A Good Measure

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | February 20, 2022

Luke 6:27-38

What is the meaning of life? Well, there’s a big question. The answer likely depends upon who you ask. I Googled the meaning of life. There are approximately 4,250,000,000 possibilities from which to choose. I don’t have time for that kind of research. Probably now when I log on to the internet, I’ll start seeing adverts trying to sell me something related to the meaning of life.

I think the Bible overall presents a good message on the meaning of life. You might expect that from a minister. But the stories told in the bible say something about what it means to be human – the struggles of life – finding our place in the world – finding some sense of moral structure – relating to other people – touching upon noble themes such as love and justice.

I looked up the meaning of life in the Westminster Confession of Faith, written in the year 1649. According to the catechism for youth, the meaning of life is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. I would translate that to say that because God is love, it is as we give and receive love that we touch upon God’s purpose for our life. In that purpose we find life’s meaning.

I like that idea because it is simple and direct. Just like so many of things Jesus said. Like when he said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The golden rule. The essence of religion boiled down and concentrated. A simple and direct formula for peace and happiness.

Jesus had a talent for stating the obvious. Love your neighbor as yourself. Should that be so difficult? It shouldn’t, but somehow it seems that it is.

  • Your neighbor may not be so lovable. 
  • Maybe your neighbor lives too close by and you can hear him blowing his nose every morning. Maybe you and your neighbor both claim the same piece of yard as your own.
  • Maybe you don’t like the way your neighbor treats his children.
  • Maybe you don’t appreciate your neighbor’s religion.
  • You don’t like his yard signs.
  • Maybe your neighbor just seems too different, too foreign, too other to really feel any sense of kinship with.
  • Maybe your neighbor finds you less lovable in those very ways.

Sometimes the most obvious truth is the one that strikes us squarely in our humanity. It appeals to our most noble endeavor, which is sharing, because it requires us to overcome our most basic instinct, which is survival. We probably don’t go through life thinking about our choices in terms of sharing and survival. Reality has a way of coloring our view with shades of gray.

  • Maybe I can’t love my neighbor because I don’t love myself.
  • Maybe I have unresolved issues at work in my life that are played out in my relationships.
  • Such as I might feel powerless, so opening myself to others would feel threatening.
  • Or I might be emotionally wounded and closed off to others out of a sense of self-preservation.

Jesus was no stranger to reality. In Luke’s gospel he clearly describes the harsher realities of life. The time and place in which he lived was very close to the basics of survival.

One way to understand the mindset of Israel during the time of Jesus is to think of racial profiling. There was no question that if you were a Jew in Israel under Roman occupation that you were subject to all manner of injustice.

On the surface it would seem that there was nothing anyone would could about it. If a person in authority wanted to intrude into your life, the only thing you could do would be to take it and hope you came out of it with your life intact. Jesus never tried to deny reality. He described it. Some people will hate you. Some people will curse you. Some people will abuse you. People will strike you and take things from you. Why? Because that’s the way people are. People give in to the lure of power. That’s the way of the world.

How you take what people dish out can determine how you will come through it. Jesus was talking to people who were powerless. If a soldier decided to hit them, they could rise up and strike back, but then they would be dead for it. If a soldier wanted to take something from you, or “borrow” it, don’t hang onto it and lose your life for nothing. Give it up, it’s not worth dying for.

Jesus implies that there’s more to life than what we see. Real life is what God sees. Life as we see it is not always fair and just. God makes the rules and the game isn’t over until God settles the score. What the oppressors and abusers of people need to know is that God keeps score. If you’re selling oppression and injustice, that’s what you’ll get. Maybe not here and now, but somewhere and when.

Maybe God keeps a fairly detailed set of scoresheets and some people will be in for some unpleasant reckoning on judgment day. Maybe God calls “Olli Olli ox in free,” and everybody gets a free pass to the banquet. All we know for sure on that score is that God is God and God will do whatever God wants to do.

It’s easy to love the people who love you back and who treat you the way you want to be treated. It’s all those other people who create the challenge. Jesus was telling his followers that there’s a certain kind of commerce at work in the ways of the world. Call it dog eat dog, everyone out for themselves, or me-firstism; the power of oppression and injustice was the common currency by which people were bought and sold.

The way of Jesus is a different way of life. It’s free for the taking, but it comes with requirements. God requires a way of life where the common currency is mercy. In the real world you give what you get. Jesus was a revolutionary. He turned things around. In God’s realm, you get what you give.

This idea challenges our materialistic leanings. We live in a culture of commerce. Our lives are filled with transactions. Buying and selling. We are used to the idea that if we pay for something, we expect a certain value in return. Even our altruistic actions have a certain sense of the transaction. If we spend a week building a house for Habitat, we at least want to feel good about our effort.

Jesus said we get what we give. He wasn’t talking about money. He was talking about love; he was talking about sharing; he was talking about the sense of community that is built on the foundation of love and sharing. And the hard part is that we have to completely let go of the idea that we will get anything in return for our giving.

There’s a really difficult mystery at work in the Gospel. It goes like this: We can expect a return on our giving, but we can’t give expecting anything in return. Or we could say it like, we don’t give to get, but when we give, we do receive something.

But if we view faith as a transaction, it will always seem like a contradiction. And we will never realize the true meaning of our relationship with God. Which is simply, a relationship. Not a religious transaction, but the experience of a relationship. In relationship with God, we receive because God gives.

Maybe this is as radical now as it was when Jesus first spoke the words. He showed that God is not a household deity that we keep on a shelf and take down when we need a favor. God is not a bobble-head on our dashboard that provides safe travel. God is not the soap opera of Roman deities who play havoc with humanity. God is one, the Creator of everything, above all creation, yet who reaches into our lives to redeem us.

As Paul said, “it is by grace you are saved and not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

The sense of Jesus’ teaching is that God expects from us what God intends to give, which is love and mercy. We can lower ourselves to the animals and act like they do and maybe survive; or we can raise ourselves to God and act like God does and realize that there’s more to life than survival.

When we are able to wrap our hearts and minds around the concept of grace, then we experience life as God intends: to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. Then and only then do we experience what God gives. As Jesus said, “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.” Amen.

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