Psalm 51: 1-17
I love to travel. My best friend and travel companion – who also just happens to be my beloved wife Nancy – with whom I am well pleased – and I love to travel. We’ve been to London, England – twice to Germany – Belgium, the Netherlands – Greece and Turkey – Israel three times (I’ve been there four times) and Egypt – and just this past Fall – Kenya and Tanzania.
Only once in our many flights did we lose a bag, and fortunately that happened for Nancy on a flight to Buffalo – and we were able to reclaim her lost bag the next day.
Others I understand are not so fortunate. Maybe some of you have lost bag nightmares that you can tell. Now, as fearful of that happening as we might be – I understand that – according to the airline industry – 99 and a half percent of all checked bags find their way to their destination on time. Of the one half of one percent that go missing – 95% of those find their way home within 5 days.
However – have you ever wondered where unclaimed baggage ends up? You know – stopped at a red light with nothing else to do – and you start wondering, “Where does all the world’s lost luggage go?”
Well, anyway, did you know that there is a place in Alabama called the Unclaimed Baggage Center? It’s a 50,000 square foot retail store. This store contracts with the airlines to purchase unclaimed – and I would hope luggage that has no way of being traced to the rightful owners – but they purchase these lost pieces of luggage. And business is booming! Anybody can walk into this store and buy items that people have lost because their bags have been irretrievably lost in the airlines’ baggage claims systems.
Now you can imagine some of the stuff they find in this lost luggage. There’s the typical stuff like clothing and other essentials. But sometimes some of the things they find shock and surprise them. Dead things. Living things. Smelly things. Illegal things. I understand that one time they cracked open one bag to find a live rattlesnake!
I want to suggest to you tonight that you and I carry around a lot of baggage. SO let’s talk about that baggage, and what we can do with it. Now, I’m not talking about the physical baggage that you take with you on a trip. No. I’m talking about spiritual baggage – sin and guilt baggage and all that other baggage that we carry around with us every day. And just like we might be careful about what we pack into our physical bags when we take a trip – we carefully pack our sin and guilt bags as well.
Sometimes the stuff that we pack into our sin and guilt bags is heavy. Heavy stuff. Abuse that we’ve suffered. Brokenness. Some secret sin from the past. Some addiction or un-confessed sin. Something of which we are ashamed. Baggage that we’ve carried around with us for so long – or maybe I should say for far too long – that we might even have become used to it. Quite frankly – sometimes I think we’re even afraid to let go of some of that stuff!
But I want you to know that you are not alone in carrying around unwanted baggage. We all – every single one of us – carry around with us the shame and guilt of past mistakes. Everyone of us.
And what’s true for us is true of everyone you read about in the Bible. For instance, there’s the story of King David. The greatest king that Israel ever had. His suitcase was full of sin.
One of my favorite Psalms is the Psalm we read together a few moments ago. This is a Psalm written by David. Listen again to how he cries out to God for forgiveness – for relief from having to carry around a suitcase full of sin.
He says, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!" (Psalm 51:1-2).
He recognizes that God is a God of steadfast love, and abundant mercy. And quite frankly—he has no one else to turn to after he realizes the enormity of his sin. I won’t recount the entire story for you tonight – because – well, I retold the whole story last year on Ash Wednesday – but if you want to read the whole story – read about the baggage that David carried around – you can find the whole story in the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. You don’t have to write that down. I included that reference in the line below my sermon title in your worship bulletins. But that does mean that you have to take your bulletin home with you, unless you have a steel trap memory.
Briefly – King David has been called out by the prophet Nathan for hooking up with Bathsheba – the wife of Uriah – and then arranging for the murder of her husband Uriah. David is desperate. He knows what he’s done. He knows that it’s wrong. And he knows that without Gods’ forgiveness he will not be able to live with the guilt and the shame and the pain of what he has done. He needs a place to leave this burden behind – a place to leave this baggage so that he can move on. And in the process, he writes this beautiful Psalm of repentance.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your bountiful Spirit.”
