What’s in Your Backpack?

Sermon by Pastor Doug Stratton

Heb 12:1-3 — March 1, 2020

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

CCI: The burdens we carry will prevent us from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promises unless we are willing to cast them aside.

As we enter the season of Lent, it is important that we stop and remember that we are but dust and to dust we will return. We have seen who Jesus the Christ is, now we need to look closely at who we are, we need to connect with ourselves. To help us connect with ourselves we are embarking today a Journey of stones. Throughout the scriptures there are many examples of stones that were symbols for the people of God. But often those stones became burdens that caused the people of Israel to stumble and fall. They often became precious stones people fought over, or boasted about. Stones.

You have each received a stone this morning. As I share with you today, I would like you to take that stone in your hand and be aware of it, experience it’s weight, it’s hardness, it’s shape, whether it is smooth or sharp. Think about your stone especially as we watch this short clip (up to 2:14):

This comes from the movie, “Parent Trap”. Lindsey Lohan is engaged to the girl’s father and the girls are not happy about it. By filling her pack with rocks, they begin to wear her down. And the introduction of the gecko was, well, just fun.

Imagine what it would be like to carry the stone you received this morning with your everywhere you went. Better yet, imagine a backpack filled with stones that you could not remove. That would make life difficult and quickly lead to exhaustion. If we knew someone was filling our backpacks with stones, we would immediately take steps to stop it. Some of the burdens are placed upon us, but many others we pick up ourselves and we cling to them like our lives depended on it. I want to suggest today that we are carrying many rocks in our backpacks right now. And through this Lenten Season, we are going to learn to lay those burdens down.

In the short passage of scripture we just read (Heb 12:1-3), the writer of Hebrews begins chapter 12 with the word “therefore”. And what do we ask when we see the word therefor in the bible? We ask what is it there for? “Since we have a great cloud of witnesses,” what is the writer talking about? He or she is talking about chapter 11, the hall of fame of God’s people of faith. Some of them we look up to, some of them we are shocked to find there, and some of them remain unnamed. But these men and women of faith, are the crowd of witnesses who cheer us on. They have shown us the way. They have lived their faith in difficult times.

Therefore, let us let us throw off everything that hinders us and run the race with perseverance. The things that hinder us are a lot like stones in our backpacks. Where do these things that hinder us come from?

There are as many sources as there are stones.

Often they come from the expectations others have for us.

Perhaps our backpacks are weighed down by the treasures we hold dear. When my son was a teenager, he and decided to take an extended bike ride. He invited Sean to go with us. Sean showed up as we began and he had a backpack with him. In the pack were his treasures for the day: candy bars, bottles of gator aid and soda and many other snacks. We invited him to put the backpack in the car that was following us, but they were his treasures and he clung to them. And after about 5 miles, he wore out and rode the next 45 in the vehicle. What are our treasures?

We let others fill our packs when we accept the lies of our society. Lies like you must put yourself first, or a larger house will make you happy, or a the right cosmetic surgery will make you feel fulfilled, or you must take care of your own first.

Our packs can be filled with self-deception. Those tapes in our heads that keep telling us that we are worthless, or unlovable, or incapable or failures are lies that weigh us down.

Even living each day can add to our load. We are passed over for the promotion and it weighs us down. We hear of a friend’s illness and we are weighed down. Our health declines, there are marriages or divorces and we are weighed down.

These are stones that fill our packs affect us every day. They result in exhaustion, fear, anger and depression. And yet we continue to carry them.

But surrounding us is a great cloud of witnesses who are encouraging us to continue to run the race that is before us.

So what can we do? I think we have several options:

  1. We can work harder
    1. We can grit our teeth and force a smile
    2. We can double out effort to try to get through whatever we are facing.
    3. But how did that work for Lindsey Lohan in Parent Trap? Eventually, rather than coming out on top, she threw up her hands and went home without her espoused husband. As I visited with my parents two weeks ago, I saw the effect of gritting your teeth and forcing a smile. My Father is trying to be happy because it is what he thinks God wants him to do. And sometimes he can smile, but the effort to “keep a positive attitude” is too much because he is carrying the burden of feeling like a failure.
    4. Doubling down will not work.
  2. Another option we have is that we can simply give up. We see it every day. People struggle with their loads and finally just drop out. They may quit their job, they may leave the marriage, they may cut themselves off from people who care. They just give up. That is what Sean did. He just gave up and rode in the van the rest of the way. The result was feeling like a failure.
  3. But there is a third option.

In 1678 John Bunyan, while in prison wrote the allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress”. The book begins as Bunyan relates a dream. “”I saw a man clothed with rags … a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back. His face was turned from his own house nearby. I saw him open the book and read and then begin to weep. “What shall I do?” he cried. “Oh, my dear wife and children, I am undone by reason of the burden that lies heavily on my back and on my heart.”

With that he set out to find the Celestial City. On his way he meet a companion who chooses to go with him, “Well now, my good companion, I’m glad to hear of these things. Come, let us make better time.” But Christian replies, “I cannot go as fast as I would because of the load on my back.”

After a difficult journey, Christian came to a crucial path on his journey. He began to run, though he could not run fast because of the burden on his back. On top of the hill he came to a cross. Just as Christian came to the Cross, his Burden came loose dropped from his shoulders, and fell off his back. It began to tumble, and roll down the hill. It fell into an open grave never to be seen again.

Now Christian’s heart was light. He had found relief from his burden. He said to himself, “He has given me rest by his sorrows, and life by his death.” So he stood there looking at the cross, wondering how the sight of it could so relieve one of guilt and shame. He no longer felt guilty of anything. His conscience told him that all his sins were forgiven. He now felt innocent, clean, happy and free. He knew his sins had all been paid for the death of the One who died on the cross. They were gone, buried in the savior’s tomb, and God would remember them no more.

Christian’s problems were not all solved, there were many more dangers he would face, but, he had begun a new journey having left his burden at the cross.

Therefore, let us throw off everything that will hinder us and run with endurance the race that has been set before us.

You have a stone in your hands right now. You know what that stone represents in your life. I want to invite you lay that stone and its accompanying burden down at the cross.

As we receive communion today I am asking you to come to the cross and lay your burden down, as you come to receive this meal of grace, this reminder of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is not required that you lay that burden down, you can keep it if you want. But if you do, I challenge you to carry it with you all week, to feel its weight, to know how hard it is.

As the choir comes to invite us to the Lord’s Table, take a few moments of silence to examine your heart, to identify what burden you are carrying and determine to bring it to the cross.

In Christ,

~ Pastor Doug