Lenten Community Sermon - What are We Carrying THAT For?

Isaiah 53: 3-6   Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Hebrews 10: 11-25       April 10, 2019

“Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Prayer:  Holy God, let us, in our sanctified state, be people who reflect your life living in us.  Amen.

Some of you know that I was born in Hawai’i and lived there for the first ten years of my life.  I remember going to the beach a lot, practically every Sunday afternoon.  We’d get home from church, eat a quick lunch, and my parents would load up the car with a picnic dinner, and off we’d go.  I remember all I was responsible for was to take was my towel.  Mom and Dad packed everything else.  Then we moved to Illinois when I was almost 10 years old— in the middle of winter—that’s a whole ‘nother sermon!

So, the beach wasn’t part of my life again, until many years later, until after I got married, had kids, and moved to Pennsylvania.  And, believe me, I had an eye-opening awakening as a young parent taking kids to the beach!  So long to the good ol’ days of ‘going to the beach with only a towel!’  Instead, WE (because you know parenting is a “we” proposition) took the playpen, sand toys, regular toys, baby bottle, baby bag, baby blankets, baby stroller, not to mention the goggles, the boogie boards, nerf football, umbrellas, 2 lawn chairs, and so on.  Half the time I grumbled, “What are WE carrying THAT for?” All the games, the toys - weighed me down. Except when it came to the cooler—I understood why we carried that!  No, why I carried that!

But, once I got to the beach, once the car was unpacked, and the stroller unloaded, umbrellas set up, and mom and baby daughter were settled, four year old son and I enjoyed the blessings of the beach.  The warm waters.  Body-surfing waves.  Pleasant breeze.  Putting on goggles looking at fish.  Ah! The memories of Hawai’i  come flooding back.

Of course, going to the beach meant carrying physical objects, but as always, the physical life has its parallels in our spiritual lives.  So, let me ask us—what spiritual baggage do we carry around that weighs us down?  What gets in the way of us being authentically redeemed people of God?  People whose lives are blessed because our Savior bore our infirmities?  Our Savior who carried our diseases?  Who was wounded and crushed for our iniquities and transgressions?

If Christ truly bears our sins, carries our spiritual baggage, what are WE carrying them for?  Seriously.  If the redemption of the whole human race took place, and we are healed and made whole, we have no business holding on to our sinful baggage.

But we do, don’t we?  Erika Bentsen is a Daily Guideposts author tells a story of how she gave up crossword puzzles last year for Lent.  She describes herself, little by little, letting her love of crossword puzzles take a dominant role in her life.  She said that she got to the point that if she found a crossword puzzle anywhere, she would drop what she was doing, and do the puzzle.  Often, she would put things off to do a puzzle.  Sometimes she would pretend to listen when someone was talking to her when really she was working the crossword puzzle.  She would bring home the classified ads just for the puzzle inside.  Erika started making decisions to accommodate her habit of doing crosswords.  She craved doing them.  She didn’t realize how addicted she had become.  She realized that she had been serving crosswords like a god, wasting so much time on games

That’s the insidiousness of sin.  It can be subtle.  It can be clever.  It can quietly pull you in without you even knowing it.  Ericka had to start asking herself, “Whom do you serve?  Or, better, what do you serve?” Really.  So, she decided to give up crossword puzzles for Lent.  That was last year.  Her giving it up helped her re-shape her priorities in life, not just for Lent, but going forward.  Once she did permanently, she found new freedom to do other things.  She no longer is in a rush to do the puzzles.  She no longer craves them.  Instead, she chose not to carry the sin of making a god (with a little “g”) out of something other than God “with a big “G”)  in her life (Bentsen, Erika, Daily Guideposts 2019, Guideposts, NY, 2019, pg. 108).

So, let me ask you—how many of you gave up something for Lent?  [show of hands]  Excellent!  Good for you!  Lent gives us the opportunity to give up something because it mirrors the hard work we must do of making God the only God we worship, which, of course, means we must make the moral decision consciously to give up things in life that get in the way of God and living out God’s ways.

