Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sermon: "Leave Your Baggage Behind"

July 4, 2010
“Leave Your Baggage Behind”

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

If any of you have traveled by airplane recently you may have witnessed the new travel game that people are playing. It’s called, “How many bags can I carry on the plane and how much stuff can I pack into those bags to avoid paying the $25.00 checked luggage fee?”

On a recent trip I took, the flight attendants announced that all the overhead luggage bins were full before the last group of people had even boarded the plane.
For many people the definition of a “carry-on” has broadened to include 2 rolling suitcases, an overstuffed backpack, a purse that is bigger then a small-child, a slew of shopping bags, and a lap top computer bag that is too big to fit under the seat so it too gets crammed into the overhead bin. This is the reason why I never choose an aisle seat when I fly - because when we land I don’t want to be the one sitting underneath the overstuffed luggage bin when all those items that “may have shifted in flight” come crashing down.

This need to carry all our baggage onto the plane when we travel is predicated by 3 things:

  • First, the aforementioned checked luggage fee.
  • Next, the invention of rolling suitcases. Because we’re less likely to drag an overstuffed bag through 4 terminals and 32 gates when we have to carry it rather than roll it effortlessly behind us.
  • And finally, we’ve managed to convince ourselves that we can’t go away for a week without bringing most of our belongings with us. After all, you never know when we might need a winter coat and a bathing suit on the same trip.

Most air travelers today remind me of Mrs. Howell on Gilligan’s Island, who packed 10 suitcases with 200 changes of clothes for a 3-hour tour.

Some of us do make the effort to travel light, but while I carry only one bag onto the plane, I admit that I tend to pack way more in it than I need. I pack my laptop, my iPod, my iPhone, and the power cords and chargers for all of the above, then I add at least 3 paperback books, a handful of granola bars, my water bottle, a change of clothes just in case they lose the luggage that I checked, and I pack a lunch (because I need more sustenance then a tiny package of peanuts).

I carry all of this because delays are inevitable, and I never know how many hours we’re going to have to wait for the plane to take off, and once we’re in the air I need something to distract me from the fact that we’re all crammed inside a metal tube hurtling through space at 500 mph, 30,000 feet above the ground.

The point is, there are many reasons why we carry too much stuff when we travel:
Because we fear we may end up needing something that we’ve left behind, because taking a 2-hour flight can easily become an all-day event, or because we’ve become so accustomed to being surrounded by the convenience and familiarity of our stuff, that we don’t know how to function without it.

In our gospel reading today we hear Jesus’ now familiar command to the disciples that they must travel light as they journey out to spread the message of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

For those of you who were not here last week, last Sunday we began an 8-week sermon series that follows Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem as depicted in the Gospel of Luke.
Last week we heard Jesus harshly rebuke his followers for their lack of understanding of the true cost of discipleship.
He told them that they must leave all distractions behind, including their livelihood, their community, and their obligations and attachment to their families.
But this is a difficult teaching to understand, as one of you shared with me last week – We want to be a good Christians, but are we really required to leave our families to do so?

As we discussed last week, this command seems unreasonable to us, especially given Jesus’ teachings about love and compassion, and the importance of community.
But as with today’s scripture, we must understand Jesus’ command in context. At the time, Jesus had only 12 disciples, and the task of spreading the word of God to all nations was enormous. He needed followers who were 100% dedicated to the task at hand - Followers who were willing to give their lives completely over to God.

The same holds true for us today - Jesus is calling us to give up whatever it is that distracts us from establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth – a kingdom where justice and peace will reign.

If we concentrate only on our familial obligations and don’t make compassion, love, justice and peace our top priority then these things will never be realized here on earth.

But be rest assured, Jesus is not calling us all to leave our loved ones behind, especially if it is the love from our family that fills us up, and spurs us to go out into the world and return that love to others.
Jesus calls us to leave behind whatever causes us to focus on taking in rather than giving out.

And in our gospel story today Jesus calls us to lighten our load even further.

If we look the text in context, we can see why it was reasonable for Jesus instruct the disciples to travel lightly, with no bag, no money purse, not even an extra pair of sandals. Sent out in pairs, the first leg of the journey had them traveling long distances through the territory of Samaria where possessions would not only weigh them down but would also make them targets for robbery. As Jesus said, they were lambs traveling in the midst of wolves.

But the primary reason why Jesus instructed his disciples to travel lightly was to force them to rely on the hospitality of others.
With no bag to carry supplies and no money to buy food or pay for lodging, the disciples did not have the option of withdrawing on their own at the end of the day.
They had to rely on the kindness of strangers to take them in and feed them, and it was through these trust-building interactions that they hoped to spread God’s message.
They were not to be just another group of prophets shouting their message to strangers on the street, but rather they were to take the time to get to know those who took them in, thus making their message more likely to be heard.

