No Charge for Baggage
Scripture: Matthew 10:10-15
I am happy to see all of you here today and I feel privileged to be the “preacher of the day.” I think there would have been more people here, but when they saw the sermon title on the marquee, they said: “I know what he’s going to say; I’ve heard it all before, so I think I’ll stay home and work in my garden.”
Here’s what I think THEY think I will say on this topic: That lots of us have lots of baggage, but God doesn’t care how much baggage we have. He loves and accepts us. Ok. That IS what I am going to say, but with a whole lot more words (wait! Don’t leave!) and I hope a couple different perspectives.
The first thing those travelers up Van Aken need to know is: I’m NOT talking about baggage for the journey into the NEXT life! I’m talking about right here, right now. Here’s what Rev. Cam Miller has to say about that:
As far as I am concerned,
and this is just one man’s opinion,
way too much about Christianity is invested
in the other side of that choice.
I think it is an enormously profound act of faith
to be engaged in a spiritual practice
that pays no attention
to the other side
until we get there.
it seems to me that the primary act of faith
is to trust God with the unknown
and focus on this side
without anxiety about the other side.
First, let’s make a distinction between REAL baggage and metaphorical baggage. I’m embarrassed by both. When I tell my wife I’m just going to our little house in Pennsylvania to cut the grass, I can see her looking at my huge overnight bag, my fishing equipment, my books, my computer, my chargers (can’t go anywhere without chargers), my grass cutting accessories, lots of food, my hedge clippers and my chain saw (in case a tree has fallen across the driveway) and you get the idea. I’m sure she is thinking: HOW long are you staying? That kind of baggage is certainly a symptom of the metaphorical or spiritual baggage that this sermon is mostly about (what does it say about me that I can’t go anywhere without a book? –or a cell phone?).
Back to spiritual baggage: There’s the baggage of the PAST—the things you’ve done that you feel guilty about and can never forgive yourself for. We can easily paraphrase Psalm 51:3 to read: “The weight of my offenses is before me always.”
Then there are the secrets that you are harboring about yourself—the stuff you’d die a thousand deaths if people knew, (but most people see it anyway). Sneak a cigarette, a drink, a subscription to Cosmopolitan? Rev. Richard Rohr calls this hidden self our “Shadow Self.”
Then there are the annoying character flaws and habits you (after all these years) still carry into your everyday life: maybe the inability to pay attention to your spouse’s instructions beyond the first sentence; or your annoying practice of starting to clean the house and wash the dishes before the last guests have departed, giving a clear message that they should have departed an hour ago in your humble opinion; or the way you don’t anticipate what someone might need (how about those people who stand and talk in the doorway so that no one else can get into the room?), or the problems you have expressing your feelings, cleaning up after yourself, or tearing yourself away from constant working so that you can have a meaningful, intimate conversation with someone—again you get the idea.
There is also the baggage that comes from the way you were raised, from your ‘parent tapes,’ as one psychologist calls them.
I keep thinking of the rich young man in Matthew’s Gospel, a man who had kept all of the commandments (or at least the ones that Jesus quoted for him) all his life, and who had everything money could buy, and yet he found an empty place, a vacuum, a painful absence: “What else do I lack?” he whimpers to Jesus. “Well, if you want to be perfect,” Jesus proclaims, “Go and sell all that you possess and give it to the poor, and come follow me.” In other words, get rid of, or at least get detached from, your baggage!
Would one way of detaching from our baggage be to use the gifts that are contained in it for the benefit of others? Does it matter if we get paid for those gifts? For example, suppose I have the gift of music. I’m proud of it. Let’s say I’m a concert pianist. It’s a gift. I’ve worked hard to perfect it. I have lots of piano concertos memorized. I’m 27 year old Yuja Wang born in China.
Now how can I give such a gift away? Isn’t it a matter of how I approach that gift? Of how I am looking at that piece of baggage from heaven, even when I am on stage playing with an orchestra? Consider being a member of our choir. It’s one thing to be going up those steps in the sanctuary, knowing I look good in my new suit and tie, and knowing my voice will sound good and blend in well, and I know the notes for a change; and IT’S QUITE ANOTHER THING to forget all that and sing as a ministry, as Dale Hukill and Willie Wright challenge us to do, asking God’s spirit to sing with and through me. Isn’t that to detach from some of my wealth, some of my baggage?
Subtle, I know. Not much difference–or does such an approach make ALL the difference?
Let me tell you the story of Slomo. This is a true story, about a doctor, a neurologist, I think, who had it all, had risen to the top of his profession, lived in a mansion, drove both a 12-cylinder BMW and a Jaguar. But he felt suffocated by all this baggage! And so when his vision started to go, he resigned, moved into a studio apartment near a beach, and his main task each day was to skate! –in line skate, With his one arm pointing ahead of him and one leg lifted up and pointing behind him. People didn’t know who he was. Some thought he was homeless (but with really nice skates). They called him Slomo. He felt he was simply doing what he wanted to do. But he also found that such skating gave him the feeling of flying. He felt he was both connected with the center of the earth and WITH GOD, free at last.
