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Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. Headshot

It's Time To Lose Our Luggage

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We are concluding yet another year of hurts, disappointments, joys and even triumphs. But I want to really not as an oxymoron begin 2012 with a new mind and to loose all the baggage that has prevented me from walking in my destiny. The worst thing we take with us into the New Year is resentment against another. Forgiveness is not something we owe to each other. It is an act of worship to God.

How many times have you stood patiently at the baggage carousel, watching the luggage track spit out piece after piece of luggage, but never yours? Why is it, when all chance of my suitcase ever showing up is long gone, I feel compelled to stand there and watch the few remaining orphan bags circling aimlessly, as if believing that my stuff is going to suddenly materialize before my eyes if I stare hard enough? But it doesn't.

It's happened again. The airlines have lost your luggage. The good news is that eventually they almost always find your bag and attempt to send it on to you. (Despite all my traveling, I've only really "lost luggage" once.) The bad news is that lost luggage has an uncanny sense of timing, managing to show up either just as you are about to head for the airport for your flight home or, worse yet, showing up about 10 minutes after you've left for a new destination. Some pieces of luggage have been known to follow frequent fliers around for weeks before finally ending up back in their owners' possession.

Losing your luggage can be one of life's most annoying, discombobulating, fuzzy-toothed inconveniences. Savvy travelers have learned never to check through crucial papers, regularly needed medications, or all their socks and underwear. It's just too risky.

But sometime in the next couple of days as we eat our last helpings of black-eyed peas, we should all make a conscious, exerted effort to "lose our luggage." Most of us are far more bogged down with baggage than we may even realize.
  • How many extra pounds of grudges are you packing around?
  • How many handbags of animosity?
  • How many flight bags of resentment?
  • How may rolling bags packed with revenge?
The apostle Paul urges the Colossians to so thoroughly live in Christ that they can finally "put to death" old attitudes and agendas (3:5). The texts offer Colossian Christians specific ways they can achieve this goal. They are to "clothe" themselves with "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience" (v.12). An active expression of these attitudes is stipulated when Paul counsels them to "forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you" (v.13).

This call to forgiveness, Paul declares, is not really an optional request. Forgiveness isn't something Christians should extend to one another just because it's a "nice" thing to do or because it will promote peace within the body of Christ. Paul makes the connection between divine forgiveness and human acts of forgiveness a bit more explicit than that. Paul insists that "as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (v.13).

Forgiveness is not something we "owe" each other. Forgiveness is not something we can truly "offer" each other. We have the capacity for forgiveness only because God has first forgiven us. Without first experiencing God's forgiveness in our lives, we have nothing to offer anyone else. Any act of forgiveness we have become capable of extending or expressing to another is directly related to an act of worship to God. We acknowledge God's forgiveness of us and extend this divine gift of forgiveness to others as part of an act of worship to God. By forgiving others, we offer a genuine Christian form of worship to our God, who saves us through divine forgiveness.

God knows that as imperfect human beings, it is hard for us to let go of our carefully guarded, well-worn bags of resentments and old hurts. Each of us has names and faces of individuals that we simply cannot imagine being able to forgive.
  • How can we forgive a relative who molested us?
  • How can we forgive an ex-spouse who maligns us?
  • How can we forgive a thief who has stolen precious memories from us?
  • How can we forgive a murderer who has taken a loved one from us?
  • How can we forgive a people that has enslaved and oppressed us?
  • How can we forgive a corporation that uses our talents and then discards us?
  • How can we forgive a parent who abandons us?
  • How can we forgive a child who destroys us?
  • How can we forgive stupidity, hatred, bigotry, cruelty, greed, gluttony, war, waste, poverty, pollution, slavery and the holocaust?
We can't. In fact, we often prefer the old adage, "Don't get mad; get even." Or, as Ivana Trump puts it in her cameo appearance in First Wives' Club: "Don't get even; get it all." The truth is, we can't forgive unless we remember what forgiving is not. Forgiveness is not forgetting; rather, it is choosing not to actively remember.
  • Is not saying to the other party: "You're OK." Rather, it is saying, "I'm OK, and I am willing to let God deal with whether you're OK; and if you're not, how you can become OK."
  • Is not saying, "I don't feel the pain anymore." Rather, it is saying, "I do not feel the need to hold on to your involvement in my pain anymore."
Forgiveness is turning to our forgiving God in worship and praise and offering ourselves and all our loathsome luggage to God. It is God who forgives, and as we worship God, it is the divine forgiveness that pours through us and fills us with a forgiving spirit. We must depend on God to take our baggage and to send it to a destination where it will never find us again.Paul's letter to the Colossians offers one other bit of advice that should bring us up short in 2012 when we find ourselves busily packing away plans for revenge or plotting ways to get even. "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus" (v.17).
  • Can you honestly swear to "get even" with a liar or a cheat "in the name of Jesus"?
  • Can you openly declare eternal hatred for one who has wronged you "in the name of Jesus"?
Many of us feel compelled to make New Year's resolutions that we optimistically carry with us into the New year. But few of us stop and consider the load we already have packed and ready to go. The worst we can do is to take these bags bursting with old grudges, unforgiven acts or unmerciful attitudes with us into the new year.

We can achieve this goal because Christ has paid the ultimate price in forgiving our sins on an old rugged cross. This example of unmerited suffering is the greatest example for us to loose ourselves for the sake of our community in being renewed, refreshed and rejuvenated as we begin a New Year of unprecedented possibilities.