Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sermon: "Leave Your Baggage Behind"

Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church Of Amherst, NH
July 8, 2012

Mark 6:1-13

“Leave Your Baggage Behind”

If any of you have traveled by airplane recently you may be familiar with the new travel game that many 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 that 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 a large rolling suitcase, an overstuffed backpack, a purse that is bigger then a small-child, a slew of shopping bags, and a king sized pillow. 
This is the reason why I never choose an aisle seat when I fly - because 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.

Our attempts to carry all our baggage onto the plane when we travel may be influenced by our desire to avoid additional fees and long waits at baggage claim, but many of us tend to over pack to begin with, because we’ve convinced 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.

Some air travelers today remind me of Mrs. Howell on the TV show 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 carry my laptop computer, my iPad, my iPhone, and the power cords and chargers for all of the above, then I add at least 3 paperback books, a sandwich, a water bottle, and a change of clothes just in case the luggage that I checked gets lost.
I carry all of this because with today’s inevitable delays, 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 inside a metal tube hurtling through space at 500 mph, 30,000 feet above the ground.

The truth is, there are many reasons why we carry too much stuff when we travel:
We may fear we’ll end up needing something that we’ve left behind, or 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 lightly as they journey out to spread the message of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
This is nothing new for Jesus, as we know he chastised those who were overly attached to their possessions.

But if we look at the text in context, we can understand why it was reasonable for Jesus instruct the disciples to travel lightly, with no bag, no food, no money, and not even a change of clothes.

They were sent out not in groups, but in pairs, and the first leg of the journey had them traveling long distances through the potentially hostile territory of Samaria, where possessions would not only weigh them down but would also make them vulnerable to the bands of robbers who frequented the back roads, just waiting for unsuspecting travelers to happen by.

But while Jesus may have been concerned about the safety of his disciples, it’s likely that the primary reason why he instructed them to travel lightly was to force them to rely on the hospitality of strangers.

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 the local residents to take them in and feed them, and it was through these trust-building interactions that they would ultimately spread the message of God’s love that Jesus had commissioned them to share.

It’s likely that Jesus did not want his disciples to be just another group of traveling prophets shouting a warning about God’s wrath to strangers on the street, but rather he wanted the disciples to take the time to get to know the people they were teaching and ministering to - to eat with them and spend several days and evenings with them, to learn their children’s names, to listen to them talk about their joys, and their frustrations…
…because we’re much more likely to listen to what someone has to say, and trust that their words are spoken with sincerity, when we’ve taken the time to get to know them, and when they’ve taken the time to get to know us.

Jesus instructed his disciples to travel lightly, and we are called to do the same. To step outside of the bubble of familiarity and comfort that we normally travel in and to instead open our hearts and our space to include what is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

On a 5-hour plane ride, there are those of us who would rather spend the time reading a book or listening to music than talking to the stranger in the seat next to us.
But Christianity teaches us that love and fulfillment cannot be found in our possessions and the distractions they offer to us, but rather love and fulfillment can only be found in the relationships that we build with others, and with God.

We may lighten our load by leaving behind the physical baggage that we don’t really need, but Jesus calls us to leave behind our emotional and spiritual baggage as well.  Because this kind of baggage is much more difficult 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 describes how we all carry this baggage without even realizing we’re doing it. Lucado writes:

Odds are, you have bags in your hands right now. Somewhere between your first step out of bed this morning and your last step out the door, you walked over to the baggage carousel and loaded up.
Picking up a suitcase of guilt, and a sack of discontent.
You draped a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a garment 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 move forward without them.

Jesus’ disciples were reluctant to set down their emotional baggage as well.
The guilt they carried over leaving their loved ones behind, the fear of the dangers they would encounter on their journey, the uncertainty of not knowing if following Jesus was the chance of a lifetime or a huge mistake.

The disciples were also reluctant to let go of their spiritual baggage  -
The religious beliefs that kept them from fully embracing Jesus’ message.
Their beliefs regarding who and what the Messiah was supposed to be.
Their preconceived ideas about who was welcome in the Kingdom of God.
Their understanding of what they needed to do to EARN God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.

Jesus gathered up all the baggage that the disciples were carrying and set it aside, and in its place he gave them a simple message to carry out into the world:
God loves you, God loves us all, and we are to love God, and each other, as we love ourselves.

All the disciples had to do was walk into the world with their hands free, and carry this message on their lips and in their hearts.

This message was intended to release the people of God from the spiritual burdens they had been carrying for years. But as we know from reading the stories of the gospels, the people the disciples encountered were 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 and carried over the course of our lives.
The beliefs we learned in our youth, or adhere to as adults that have done more to distance us from God than bring us towards God.

The belief that we are too sinful and broken to be redeemed.
The belief that God’s love, grace, and forgiveness is offered only to a select few.
The belief that we have no power to enact change in the world, and we can only sit back and pray for God to make things right.
The belief that only those who follow our interpretation of the Bible and our conception of Jesus’ teachings will be allowed to enter the Kingdom of God.

This is baggage that has weighed down many Christians for far too long.
But just as it feels good to clean out our closets and discard what is no longer useful, imagine how freeing it would feel if we pared 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.

It seems counterintuitive to not want to rid ourselves of what weighs us down - but letting go is not easy.
Some of us have been carrying this baggage for so long, the handles have left permanent marks on the palms of our hands.
We may 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 the future,
our restrictive religious beliefs that keep us sheltered and safe.

But this is what Jesus calls us to do - To set it all down at his feet.
To release our burdens to God and carry only God’s love into the world.

Realistically, we will not be able to let go of it all at once, but as we journey forward we can work on letting go of one burden at a time,
and trust our family, our friends, and God to help us to release our grip on what we no longer need.  

With each burden that we release, we come closer to understanding what it means to truly feel God’s love, and what it means to reflect that love back into the world.

 With each burden that we release, we come closer to walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
We set out on an unknown road, carrying only what Jesus has given us.
The promise of God’s grace, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the compassion of Christ’s presence.
And as we grow into seasoned travelers, we will discover that this all that we need.


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