And there’s the reason for dealing with our baggage, this union with God. What can we do with our baggage? Well, some of us may need professional help to deal with it. Others of us can find healing in Eckhart Tolle’s admonition NOT to confuse our life situation (with all its baggage) with OUR LIFE, what Rohr calls our “TRUE SELF.” Most of us can practice letting go of our baggage by meditating daily, using a mantra as our only word, returning to it whenever our mind wanders. It’s a practice of being in silence with no words (and therefore, no baggage).
But how, you ask me, are we ever to transform the world as Jesus commissions if we are dealing with our own and other people’s baggage?
I don’t know. I DO know that some people are transforming the world by taking in other people’s baggage, some of it or all of it, just like God does for us, for NO CHARGE. Here, I think of many of you who are doing just this. For example, a woman not from this congregation told me recently, she took her son back into her house after he came out of prison, with full knowledge that she didn’t know what the future would bring, but with the certainty that she was being called to do this for her son.
Others have used their gifts of understanding and tolerance like a baggage train or carousel at an airport—to assist others in carrying their heavy loads, and maybe to sell or unload some of them. I’m thinking here of the professor we recently interviewed in a Skype call from Israel. She went there to teach Palestinians and Israelis the concept of “peaceful coexistence,” which they are now calling “shared life” (because of all the baggage contained in the phrase “peaceful coexistence”). She feels that her work has made a difference if someone who was vehemently focused on his/her own position, moves from that simplicity to the complexity of knowing there might be another way, some common ground. –From simplicity to complexity—who would have named that success?
From the outside looking in, some people’s baggage looks like clothes tied into knots or an onion (to add a metaphor) and this baggage can be untied only if they will allow their mind and heart to experience a new insight. For example, as some have written who have moved out of their fundamentalist vision, if you have been interpreting the Bible all your life as a literal expression of God’s law, as a how-to book, every word of which is inspired, and now you can realize that the Bible is a collection of books, all written by different people at different times in the world’s history, and that each one of them had a culture, a perspective, and a message to communicate. If you can do this, you may have peeled away a layer of baggage.
Unlocking your heart, your pre-judgments, even your religious and political opinions is extremely difficult. It can feel like dying and leave you confused and floundering at first. But it can be a wondrously liberating feeling of getting rid of baggage. “Let’s rent a dumpster,” I said as I contemplated the state of our basement. Or: As I related in our last Bible study when we were considering that wonderful passage on the Faithful or Valiant Woman in the book of Proverbs (chapter 31), it is so wonderful and liberating to realize that that chapter of Proverbs is a poem. It is a poem TO women, NOT a proscription to make women feel guilty as it is trotted out and read in churches on Mother’s Day, or applied to some valiant mother who has died, making every other female in the congregation wonder how THEY are measuring up!
But it turns out that this sermon title is only partly true. This IS a charge for baggage, an exorbitant charge, a terrible charge. The baggage we carry from our past abuse, sins, unkindness, jealousy, revenge, short sightedness and a ton else has been carried with us. The rich young man in the Gospel felt it as a great hole in his heart: What do I lack? This baggage has weighed us down and poisoned relationships. It has been suppressed so that we can tolerate ourselves, but that suppression is known by every psychologist to cause myriads of problems—like a volcano that keeps building pressure until it finally spews destructive smoke and ash and fire.
And the thing is, the wonderful thing, the price of admission, the gift of faith and hope is: God uses our baggage as if it were a gigantic plot in a love story. God uses it to curb our arrogance, encourage us to reach out and say: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of [eternal] life!” Our baggage turns out to be the stones that enable us to hop across the raging stream of life into the loving arms of God. “You mean You PLANNED all of this?” we might ask God. “Well,” he might say, “Let’s just say I used it to get you to me.”
Can you imagine a God, who, with a twinkle in his eye and an upturned mouth, welcomes you and your pile of suitcases filled with baggage, saying: “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden , and I will give you rest! Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). That is, take my baggage. It is light and it will make you feel wonderful to carry it! Without him, we can do nothing and with him, we can do all things (As Paul writes in Phil. 4:13 “I can do all things in him who strengthens me”). God wants to heal us NOW.
I’ll bet the people zipping past this sermon title in our front lawn had no idea that it would be reduced to a number of paradoxes: if you have baggage, let it go or let God carry it; if you don’t have so much baggage, look to help someone else carry theirs. God has carried everyone’s and we may be called to help him with it. Some people have shoulders, spirits that big…
So here’s the sign posted by God at the doorway to a deeper spiritual life.
No charge for baggage; if you haven’t been able to let it go, I want you to let me carry it:
Your hurts or wounds from the past
Your sins and addictions
Your relationship baggage between spouses, parents, and other relatives
Your fears and worries.
“Come, all you who labor and are burdened, and I shall give you rest.” We can say Amen to that, right?
But now, God says, I expect you to carry MINE.