Unclaimed Baggage: A sermon on repentance

It’s every traveler’s nightmare: lost luggage. Many of us have been there. We endure a cramped flight, a painfully slow process of deplaning and shuffling down the aisle of the aircraft, snake our way through concourses and down escalators to the luggage area only to discover that ours—for whatever reason—is no where to be found on the suitcase carousel. “Great,” we think. “Just my luck.” And so begins the painful process of trying to track down and reclaim one’s personal baggage.

The airline industry is quick to tell us that the plight of lost luggage is, in the grand scheme of things, quite rare. 99.5% of checked bags are successfully picked up by their owners and of the ½ of 1% that go missing 95% of those strayed bags make it home within 5 days. Not bad considering the millions upon millions of bags carried across the country and around the world every day.

There is however the rare exception. The bag that, despite the exhaustive efforts of the airline and the relentless pursuit of the passenger, remains unclaimed. Enter the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Yes, there’s a real place where hopelessly lost luggage is gathered up. In contract with the major airlines the UBC purchases unpacks your baggage, reselling each lost item on the shelves its 50,000 square foot Alabama retail store. And business is booming.

An interesting comparison can be made between the literal baggage we carry on and fret over while flying and the metaphorical “baggage” of sin, burden, and brokenness we carry as we criss-cross through life. Both are with us largely through our own packing, our own choosing. Both are heavy and burdensome, with us as we roll one down the jet way or reflect regretfully upon our past. And both are something that we tend to hold on to, afraid of how we’ll make sense of life without the essentials inside. One carries your favorite shirt, key to your confidence as you present to investors. The other is filled to the brim with the abuses of your father and the secret shames of your heart, which though unhelpful are comfortable and familiar, and—because you’ve carried them so long—critical to how you see yourself.

Listen to the opening verses of Psalm 51. In it we hear David crying out for relief from his own suitcase 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

David, after being called out for hooking up with Bathsheba and arranging the murder of her husband Uriah, is desperate for relief from the crushing weight of what he’s done. David knows that if left to bear the burden of his brokenness much longer it will, without question, kill him. He’s desperate for a place to drop it.

Consider now the Christian practice of confession and repentance. They are actions where, like David, we take inventory of all the broken baggage, the sin with its weight, the scars and the shame, the issues and the idolatry slung over our shoulders, held under our arms and being rolled behind us. It’s a chance for us, as weary travelers, to drop our bags.

But let’s be clear. The goal is not to pick them up again. Unlike at the airport where we let things go only for a 4 hour flight, as followers of Jesus we are invited to skip the carousel altogether and drive directly to Alabama, so to speak. We are invited to take whatever messed up stuff we’ve been carrying and leave it behind, unclaimed, unmarked and ready to be snatched up by someone else.

You see, some luggage is just longing to be lost; some bags are just begging to be left behind. And repentance is all about God’s invitation to ditch such things in the storehouse of his mercy and grace where they can be bought by someone else. That someone is Jesus Christ who was foisted upon a cross, killed in public view and in the process paid a price so high that it covers the cost of every sin-stuffed suitcase. He gave his own life in exchange for every single piece of baggage that’s been breaking your back. On the cross Christ became the rightful 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.

Now you might be thinking, “Yeah but you don’t know the kind of stuff I’m carrying. We’re not talking typical luggage. I’ve got crazy stuff, insane stuff, kinky, evil or downright disgusting stuff buried in these bags I’m carrying.” And because of that you’re assuming that it’s too much for Jesus to take on, and or impossible for you to ever completely leave behind. But not so fast.

Jump back to the actual Unclaimed Baggage Center and we’ll find another layer to this useful analogy. Managers say that while the contents of a bag can shock and surprise from time to time that they are equipped to handle absolutely anything inside of a suitcase. They’ve found dead things, living things, smelly things and lots of illegal things. One unclaimed suitcase was cracked open to reveal a live rattlesnake. Lots of things surprise the buys of baggage but nothing will stop these buyers of baggage.

David must have known the same about God. Having committed some of the most egregious acts in the history of God’s people David unflinchingly offers his sins-stained self up to God. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7 David seems to have no doubts that regardless of the depth of his won depravity God, in his unrelenting love, is willing and able to do something about it.

Think about it. 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 on to? It’s not as if you’re going to surprise him. He already knows every burden you bear, every sin you’re struggling with. In contrast to the Unclaimed Baggage Center which buys up luggage sight unseen, without the opportunity to first peer at what’s inside, God the Father knew the contents of your cases, the depth of your dysfunction long before he sent his son to die for it, to purchase it. The issue here is not whether God can handle what you’re carrying. That’s been settled. The issue is whether you’ll trust him, whether you’ll take these things to him and leave them with him. That’s what confessing and repenting are for.

You are invited to take inventory of all that you’re carrying. Later this week as you reflect during your lunch-break at work, as your mind wanders while running the kids from soccer to ballet, when you bow your head before bed open the contents of the cases you carry. Then say to yourself, “I will not lug this thing 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 King.” Try that. And then feel free to repeat as necessary. Jesus is accepting baggage all year round.

Oh, and once you’ve experienced the freedom that comes from walking through life with a little less weight on your shoulders be sure and spread the word. There’s a world around you that would love to know of a place where one’s sins and struggles can be deliberately ditched. Take a cue from David who, after unloading his sins to God the Father promised this, “I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.” Psalm 51:13-14

Despite the airline’s success rate with our suitcases the Unclaimed Baggage Center 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 the lucky ones to have never lost their luggage, there’s still time to join the club.

No, don’t ditch your bags at the airport. This season leave some stuff with Jesus. He’s cool with it. Take it to the cross. He’s already paid for it and he’s waiting to add it to his inventory. You can leave it there, no name on the tag and no questions asked. And he promises, you’ll never see it again. Amen.

*Originally published in Homiletics Journal.