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Another Sermon for Wittenberg. July 5, 2014.

July 5, 2014

My family and I have been traveling in Europe for almost three weeks now; we’ve had a wonderful time but got off to an inauspicious start. Our flight out of Minneapolis was delayed by a thunderstorm, which meant we got into Reykjavik two hours late, which meant that we missed our flight to Copenhagen and were sent instead to Amsterdam on our way to our first stop, Budapest. This was fine – a little challenging with three kids under five, but we did that to ourselves. The airlines were helpful and friendly and we arrived safe and sound.

The only real hitch was that our luggage didn’t get the memo regarding our changed flight plan and decided to go on to Copenhagen where it spent the night on holiday. Without us. This had a few consequences. First, it meant that task number one in Budapest was finding a place that sold toothbrushes; much-needed toothbrushes. Second, it meant that the shirt I had worn traveling and I had to spend more time together than was good for us. Third, it meant that our bags had to be delivered, the next day, from the airport to the flat we had rented.

Again, no problem, except that the luggage delivery guy couldn’t find a place to park anywhere near the flat. So he and I walked to the truck and grabbed the bags. It only felt like half a mile or so as we walked to the truck, but I swear it was nine or ten miles walking back. Because while the delivery driver picked up the two strollers we had brought, I was left to carry my big backpack and my wife’s big backpack, each weighing over forty pounds. And because the straps were all tightly bound together so that they wouldn’t get tangled up during air travel, I wasn’t even able to put one of the backpacks on my back. So I lugged them, one in each hand, back to the flat – nine or ten miles away, I swear. Now I know you can’t tell because of these vestments, but I don’t spend much time in the gym. I’m not equipped to do such lifting. I made it, but all I wanted to do the entire time was take a break and lay my burden down. If I knew how to say, “Can we please, for the love of all that is good and holy, please take a break,” in Hungarian, I would have. As it was, I kept going until we made it, lugging baggage that I’d packed myself, until I could finally, muscles spasming, screaming against me, put it down.

Of course, if this is the worst thing that happens to me during a month-long trip to Europe, I’m doing just fine. Not that big a deal. But it got me thinking – What are we carrying around that we wish we could find a way to lay down, to drop, to let go of? What have we packed for ourselves that we are now burdened with as baggage?

Each of us has come here this afternoon bearing burdens. We have made mistakes that haunt us; we have seen cherished relationships broken and we don’t know how to mend them; we have been burdened with illness and sorrow and grief; we have witnessed and been victimized by evil in the world and feel powerless to do anything about it; we have added our own sin to the world’s problems and don’t know how to stop doing so. Even when we want to, as Paul wrote to the Roman church so long ago, we don’t know how. We can’t find the way to do what we want to do, to do what we know is right, and in spite of ourselves find ourselves doing the very opposite instead. And all the while, the baggage gets heavier. Our muscles scream against us, but we don’t know how to lay it all down.

Into this situation, into this mass of humanity lugging around its own baggage of self-packed sinfulness, its own suitcases filled with the burden and the fear of death, its very life being weighed down by the power of the devil comes Jesus. Jesus, who says to us as he once said his friends, the disciples: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Comforting words, once they break through our barriers. And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Because deep down, we like carrying the burden. We like to imagine that we can dig down deep and find within ourselves the strength to do so. This is what we are taught and what we believe in so many ways. That we can do it ourselves. I think that’s why Jesus speaks of hiding such things from the older and wiser and instead revealing them to children. Our three children teach us daily about what it means to have faith, and this is especially true of the youngest, Torsten, who is nine months old. He cannot yet feed himself, clothe himself, walk by himself, change his own diaper (wouldn’t that be nice?). He is totally dependent upon us, his parents, and, amazingly, he is okay with that! He has no need to prove anything, to show how strong he is. He just needs to receive what he needs, and does so willingly and joyfully.

This is the sort of faith to which Jesus gracefully calls us, to let us know that we don’t have to do it all. That those things that are most needful have been done for us by a loving Father would do for an otherwise helpless infant.

As we worship this night in Wittenberg, we are reminded that the great joy of the Gospel comes when we can finally lay down the baggage and the burdens that we’ve been lugging around all this time. After all, that’s really what Luther and his friends were up to all those years ago. It wasn’t about right theology, although that was a nice side effect. It was about the fact that the medieval church, instead of preaching grace for the laying down of burdens, was instead burdening people with ever more fear and anxiety. People were taught to fear their sins and the God who would surely judge them. People were told that they would have to purchase the joys of heaven for their loved ones through indulgences. People were given more tasks to do – penance – in order to find forgiveness.

What Luther and his friends realized – duh! – was that none of that was the Gospel, for the Gospel is always and ever an easy yoke and a light burden, calling unto the weary to lay it down. As the Lutheran theologians Robert Kolb and Charles Arand write in their book, “The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church:” “The Reformation Luther led with his colleagues at the University of Wittenberg arose out of the crisis of pastoral care that plagued the late medieval church.” Luther knew that the church was making it worse for people instead of better, and he helped craft a proclamation that would help people know that their burdens had been lifted. Or, as the great theologian Queen Elsa, from Disney’s “Frozen,” tells us, we can finally let it go.

So what baggage did you bring here tonight? Under what weight do you struggle? Hear again the words of our beloved savior, Jesus: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Stop trying to lug it all around show off how strong you are. None of us is strong enough, and none of us needs to be. For Jesus Christ has entered this world to live, to teach, to love, to heal, and finally to die for us to take our burdens upon himself. Look upon the cross of Christ and see there your sin, put away forever. Look upon his death, and see your resurrection to newness of life. Look upon his seeming defeat at Golgotha, and see instead the destruction of the power of the devil and all the forces of evil. Look upon the cross, and lay it all down.

One of my particular addictions is to soda. In the States, I go through more soda each day than I care to admit. But I long ago traded my Coke for Diet Coke. Of course, here you can’t get a Diet Coke. Well, you can, but that’s not what it’s called. It’s called a Coca-Cola Light. I’ve traded my Coke for Coke Light. Jesus offers us a similar invitation, taking our Yoke and giving us instead a Yoke Light.

The heavy lifting has already been done, for you, in the grace of the cross. Your sin has been lifted from you. The weight of death is nothing compared to the lightness of resurrection. The power of evil is empty, defeated. Come unto him, my friends, who has come to you in grace. Come in faith, and trust the One who loves you enough to give his life for you. Come, hearing words of pure grace, and lay it all down. Amen.

From → Sabbatical 2014

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