Let me suggest to you that this is a great place for us to start too. You already know that Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are a time when we focus on confession, repentance and forgiveness. Not that we don’t focus on these now – and forget about it the rest of the year. No. But I think that tonight is a good time and a good thing to stop and check out what’s in our bags.
So what’s in your bag? Let’s take a look. Maybe you’ve got one of these bricks that you’re carrying around with you. (One by one pull out the labeled bricks that are in the backpack. Name each one, one by one.)
You see, don’t you? The things you carry around are like the bricks in this backpack. And with these come the weight – the scars – the shame – the silence – that often come with these things that weight you down. This night – this Lent – let me invite you to drop these bricks – drop the bag that’s holding these bricks. Lay them at the foot of the cross.
But let me be very clear about something. The purpose for doing this –the goal that we are reaching for – is not to pick them up again! Leave that baggage behind – unclaimed, unmarked, and ready to be picked up by someone else.
What you need – what you and I need – is a porter – someone to carry this baggage for us. And you know who’s going to do that for you, don’t you? The whole purpose of our being here tonight is to come here with our bags packed – and to leave those packed bags here at the foot of the cross. Because here – at the foot of the cross – is where we find what David discovered he so desperately needed. God’s love. God’s mercy. God’s forgiveness. The joy of God’s salvation.
Leave them here. Unclaimed. Stay with me in this metaphor now – leave them where they’ll make their way to Alabama – where they will be bought by someone else. And that someone else of course is Jesus Christ.
He will take your unwanted baggage – and carry it to the cross. And there he will pay a price so high that it covers the cost of every sin-stuffed suitcase that you and I have been carrying around with us for far too long. He will give his life in exchange for every single piece of baggage that's been weighing you down.
On the cross, Christ will become the new owner of your sin and shame, bought with his blood, which means you are now free to leave it with him, the one person in the world who can own it, claim it, carry it, and not be completely crushed by it. That’s how it works.
Now in case you’re thinking, “Yeah, but Randy, you don't know the kind of stuff I'm carrying. I've got crazy stuff, insane stuff, kinky stuff, evil or downright disgusting stuff buried in these bags I'm carrying.” And maybe you’re thinking because of that that it's too much even for Jesus to handle.
Listen. If some store in Alabama can handle snakes in suitcases without a problem, don't you think the God of the universe can handle what you have hidden and have been holding onto? It's not as if you're going to surprise him. He already knows every burden you bear, every sin you're struggling with. The issue is not whether God can handle what you're carrying. The issue is whether you'll trust Jesus – whether you'll take these things to Jesus and leave them at the foot of the cross.
So let me suggest that you take inventory. Open up that baggage you’ve been carrying around, and then say to yourself, “I will not lug this thing around anymore.” Go ahead, say that with me. “I will not lug this thing around anymore.” I will lose it. I will abandon it. I will give it to someone who can handle it. I will drop it at the feet of my crucified Lord. I will leave it at the foot of the cross.”
Do that once, and then feel free to repeat as necessary. I have it on good reference that Jesus is accepting baggage all year round.
And then – and then – once you've experienced the freedom that comes from walking through life with a little less weight on your shoulders, be sure to spread the word. Tell others about a place where they can go to to leave their burdens behind – about a person to whom they can turn who will gladly bear those burdens for them.
By the way, the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama manages to add more than 7,000 items to its inventory every single day. That's a lot of lost stuff. Perhaps you're wondering, “Maybe that's where my favorite shirt and my rattlesnake are?”
Maybe. But even if you're one of those who has never lost their luggage, there's still time to join the club. The club made up of those who have left their baggage with Jesus at the foot of the cross. Hey! He’s cool with that. He’s already paid for it – bought and paid for by his own blood.
So lose that baggage. Take it and leave it with Jesus. No name. No tag. No questions asked. Your baggage is forever lost and gone. And he promises that you’ll never see it again.