logical person would say is impossible. The most innovative and imaginative things wouldn’t have happened without dreamers. But as in all things there must be balance. You have to know when to shake the dust off your feet and move on. That isn’t failure. It’s making a choice to do something else. So many times in life we mistake strength for weakness. Compromise, apologies, forgiveness are qualities seen by many as meek, mild, and timid. But the bottom line is they aren’t. Those are qualities that help people to grow and move on. Being stubborn, unapologetic, and unforgiving simply anchor us in place, make us intractable. Those aren’t traits of the courageous. Those are traits of the weak. It takes real strength to have enough character to move forward. It takes real courage to admit when you’re wrong.
What is it in your life you need to let go?
What are you persistent about that perhaps you shouldn’t be? What are you unwilling to give up that if you did might bring you greater happiness? People have been divorced over their unwillingness to let something go. People have lost their lives over their unwillingness to change. People have ruined their relationships because they couldn’t change before it was too late. I had a friend who was dating this guy who was completely wrong for her. I mean completely. But every time she threatened to break up with him, he would swear he would change. And he did. For about a week. And then the same things kept happening over and over again. And I told her, he isn’t going to change unless you leave, because as long as you stay he has no incentive to change. Maybe he will change after he realizes he lost you, but you need to let him go for your sake. I wish I could tell you that she left him that day, but she didn’t. Eventually, they broke up and she is so much better off. As for him? I don’t know. But I do know that because she was finally willing to let go, her life is better. But wouldn’t it have been great if she had let go in the first place?
Sometimes letting go is the best and toughest thing to do.
One of my best friends’ dad was battling cancer. His dad was one of the nicest, most loving men I knew. He had been battling it for years and it went into remission for a pretty long while, about five years, and then it suddenly came back. He tried chemotherapy. He tried radiation. He tried surgery. But it was too wide-spread. I remember when my friend told me his dad decided to stop treatment, my heart sank, so I could only imagine how hard that must have been for him. Imagine, because I know I can’t understand the pain that his family must have been going through. But they knew it was the right decision. Fighting it might have given him another year, but it would have been a miserable year. The doctors told him that his kind of cancer wouldn’t give him very much pain and he would be able to do most things right up until the end. So that was the path he chose. Instead of fighting against the inevitable, he gave in and made the most with the time he had left. Bucket lists are great. But we also have to know when to let go of what we hope for and make the most of what we have. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.