“A Good Measure!”
(From Luke 6: 27-38)
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
During the Advent season and into Christmas, it is common to hear stories of human kindnesses that people have shown to someone in need. For example, last Christmastime I learned from a friend how the Spirit had moved a friend of hers named Jenny to pay for the prescription of the woman ahead of her at the pharmacy counter. She was an older woman whose frayed clothing betrayed her meager means. When the service clerk rung up her $90 prescription, the woman meekly stated that she could not pay that cost. The Spirit spoke to Jenny, “You must help her, she needs this medication,” the Spirit informed her. So, Jenny reached into her purse and paid the clerk $90. “Merry Christmas, and God bless you” Jenny said to the woman, who was so overwhelmed by the moment that she could not speak. Jenny shared with my friend that she was going to purchase some additional stocking stuffer gifts with at money, but her family already had plenty of gifts for a very Merry Christmas. This money was better spent to provide a measure of God’s love to someone in need.
This past Christmas, on several occasions, I was standing in line with one item behind a person with a full cart, when I was invited to check out next ahead of them. It seems that the best of who we can be often exposes itself during special occasions like the Christmas season. The words “peace on earth, good will toward all people” seems to ring a bit clearer to our hearts, and we are moved to put them into action. Extremely tragic or dire circumstances, like those our country experienced following the 9/11/2001 bombings and the current COVID-19 pandemic, have also called many people to new heights of concern, compassion, and generosity toward others. Yes, when the situation warrants it, we humans can accomplish some amazing outcomes on behalf of others. Then, as circumstances normalize, we often tend to fall back into comfort zones that are more in-tune with our own wants, needs, and concerns than with those of others. We regress into a familiar state of self-interest and self-concern that is a part of our human nature. So, where does all of that goodness go?
To help us explore this question, we will turn to the Holy Scriptures. Today’s lesson, from Luke Chapter 6, represents this author’s adaptation of Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is known as the “Sermon on the Plain,” because the author shared in Luke 6: 17 that Jesus came down to a level place among his Disciples and a great crowd of followers from surrounding regions. There, he healed many and then spoke his teaching message to them. This version of Jesus’ teachings is more concise, and also more direct in its language than Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount.” The blessings Jesus pronounced upon the poor and needy gathered to hear him are accompanied by woes to those who have and hoard their wealth and worldly power. His woes also include those who are in the class of people who are both treated well and spoken well of now. This, Jesus told the crowd, is how the false prophets of old were spoken of and treated. Truth is often not the popular jargon, and Jesus’ truth was that worldly wealth and power are of little value in the kingdom of God.
Jesus continued his message to the crowd of followers with a new teaching. It was radical in its meaning for an oppressed people who were seeking justice and equity in the world of the Roman Empire. It was a preparation for new life in the kingdom of God. “But I say to you that listen,” Jesus said to them, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Give to everyone who begs from you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. Be merciful, just as God is merciful.” Amid the unjust and unkind reality of the world in which they were living, Jesus called his Disciples and followers to respond, even to their enemies, with kindness, mercy, goodness, and love. In so doing, Jesus called his followers to a new code, a new law of living that looks beyond life’s immediate circumstances, and beyond the realm of human deeds and misdeeds. In the midst of a chaotic world, Jesus called his followers to adopt the radical new lifestyle he modeled for them, one founded upon a new law—the law of love.
More than two thousand years later, church, we are still struggling to truly live the law of love Jesus taught us. It calls us, every day of our lives, to live with the warmth and charity of heart that is most often, as we previously discussed, reserved for special occasions and times of dire need. And, Jesus took this radical new message even further with his admonishments “Judge not, and you will not be judged, forgive, and you will be forgiven: give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” With these words, Jesus called his Disciples, and in our reading we too, beyond kindness and mercy, even that which is shown toward our enemies. Jesus now calls us to offer the most precious and difficult gift we can give—forgiveness. Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus knew that the anger and unforgiving wrath we may bear for others is a heavy burden for us to bear. He wanted to show us the way to a new life; one where we can find inner peace, even in the midst of life’s turmoil. The burden of the world’s judgement rests upon God, and God alone, dear friends. We are called to trust God, and to follow the living example of Christ, our Lord. We understand that the reward is not an immediate one for we who tend to be an instant gratification people. But, Jesus takes the burden of sin, both our own and that of others, off of our shoulders if we will let him. We can then view others as sinners in the same need of God’s grace and love as us. They, like we ourselves, are on a journey to their own spiritual awareness growth. It is our work, as Christians saved by God’s grace, to offer love and encouragement to others along this journey of life. Our Christian mission is to make and equip disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It’s called building the kingdom of God, and it happens one sin-sick soul at a time. It is not the seasonal work of Christmas charity, but a Christ-like way of life we practice (practice makes us closer to perfection) 24/7/365-that means always! Jesus was an expert at understanding our human ways and needs. He knew that the only way to our own wholeness and peace was through letting go of our human tendencies toward judgment of others; and instead, to treat them with mercy, generosity, kindness, and love—regardless of whether we believe that they deserve it. The heavenly reward we reap from adopting this new mindset is enormous. It does not mean that we will not continue to resist the evil, injustice and oppression of this world, in whatever forms they may present themselves. We were committed to accept the power God has given us to resist all forms of evil in our baptismal covenant. But, Jesus’ message today shows us a new way to approach others-from a place that is grounded in the love he so graciously gave to us. So, let us go forth from this holy place to give of ourselves in love to others as we follow the example of our Lord, Jesus. Jesus promised that if we live as he taught us, we will receive blessing upon blessing, a new life in God’s kingdom that is beyond the bounds of our human imagination. Jesus called this blessing a good measure! May we all be so blest as to receive a good measure in God’s kingdom. Amen—let it be so.