Who Is Your Master?

oversize backpack

We all carry an invisible backpack. Sometimes it is light, sometimes heavy. At other times, the backpack becomes a crushing load. We are unable to carry it because we kept adding things to it and did not take the time to unload anything. Every day, many people lug such an invisible backpack around everywhere they go. Over time, the backpack begins to smell because unacknowledged grief, unawareness of emotions, and the pile up of life’s difficulties become like a pair of stinky gym socks that got tossed in the backpack with hard feeling after hard feeling caked on top of it.

Something unfortunate then happens: The backpack becomes our Master. It begins to influence the way we talk, what we do, and do not do. It becomes a heavy and even crushing load because rather than Christ, the Spirit, and the Scriptures informing and influencing what we say and do, the invisible backpack calls the shots. It is the weight of sin.

The dominate word for “sin” throughout the New Testament means to miss the mark or to fall short.

It is not a word meaning some terrible egregious wrong committed against another. Rather, it is the most common form of sin there is – simply failing to deal with what humanity needs to deal with – and so, out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, those items are never out of the heart’s view.

The Apostle Paul’s way of framing this situation is this: Do not offer our lives to wickedness but offer ourselves to God (Romans 6:12-23). When we have become so accustomed to the invisible backpack as our master that we cannot imagine life without carrying it around, we must take it off. We need to carefully unpack each item we have stuffed into it and allow ourselves to face the pain and hurt and take up Christ’s easy backpack, his yoke.

Since we are redeemed people, baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, we no longer need nor ought to carry a load of sin any longer.

We were meant to have a Master and to carry a backpack – just not the backpack of our shortcomings and failures. Instead, we are to throw over our shoulders the backpack of mercy and righteousness and follow the Master, Jesus Christ. Who is your Master? is not meant to be a scolding question. It is an encouraging question, an invitation to unburden ourselves.

Jesus Christ, by his grace, took the backpack of sin that you and I were carrying and took it upon himself.  He took the crushing weight of our backpacks of sin for us.  Jesus took out those stinky gym socks; they were then nailed with him to the cross. We no longer need to carry this smelly load of sin any longer because Jesus already carried it for us and took care of it. Yet, so many of us still insist on taking up the invisible backpack and keep putting stuff in it.

Therefore, we must deliberately and intentionally take off that invisible backpack. Since the backpack is invisible, most of us would never guess that another carries such a heavy load. Instead, what we do see is the backpack causing another to work himself into the ground so as to continue ignoring the hurt, to keep everything completely clean and in control on the outside because on the inside it is emotional chaos.

What appears on the outside may not be true of the inside.  

For example, when you see my ten-year-old grandson you would never know on the outside that his brain is having immense struggles with epilepsy and seizures on the inside.  And when we look at one another in the church and the world, we cannot assume that just because everything may seem okay on the outside that the inside is fine.  Our stronghold of secrecy and invisibility needs to be broken and pulled down in Jesus’ name!

Brothers and sisters, Jesus took on your backpack for you – you need no longer carry it.  Take it off, unpack it, and let the healing of Christ’s cross bring you freedom from your weight. It is time to put off the backpack of sin and put on Christ’s righteousness.  It is time to say with some flavor, “I will not carry you any longer, old Master, because I belong to God!”

light backpack

Often our struggle is with opposing forces operating within us: righteousness opposed to sin; freedom opposed to slavery; and, a gift opposed to wages. The main point is one of mastery: Who is your Master? The hard work we must do is the ongoing work of confession and offering our lives to God:

  • “I will not carry a load of ignored items any longer because I belong to God.”
  • “I will not carry an unresolved load of pain any longer so that I continue using my tongue to gossip and slander and backbite another, because my tongue is not my own. My tongue belongs to God.”
  • “I will not be burdened by the clock and let it control my life, because my time is not my own. My time belongs to God and I will steward it wisely.”
  • “I will not carry the troubles of my job with me by working myself into the ground, because my job belongs to God and my Master calls me to a Sabbath rest.”
  • “I will unload this backpack of pain and deal so that I do not keep compulsively spending my money, because my money belongs to God.”
  • “The invisible backpack no longer has any power over me because I have unloaded it, grieved my hurts and losses, and have moved to taking on Christ’s backpack. I belong to Jesus Christ!”

Show me a miserable Christian, and I will show you a Christian who is carrying the crushing weight of an invisible backpack that informs and influences every decision and each action.

