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The Rev. Mark Sargent Mark Sargent

Mark Sargent is a retired United Methodist minister who works in the private sector and resides in Rome, GA.

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Baggage Check

August 10, 2010

You never can tell when you strike out on a trip how things are going to turn out.  If you don't believe that, just ask that famous crew of two and those five trusting passengers who set sail one day for a three hour tour.  You remember that crowd, right?  The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed.  If not for the courage of the fearless crew, The Minnow would be lost.

The other day, I struck out on a tour that was much more adventure-filled than I ever anticipated or wanted.  I struck out from my house on what is usually a ten minute trip to Whole Foods.

I didn't need much.  Just a few simple items.  A couple of chicken cutlets.  A lemon.  Some orange juice.  A few Yukon gold potatoes.  Some arugula and some good-looking strawberries.  A bit of cheese.  And, since I saw a fabulous sale on some French grape juice, a couple of bottles of that.  That's it.  It was such a short list that I didn't even need a basket.  I had all those things in my two little hands as I made my way to the checkout.

The young woman bagged my stuff, I swiped my card, she handed me a bag, and I headed out the door.  On my way home to marinate those cutlets and roast those taters and toss that arugula in some lemon juice and olive oil and have those luscious berries for dessert.

I walked in the door and started unloading my single bag.  Arugula.  Cheese.  Berries.  Potatoes.  Wait just a minute here.  Oh, no.  Are you kidding me?  The grape juice.  Where is the blasted grape juice?  Two bottles of French grape juice, apparently not in the bag.  I looked high and low, just to be sure that my absent-minded self hadn't put them somewhere.  I looked in my car.  The juice was nowhere to be found.  So, I grabbed my receipt, jumped in my car, and headed back to Whole Foods.  The guy at customer service was great.  Just go grab the bottles, he told me.  And so, I did.  Two bottles of grape juice.  In the bag, and out the door.

"This is not so bad," I reassured myself.  I added a half-hour to my Saturday afternoon grocery run, but it's not the first time I wasted a half an hour.  In the garage, into the kitchen, put the juice on the counter, and reached for the chicken to make the marinade.  Are you kidding me?  Are you seriously kidding me?  There's no chicken in this house.  And so, I grabbed my receipt, and I looked at the list of items on it, and I checked it twice.  And, what to my wondering eyes should appear is a missing bottle of orange juice to boot.  Are you kidding me?  No chicken, no OJ.  Cheese.  Check.  Berries.  Check.  Arugula.  Check.  Potatoes.  Check.  Lemon.  Check.  Grape Juice.  Check, thanks to my second trip to the store.  Chicken?  Nata.  OJ.  Nowhere to be found.

Back in my car, this time slightly more steamed than the last time.  Back to the store.  Back to customer service.  Back to the meat department.  Back to the OJ counter.  Back to customer service again.  Back home.  And, a little trip to pick up a few items has now blossomed into a one hour and forty-five minute production.  Are you even kidding me?

I had the receipt.  The only problem is that what was on the receipt wasn't in my bag.  I walked merrily along with a receipt that said I had purchased those items, but the bag was clearly missing some of them.  And, I didn't check.  I didn't notice.  I failed to see to it that what was on the paper was really in the bag.  I am living proof that just because it's on the receipt doesn't mean that it's in the bag.

And, so it is. 

That receipt represents the transaction that you and I have made with Jesus, whom Christians regard to be the Christ.  Our relationship with him, at least we say, is paramount.  It's the relationship that informs and infuses and overarches and undergirds all of our relationships.  Some of us remember the day we entered into that transaction.  And, others of us don't recall the day.  But, we all have the receipt.  We are Christians.  Here's my receipt.

But, there's often a problem.  Every one of us, without fail, often walks along so proudly, carrying that receipt and failing to notice that what's on the receipt ain't in the bag.  Just because we have the receipt doesn't mean that we're carrying the ingredients.  The proof of our Christianity isn't in the receipt.  It's in the bag.  And, how sad it is when our respective Christian bags are absent some of the items on that receipt.

So, pull out your receipt today and take a look.  And, then look at the bag of your life.  And, compare the two.  And, if you find that the receipt lists some items that aren't in the bag, then a trip to Customer Service is indicated.

And, the items?  It's a simple list.  Just as uncomplicated as the list after which I struck out yesterday.  But, I'm here as proof that just because the list is simple and uncomplicated doesn't mean that some items can't get left behind.

I brought the receipt with me, just so you can see what's on it.  This is the list of those things that spring from that transaction you and I made when we gave our lives to Jesus and allowed him to take control of ours.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  But, you've heard me say that just because it's listed on the receipt doesn't mean that it's in the bag.  The proof is in the bag.

So, take a look.  I walked around yesterday carrying a bag that was missing some of what was reflected on that receipt.  How's your bag today?  Is it overflowing with love and with joy?  Is your heart full of peace?  Are you patient and longsuffering?  How's your kindness quotient?  Your orientation to what is good?  Have you been faithful lately?  Gentle?  Full of self-control, in your thoughts and your words and your actions? 

If you're like me, your bag needs some work.  Thankfully, Customer Service is open.  And, the Guy at the desk, who has a hard-earned reputation for being loving and patient and forgiving, is happy for you and happy for me to shop again and to grab what we need.

And, by the way, please don't get frustrated by the unavoidable fact that today or later this week, after you get home, after you head back to the hustle and bustle of your life, when you're in the crunch and feeling the pinch, you're going to realize, dadgummit, that what's listed on that receipt ain't in the bag.  Are you kidding me?  I thought it was there. 

That's why the store never closes.  It's the store that you'll find in your community of faith.  Or, if you don't have one, it's the store that you can find in some loving community nearby.  And, that church is open all the time, so that you and I and others like us can have unending access to the spiritual gifts we need. 

So, whatever you're lacking, grab it at some faith community nearby, because if you're going to be cooking up some Christianity, you're going to need every ingredient on that list.  Thankfully, there's a bountiful supply.  It's a fountain that never runs dry.  A well of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Happy Shopping.  Happy Cooking.  Happy Living.     

             


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