By James G. Munroe

Almighty God, help us lighten up, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

One of the dynamics in my life is that whenever I go on trips, I make sure that my suitcase is ready for every conceivable situation. Bathing suit, parka, safari jacket, tuxedo – I’m ready. If I’m going camping, I bring a tie. You just never know.

Then, unfortunately, I run into Jesus in today’s gospel (Mark 6:7-13). Jesus is talking to his disciples. Up to now, he has been saying, “Come, come unto me.” But now for the first time, he says, Go, go forth in my name.” And he sends the disciples out in pairs.

What’s striking is how they are to go. He tells them to “take nothing for their journey except a staff: no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; to wear sandals only, and not to put on two tunics.” No ties, no credit cards, no matched sets of luggage, no cell phone – not even a backpack.

If you are to go forth in my name, says Jesus, you are to travel lightly.

So for starters, let’s remind ourselves that this theme in fact is not new with Jesus. Two thousand years before today’s gospel, Abraham and Sarah learn the same lesson. They’ve hit retirement age, the pension checks are starting to arrive, and what happens? God tells them to pack lightly and head out on a camping trip that will last the rest of their lives.

What about John the Baptist? John is an incredibly light packer: one shirt. Adam and Eve? The lightest packers of all. And it’s interesting to realize that when Adam and Eve get into trouble with God, the very first thing they do is overpack.

And you and I are descendants of Adam and Eve. The bent of our nature is to overpack, in one way or another. One obvious example is material possessions. You know that bumper sticker, the one that reads, “The person who dies with the most toys, wins.” It’s the baggage of feeling trapped by the objects we own.

Have you ever felt overpacked in your job? Yes, we’ve got to work. Yes, we’ve got to pay the bills. But the real question is this. When you wake up in the morning, do you say instantly, “I am so excited about going to work this morning”? Being trapped in the wrong job can wipe out any sense of traveling lightly.

What about being overpacked in a relationship? You so much want peace with that one key person. But there can be so much baggage – so many unresolved issues, so much miscommunication, so many hurt feelings.

What about being overpacked with our own self-image? We have so many expectations for ourselves, such high standards for who we ought to be and what we ought to do. It’s called the Law. And it can weigh a ton.

So how do we get unpacked? How can I start to experience the freedom of traveling lightly? I used to think that I could find a model for traveling lightly by looking to the Church. Then I discovered that the Church can be just as ambivalent and humanly flawed as any other institution.

Then I thought, I’ll go to the movies and find some actor who offers a vision of the freedom of traveling lightly. So I watched that old movie “Terminator II.” And it’s true – Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back to the present as a Cyborg robot with no baggage at all, not even clothes, and he’s on an errand of mercy. But in order to get that errand done, he uses more firepower than the U.S. has used in all its wars.

Finally I said to myself – well, at least we all know one group that always travels lightly. I’m dating myself with this word, but I’m talking about hippies. Because hippies have totally thrown off all that establishment baggage. They’re into absolute freedom.

But then I remembered one famous hippie named Janis Joplin who sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” before dying of a drug overdose. And another famous hippie named Jimmie Hendrix said, “Do I seem free? If I’m free, it’s because I’m always running.” He later died of an overdose that may have been suicide.

The tragedy is that in all these human attempts to travel lightly, the result when they fail is to just surrender to the fact that you’re overpacked, to just live with it, and even perhaps to embrace it.

I know a social worker who was working with a child who had been abused by his father. The social worker got a court order to take the child to a new and wonderful family. She said to the boy, “I’m here to take you to a new home.” How did the child react? He ran to the father, grabbed him around the legs and wouldn’t leave.

Do you see why the child wanted to stay with the father who abused him? This father represented the only security in life that this child had. Yes, it was a tragic, destructive security – but to the child, it was better than no security at all.

And that is why we overpack. That’s why it’s so hard for us to travel lightly. Our baggage represents the only security we have, even as it fails us. How could I possibly give away my possessions? They’re my security. How could I possibly risk being honest about problems in my job and or in my relationships? They’re my security. How could I possibly give up my ideal, perfectionistic self-image? It’s my security.

How can I allow myself to be forgiven for my past failures? Because even my failures, tragically, can become my security.

I’ve spent a long time talking about overpacking. I want to be much briefer and direct in describing God’s response. There has never been, in the history of the human race, anyone who has traveled more lightly than Jesus of Nazareth. He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, says St. Paul, but emptied himself, got rid of all of his divine luggage, and was born in our likeness. And being found in human likeness, says Paul, he humbled himself, and traveled lightly in our midst.

Then, says Paul, he became obedient unto death, even death on the cross. This supreme light traveler chose of his own free will to take on the ultimate baggage. He took the weight of all our enslaving baggage and placed it on his own shoulders on the cross. And having borne that weight, he came forth from death to lead you and me to travel lightly as well. That is the Gospel.

For you and me this morning, the Gospel means that in our jobs, in our relationships, in our self images and especially in our failures, there is offered the freedom to take up one thing only as our security: the love of God, expressed and offered in Jesus – the love that will not let me go – the love that the world can neither give or take away.

And my friend Jack Wolfe up in Massachusetts found that out. I’ll close with his story. When Jack was in his seventies, he was having a rough time. His health was not good, and he was struggling to find some purpose in his life. Also, he was trying to forgive a dishonest business partner. In his own words, “It was tearing me apart.”

Jack was carrying a lot of suitcases. There was a lot of weight on his spirit.

Then Jack’s heart gave out. He was given a pacemaker – not the kind that simply helps your heart when it misses a beat, but the kind that is completely in charge of making your heart beat, twenty-four hours a day.

One morning, Jack was talking a shower when he felt something rough on his chest. He looked down, and there was a wire sticking out of his chest. He was rushed to the hospital, and the defective pacemaker was removed.

As Jack lay in his hospital bed, a wire from his heart extended out of his chest and connected to a small machine that hung on a post beside his bed. Jack looked at that little box and understood that it was the only thing keeping him alive.

By the way, the batteries in the machine had to be changed every now and then. When the batteries came out, the machine was able to continue working for another forty seconds. The people who changed the batteries were trained to do it in three seconds. Jack described those three battery-less seconds as “interesting.”

As Jack lay in that bed, and as he realized that his own strength to carry his baggage wasn’t enough, and as he understood that his control of his life had been reduced to utter dependence on a little battery operated machine – he finally gave in, and let go, and surrendered to the One who was yearning to carry that weight for him.

The freedom for Jack to travel lightly began when an angel walked into to Jack’s room. Jack was scheduled to have a big operation the next day. The angel, who was disguised as a nurse, showed up just in time to relieve Jack of his suitcases of fear and despair.

It was a male nurse, a man who, earlier in life, had been a Navy Seal. I don’t know the last time you’ve had an angel show up disguised as a nurse who used to be a Navy Seal to ask you if you’d like to pray, but that’s what happened to Jack. The nurse prayed, and the peace that passes human understanding came into that room.

The next day, the operation went well. And in short order, Jack was on the mend and able to go home. And in his gratitude for the gift of traveling lightly – Jack began a pastoral hospital ministry himself.

I don’t know what suitcases you may have lugged into this service this morning. I just know that the offer is here, as Jack discovered, to give in, to let go, and to surrender your baggage to the One who is yearning to carry it for you.

Because whether you’re 17 or 77, who knows what pastoral ministries there may be in your future?


The Very Rev. Jim Munroe is the retired dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield, Massachusetts, and an associate minister at the Parish of Calvary-St. George in New York City.