Baggage with Tag

by Carolyn Sowinski
January 2016

I have been thinking about 2 phrases lately and they seem to connect with each other.  The first phrase is found on my luggage tag: “Because all Lutherans have baggage.”

The second phrase is a quote (perhaps an order) by St. Augustine of Hippo and affirmed by Martin Luther: “Love God and do as you please” (in Latin: Ama Deum et fac quod vis).

When I first heard Augustine’s statement, my thoughts went to the idea of doing what I want, when I want–good or bad–because God forgives me.  But I don’t think this is the correct way to put this command into action.  Rather, it’s the idea that because I love God, my actions and my words will reflect that love and will not displease God.   I will show compassion, not indifference; I will encourage, not belittle; I will listen, not ignore; I will care, not forget; I will include, not exclude.

Here are quotes from theologians and pastors which add to this perspective.

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From St. Augustine’s Love Sermon, modernized by Stephen Tomkins:
“This is how the love of God is shown among us.” The reason why the writer exhorts us, is so that we may come to love God. Could we love him, unless he first loved us? Though we were slow to love, let us not be slow to love in return. He loved us first….If any of you should wish to act out of love, brothers, do not imagine it to be a self-abasing, passive and timid thing. And do not think that love can be preserved by a sort of gentleness – or rather tame listlessness. This is not how it is preserved.

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From the King’s Center Study Center:
“Love God and do as you please.” Or, “Love God and do as you wish.”
Augustine is arguing objectively rather than subjectively–that when the love of God is the governing principle of our lives, then all that we think, say, and do will necessarily be yielded to that love. If our love of God is real and profound, then obedience and faithfulness, right thinking and right actions will flow irresistibly from that love.  Perhaps, what he had in mind was to expound on Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Let all that you do be done in love.”

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From the City Temple, Pastor’s blog:
St. Augustine is affirming that we choose to live out our faith based on the limits and boundaries determined by our love of and for God. That means that because of our love for God, there are things that we should do and things that we should not do. Because we love God, we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves; because we love God we should not hate our enemies; because we love God, we should be just in our dealings with all humanity; because we love God, we should not allow any injustice to stand; because we love God, we should forgive any offense committed against us; because we love God, we should not hold any grudge or seek revenge against anyone who has offended us.

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From Martin Luther:
“A doer does not get this name on the basis of works that have been performed; he gets it on the basis of works that are to be performed. For Christians do not become righteous by doing righteous works; but once they have been justified by faith in Christ, they do righteous works” (Luther’s Works, 26:256).

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If I love God and act on that love, should I still be carrying baggage from my past and allowing that baggage to be a part of my current life, possibly influencing my choices and actions?

As I live my life, I put the baggage from my past in its appropriate place: in my past–still a part of my identity, but no longer a regular part of my daily life (though sometimes it is a struggle, if I am honest). I use the image of storing the baggage in a distant storage closet. It doesn’t take up room from what I need today, but it is there should I need to reflect on my life’s journey. Or maybe I need to show the baggage to someone else which may help her on her journey.

What kind of baggage do you carry? Is it heavy? Always with you? Does it keep you from loving God, from showing compassion, from helping others? Does your baggage lead you to use hurtful words, do questionable behavior, or maintain unhealthy relationships? Are you sick and tired of lifting or moving your baggage?

I still have the the tag on my suitcase. Why? First I like Lutheran humor and, just like events in Lake Wobegon, there is truth in the humor. But more importantly it reminds me of where I have been and where I am now–connecting to God’s presence and God’s love and its visibility in my life.