So, take up Christ’s backpack of grace, without trying to serve two masters: law and grace. There is always a temptation to try and make deals with God – to unload some of the backpack but not all of it. We might also have a kind of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome which has affinity with the old master, even it was abusive. Holy Scripture never advocates an attitude adjustment or behavior modification; it talks of doing away with the backpack completely because Christ has already taken care of it.

Watchman Nee was a twentieth-century Chinese Christian leader and a contemporary of Chairman Mao in China. In exhorting his fellow Chinese to live for Christ, he said,

“The trouble with many Christians today is that they have an insufficient idea of what God is asking of them.  How glibly they say: ‘Lord, I am willing to do anything for you.’  Do you know that God is asking of you your very life?  There are cherished ideals, strong wills, precious relationships, much-loved work, that will have to go; so, do not give yourself to God unless you mean it.  God will take you seriously, even if you did not mean it seriously.”

We are meant to deal with the pain and the hurts we have accumulated but have not lamented over. There is no spiritual growth and development apart from doing this. We cannot have Christ as our Master until we get rid of all competing masters first. In fact, what has the backpack every really done for you?  What benefit do you receive from lugging it around everywhere?  The wages of continually carrying the non-confessed load on our backs will eventually catch up to us. But the gift of God is freedom from sin and a life under the new management of Jesus Christ.  Praise be to God!

Nehemiah 9:1-8 – A Prayer of Confession

The Prayer by Constantin Brancusi 1907
“The Prayer,” by Constantin Brancusi, 1907

The Israelites gathered for a day of fasting. They wore sackcloth and put ashes on their heads to show they were sad and upset. Those people who were true Israelites separated themselves from foreigners. The Israelites stood and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood there for about three hours, and the people read the Book of the Law of the Lord their God. Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and bowed down to worship the Lord their God…. 

They said, “Stand up and praise the Lord your God! God has always lived and will live forever.

People should praise your glorious name.
May your name be lifted above all blessing and praise.
You are God.
Lord, only you are God.
You made the sky and the highest heavens
and everything in them.
You made the earth
and everything on it.
You made the seas
and everything in them.
You give life to everything.
All the heavenly angels bow down and worship you.
You are the Lord,
the God who chose Abram.
You led him from Ur in Babylonia.
You changed his name to Abraham.
You saw he was true and loyal to you,
and you made an agreement with him.
You promised to give him the land
of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites.
But you promised to give that land to Abraham’s descendants.
And you kept your promise because you are good.” (ERV)
 

We have many examples in Holy Scripture of people coming together for corporate prayers to confess sin. Today’s Old Testament lesson is a representation of such a confession. I understand that many churches, especially in the western world, jettisoned prayers of confession in their corporate worship services long ago. Eschewing rituals, such gatherings of believers have the inclination to be neither liturgical nor focus on such a negative subject as extended focus on sin through confessing prayer.

Yet, here we are, in the Bible, with a prayer of confession before us. There’s no getting around it: without prayers of confession, we are left in the realm of human pride and hubris – believing we can tackle whatever is in front of us with a solid dose of Protestant work ethic and robust free will. I hate to burst your bubble (no, I confess I really like bursting bubbles!) where there is no confession of sin, both personal and corporate, there is no righteousness and no eternal life.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?”—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Prayers of confession invite us to voice what is in the darkest places of our hearts. – to be raw and real about our own sin, as well as the sins of the world. Speaking aloud such words do not come naturally, which is why we need to graft these types of prayers into our life and worship. Naming with honesty and sincerity our personal and collective sins becomes liberating when we sense the immensity of God’s grace. Whereas in most situations, we do not feel safe to name our sins, in the presence of God we are empowered by his love to call forth and bring to light the deepest and darkest shadows of our personal lives and of our society.

A full-frontal prayer of confession acknowledges that our sin is more than a random example of bad judgment. We are sinful people, living in a sinful world, and we absolutely need a Savior! Our confessions of sin also acknowledge and bring to light that sin is a power that resides not only within individual persons but also has infected every society, institution, structure, and even church. An authentic confession of sin admits complicit participation in the structures of evil which exist everywhere.

What is more, a simple observation of the Israelites’ prayer notices that they were not only repenting of their own sin; they freely recognized and professed their ancestor’s sins, as well. Sin never simply dies with the person – it infects and influences the next generation. And unless we come to grips with this terrible reality, we will keep perpetuating the sins of our ancestors.

