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FOR GOOD MEASURE

Luke 6:27-38     –     The Rev. Helen Havlik

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time     –     February 24, 2019

The time after Epiphany is set aside to think about Jesus’ life and ministry—and the mystery of God become flesh. In the early days, Jesus preached and taught, performed miracles, and called disciples to follow him. In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is still at the beginning of his public ministry. He has chosen disciples and drawn the attention of religious authorities who question some of his practices—like breaking the Sabbath rules. The crowds are pressing in from all parts of Palestine—even from gentile territory—and Jesus continues to respond to their needs and to teach his disciples about what living a godly life means. Last week we heard the blessings and woes from the first part of what’s known as the Sermon on the Plain. This week Jesus takes us deeper into his teaching by telling us to love our enemies. I’m reading from Luke, Ch. 6, beginning with vs. 27. Listen with me to God’s holy word.

I was here at church on Monday morning this past week when I got a text that my cousin Rachel had just died. When her sister posted pictures on Facebook of the family gathering at Christmas, I wondered if it was a goodbye party and it turns out it was. Rachel was 48, would have been 49 in March, and for the past 18 years, cancer was her almost constant nemesis. It started as breast cancer that was treated successfully and for several years she was in blissful remission. When it came back, it came back hard and the treatment was likewise hard. A shorter remission later, the cancer was in her bones. From then on, it was a daily battle for more time. To see her boys grow up and graduate high school. To play tennis and dance and cruise and teach Sunday School, and make balloon animals for preschoolers, and plan parties, and hold other people’s babies, and bake amazing cupcakes, and raise money for breast cancer patients who couldn’t afford the extra expenses that come with treatment. Time to hope that the experimental program she agreed to would help her and others who wanted just some more time. Rachel lived every drop of life she was given—with lots of laughter, with few tears, with grace, with courage. I don’t know if she loved her enemy. But she certainly stood her ground when slapped, gave her shirt as well as her coat, never said no to anyone who asked, forgave, forgave, forgave. And the measure she gave so willingly and selflessly came back this week as family and friends embraced her husband and sons. Rachel was a planner but the one thing she wouldn’t or couldn’t plan was her own memorial service. So that was done for her by those who loved her, “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, put into their laps,” for the measure she and Steve gave is the measure they are getting back.

You know someone like that, right? Someone who just seems to be able to really and truly do to others as you would have them do to you? Honestly, I try, but I’m not there yet, and when I think about it, I have no good excuse. I’ve had it pretty good most of my life—my friends have been many and my enemies few. Rachel, on the other hand, could be excused if her life had taken a different course. She and her three sisters are self-proclaimed army brats who were bounced around the world, while their career military father struggled to give them a stable home life. Their mother, from Thailand, left when they were still young, their stepmother was the proverbial stepmother—and thankfully didn’t stay long either. Part of the time they lived with my aunt, their grandmother; otherwise they lived mostly in Korea and Germany. Rachel and her sisters never had it easy—they’ve worked hard for everything they have—but they never let it sour them, either. I have no such excuse.

In this Sermon on the Plain, similar to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus challenges us to live a way of life that isn’t the norm. He asks us to control our anger, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, pray for our enemies, and “be merciful as our Father is merciful.” He warns us about making excuses, saying one thing and doing another, looking for extra credit for doing what everyone knows is right. He tells us not only are we not to judge, we are to put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes, “in everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” It’s too much! I can’t do these things—how can I ask anyone else to do these things? I can’t drive down the street without making a snide remark about someone’s driving; I jump to conclusions about people and situations with very little evidence and come to my own defense way too much. I want to be a good person, I want to follow Jesus, but if this is what it takes, I’m hopeless. And that’s just the point, right? It is too much, we can’t do it—not if we count on ourselves. Yet we’re not hopeless exactly because our Father in heaven is merciful. If God is kind even to the ungrateful and the wicked, how much more does God’s kindness mean to those who love and turn and forgive and show mercy.

But we have to seek the right thing—we have to accept the grace that we are given. We have to ask for help to control our anger, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, pray for our enemies, and “be merciful as our Father is merciful.” We have to stop making excuses, saying one thing and doing another, looking for extra credit for doing what everyone else knows is right. In other words, we have to ask for help to become spiritually mature. As disciples, we’re asked not just to avoid the obvious, we’re expected to go farther than enlightened self-interest. It’s easy to be nice to people who are nice to us. It’s not easy to be nice to people who are unkind. It’s easy to smile at someone who smiles at us. It’s not easy to smile back at a scowling face. It’s easy to give when someone is grateful and polite and says please and thank you. It’s not easy to give to someone who expects it and takes you for granted. Yet that’s exactly what God does. And Jesus commands us to try to be like God who loves—who does good—who blesses and gives and forgives. In this sermon, we learn who God is by becoming aware of who we aren’t. Where we aren’t merciful, God is. Where we don’t love, God does. And God not only loves others, God loves us.

God’s radical grace is different because it depends on God and not the receiver. None of us merits grace—we receive it because God wants to show us mercy. This, in turn, is what Jesus expects of us. Not to let our behavior be based on what others do or don’t do. As one preacher has said, “Rather than a person hating in response to hatred or loving in response to love, Christian behavior and relationships are prompted by the God we worship who doesn’t react but acts in love and grace toward all.” Not a doormat to other people, but those who stand our ground in love.

I don’t know if Rachel loved her enemy—but she stood her ground by every means possible. She laughed, she loved, she lived an amazing and full life, measure for good measure. The kind Jesus calls us all to live.

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