Unlike Jesus’ command to let go of our attachment to our families, it’s much easier for us to understand the need to let go of our attachment to our possessions.
Particularly because in comparison to the rest of the world we have so many possessions, and we understand how we can so easily become distracted by the race to obtain and maintain our possessions. Not to mention the extensive amount of time and money it takes to do so.

But there are other kinds of baggage that Jesus calls us to leave behind – our emotional baggage and our spiritual baggage - baggage that is much heavier to carry and much more likely to keep us from becoming the people that God calls us to be.

In his book, “Traveling Light,” Max Lucado writes:

“Odds are, you have luggage in your hands right now. Somewhere between your first step out of bed this morning and your last step out the door, you picked up some overstuffed bags. You stepped over to the baggage carousel and loaded up. Don’t remember doing so? That’s because you did it without thinking. Don’t remember seeing a baggage terminal? That’s because the carousel is not the one in the airport; it’s the one in your mind. And the bags we grab are not made of leather; they’re made of burdens.
The suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent.
You drape a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hanging bag of grief on the other.
Add on a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear.
Pretty soon you’re juggling more luggage than a skycap. No wonder you’re so tired at the end of the day. Carrying all that baggage is exhausting."

We carry our emotional baggage for the same reasons why we carry so many possessions when we travel, because we’re afraid to leave them behind, because they distract us from bigger fears that we don’t want to deal with, and because although they are heavy and slow us down, over time they have become comfortable and familiar - and we don’t know how to live without them.

Jesus’ disciples were reluctant to set down their physical and emotional baggage as well.
They would not only have to leave behind their possessions but also their guilt over leaving their loved ones, and their fear of the dangers they might encounter on their journey.
But more importantly, Jesus was calling the disciples to discard their spiritual baggage - The religious beliefs that kept them from fully embracing his message.
Their beliefs over who and what the Messiah was supposed to be.
Their preconceived ideas about who was blessed by God and who was not.
Their understanding of what rituals they needed to perform to EARN God’s love and forgiveness.

Jesus took all that baggage away from the disciples and instead gave them a simple message to share with others:
God loves you, God loves us all, and we are to love God, and each other, as we love ourselves.
This message was so simple the disciples needed no bags to carry it.

They didn’t need to carry a set of scrolls filled with God’s instructions on how to live their lives.
They didn’t need to carry a ceremonial robe, or a set of fancy silver with which to perform elaborate rituals in God’s name.
They didn’t need to carry a membership book where they could list the names of those who were included and those who were excluded from God’s love and grace.
They didn’t need to construct an ornate building to worship God and to use as a hub for attracting others into their fold.

All the disciples had to do was walk into the world with their hands free and carry this simple message in their hearts and on their lips:
God loves you, God loves us all, and we are to love God, and each other, as we love ourselves.

This message was intended to release the people of God from the spiritual burdens they had been carrying for years. But as we will see in the coming weeks, the people they encountered are often reluctant to let go of those burdens.

In the same way, WE are reluctant to discard our spiritual burdens:
The religious baggage that we’ve picked up over the course of our lives.
The beliefs and the practices we learned in our youth, or subscribe to as adults, that have done more to distance us from God than bring us towards God.
The belief that we will never be good enough to please God, and we must live with the guilt for what we’ve done.
The belief that sin has stained us for all eternity, and God’s grace is only offered to a select few.
The belief that we have no power to enact change in the world, and that we can only sit back and pray for our own salvation.
The belief that only those who follow our conception of Jesus, and our interpretation of the Bible will enter the Kingdom of God.

This is baggage that has weighed some of us down for far too long.
And just as it feels good to clean out our closets and throw out what is no longer useful, imagine how freeing it will feel to pear down our spiritual beliefs to the simple message that Jesus gave his disciples to carry:

God loves you. God loves us all, and we are to love God, and each other, as we love ourselves.

The cost of discipleship is high.
Many of us have been carrying our burden-laden baggage for so long, the handles have left permanent marks on the palms of our hands.
It seems counterintuitive to not want to rid ourselves of what has weighed us down for so long - but letting go is not easy.
We often feel if we leave these familiar burdens behind we will lose a part of ourselves, a part of what makes us who we are.
Our fear, our guilt, our uncertainty over what’s going to happen next, our beliefs that have kept us sheltered and safe.

But this is what Jesus calls us to do - To set it all down at his feet.
Realistically, we may not be able to do it all at once, but we can work intentionally at letting go of one burden at a time, and to trust our family, our friends and God to help us to do so.

With each burden that we release, we come closer to understanding what it means to feel God’s love and what it means to pour out that love to others, as we step onto the road to Jerusalem with a newfound lightness in our hands, in our minds, and in our heart.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

awesome, thanks