Which is why it is so vitally important that right now the people of God admit and confess the sins of their slaveholder ancestors, as well as affirm our implicit bias against people different than us and our complicity in perpetuating racism through our silence, unquestioning allegiance to particular political parties, and assuming we should always be in power because we are the best persons to do it. So, then, here is a prayer of confession concerning our present situation of racism:

Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we and our ancestors have done in the past, and by what we have left undone in the present through: allowing racism to continue and evolve in our social systems of economics and education; not reforming criminal justice; discriminating in housing and practicing gentrification; and, suppressing voting rights. In our racial geography and, painfully, in the continuing segregation of our churches, we have been complicit in racism through the betrayal of silence.

Holy God, we have not loved people of color as ourselves. We confess we have let ourselves off the hook by viewing racism as mere individual behavior, language, and overt hostility; and, have failed to see racism as systemic and structural, harming people of color in very specific, measurable, and tangible ways.

God Almighty, in your mercy forgive us for being racist, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be so that we, along with all people, may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of Jesus Christ in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 32

 

            The Old Testament Psalms are the church’s and the Christian’s prayer book.  In any kind of situation, in every trouble, in each trial of life, in all times of joy and celebration there are psalms available for you to pray and use as your own.  That’s why there is a psalm in the Lectionary readings every day, and why the same psalm is repeated at least three days in a row.  Psalms are not only to be silently read; they are to be repeatedly prayed out loud.
            Today, let this psalm be your confession, and allow yourself to receive the forgiveness of a merciful God.  Here’s a suggestion: Pray this psalm at least three times today; morning, noon, and night; or, repeat it three times in a row, each time saying it with some emotional flavor.  We are shaped by Scripture.  We are formed by prayer.  The two come together in the psalms.  Let them do their work of spiritual transformation in your life:
32 Our God, you bless everyone
whose sins you forgive
and wipe away.
You bless them by saying,
“You told me your sins,
without trying to hide them,
and now I forgive you.”
 
Before I confessed my sins,
my bones felt limp,
and I groaned all day long.
Night and day your hand
weighed heavily on me,
and my strength was gone
as in the summer heat.
 
So I confessed my sins
and told them all to you.
I said, “I’ll tell the Lord
each one of my sins.”
Then you forgave me
and took away my guilt.
 
We worship you, Lord,
and we should always pray
whenever we find out
that we have sinned
Then we won’t be swept away
by a raging flood.
You are my hiding place!
You protect me from trouble,
and you put songs in my heart
because you have saved me.
 
You said to me,
“I will point out the road
that you should follow.
I will be your teacher
and watch over you.
Don’t be stupid
like horses and mules
that must be led with ropes
to make them obey.”
 
10 All kinds of troubles
will strike the wicked,
but your kindness shields those
who trust you, Lord.
11 And so your good people
should celebrate and shout. (Contemporary English Version)
 
Amen.

Daniel 9:15-25 – A Prayer for Mercy

            We learn to pray through praying the prayers of the Bible.  One of the great wrestlers of prayer in Holy Scripture is Daniel.  His prayer when disaster overtook the people of Jerusalem is apropos for us in our national disasters of egregious sin.  Today I take the second part of Daniel’s prayer and use it as my own prayer (this is a continuation from yesterday’s prayer of confession).  One of our own contemporary American disasters are the habitual mass shootings, especially at schools.
            Prayer is an act of subversion.  It challenges the status quo.  It looks evil in the face and gives it a name.  Real change begins with the step of real prayer, and real prayer is modeled after the great prayers of Scripture:
Our Lord God, with Your own mighty arm You brought our forefathers from religious harassment to this land. You graced us with a country to call our own, with the freedom to become what we couldn’t in other places.  Through this You made Yourself famous to this very day, but we have sinned terribly. We keep killing one another with words and then with guns.  All the while justifying our behavior through doing nothing about it and instead spending our efforts on spiritual gerrymandering.  Meanwhile, our children keep dying.  
 
In the past You treated us with such kindness, that we now beg You to stop being so terribly angry with America. After all, this nation was intended by our spiritual ancestors to be a city built on your holy mountain, even though it has suffered public disgrace because of our great and many sins.
 

 

I am your servant, Lord God, and I beg You to answer my prayers and bring honor to Yourself by having pity on our grieving families and the people who have forgotten You.  Please show mercy to the United States, not because we deserve it, but because of your great kindness.  Forgive us! Hurry and do something, not only for us, but to bring honor to yourself….Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.