I wish we as a culture, as a society, as people of faith, would do the hard work of giving up sins that we continue choosing to carry in life.  I mean why do we continue carrying the sins of racism, supremacism, exceptionalism?  These are sins.  And they stem from the belief  and the feeling that there is superiority of one race, of one people, of one society over another, which often results in discrimination and prejudice towards others.

We separate people out, we discriminate, but God does not.  So, what are we carrying that for?  Seriously.  If Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin, why do we hang on to these?  Those sins are supposed to die out in us because we’re supposed to be perfected by Christ for all time.  We’re supposed to see Christ in others, aren’t we?

In her book “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography,” Kathleen Norris tells a story that comes from a Russian Orthodox monastery.  A seasoned monk, very accustomed to welcoming everyone, all the guests, says to a young monk, “I have finally learned to accept people as they are.  Whatever they are in the world, could be a prostitute, or a prime minister, it is all the same to me.  But sometimes,” the monk continues, “I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?’”

We are all human beings, friends.  We are all one species on this planet.  We are much more alike than we are different.  The beauty is that we are diverse, and Christ died for all of us.  Christ took on the sins of the world - everyone in it.

So, why do we continue to practice the sins of exclusivism?  And, homophobia-ism?  And misogyny and male chauvinism?  The #MeToo movement is calling out the sins of sexual oppression.  What are we carrying these for?  I mean seriously.  If we identify with Christ’s death, then, don’t we have to make a moral decision  not just giving exclusivism up for Lent, not just suppressing it for a while… but instead, don’t we have to put it on the cross where Christ died? Where it is supposed to die out from us?  Doesn’t the gospel speak words that set people free?  Not words that keep them in their chains!

The list goes on and on… violence, bullying, cheating to get one’s kids into college (what is up with that?) … even in our churches, denominationalism often says “my church is the right church.”  What are WE carrying THAT for?  Don’t we know that God is at work in many churches with such differing ideas and theologies  because God is reaching as many people as possible through all of our churches?  Don’t we know that there are other religions in the world because God is reaching others through them?

Two Sundays ago I shared what Raimon Pannikar, a renowned scholar of religion had to say.  He used the analogy of the world’s great rivers.  The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges all nourish the lives of those who live near their banks.  One flows through Israel, mostly nourishing the Jews and Muslims, one through Rome for Christians, one through India for Hindus.  None of these rivers meet on earth, but evaporated waters from each meet in the heavens, he said, and form into clouds that rain down over all the earth.  In the same way, religions of the world remain distinct on earth, but they meet in God.  They morph into the Spirit, which is then poured out into innumerable lives all over the world (Taylor, Barbara Brown, “My Holy Envy,” Christian Century, March 13, 2019, p. 29).  Isn’t it time that we put the sins of denominationalism and religism on the cross?

I believe we have to do the hard moral work of putting our spiritual sins and baggage on the cross, letting Christ’s crucifixion kill off the “isms” we carry.

And, God is present in this holy work we do.  And in Christ, God opens the doorway to a full, abundant life for us.  We can approach God with all of who we are.  Jesus bore our sins, so our hearts become true and pure.  Our consciences are sprinkled clean.  And we find God’s beach.  We find the blessing of the warm water, and the breaking waves, and the pleasant breeze.  We find the wonders of God’s beautiful, metaphorical Hawai’i in our spiritual lives. Or whatever it is for you.  It may not be the beach.  You may find God’s mountain resort.  You may find God’s beautiful fields of bloom.  You may find God’s presence in your family room, living room, in your kitchen, in your church.  Wherever you find the wonders of God’s grace.

And, the door opens for Christ to rise in you.  So, that you may live, but not you; instead, it’s Christ who lives in you, and the old you is gone. It is  permanently changed going forward.  Easter is coming. Easter is here. You have a new life.  You have Christ’s strength to draw on… he overcame all our griefs and sins to bear. 

So, it’s time. Time to unload our baggage.  Give up our sins..  Time to live life anew in Christ.  Amen.