Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38 ESV). The Light of Epiphany reflects in the lives of those upon whose hearts and lives it has shone. Today at International Lutheran Church we continue our reading of the gospel of Luke and this amazing Sermon on the Plain as it spins us around that we might land in a completely different place.
Have you been keeping up with the Winter Olympics in Beijing? Our family had a chance to follow a little of the skating this week. What a thrill to watch these young people leap and spin as effortlessly as if gravity did not exist. To see them glide and lift from the ice in a stream of motion was beautiful to watch. But you may have been reminded like me of the reality of gravity and its relentless weight even upon the young. This came out both in the crushing tumbles and miss-steps as well as in the crushing coverage and controversy that swirled around all the athletes, coaches, and even the sponsoring committee and organizations designed to ensure safe and fair competition. What really surprised me was how quickly the events could send a couch potato like me spinning and leaping in righteous proclamations. Then I read the interview of one of the two Korean skaters who bravely gave her rival a hug. She shared that though there were years of bitter competition between them, perhaps what they had been through might change all that. It demonstrated to me again how a simple act of compassion expressed can spin years of rivalry in a different direction.
The words of Jesus today from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s gospel are known to many as the “Golden Rule” and have inspired the lives of many as the epitome of the Christian ethic of love and acceptance of all. But the actual putting in to practice of these lofty ideals has often turned into our worst nightmare, especially for our Christian witness. So often the Church, and especially Christians, are characterized by society as judgmental and hypocritical. And there are plenty of examples of us falling flat on our faces, sprawled across the ice. What we meant to say in a loving and kind way is seen as belligerent and uncaring. And then there are the times when we are just belligerent and uncaring. Paul calls us out when he says about himself, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).
This is precisely why we need these words of Jesus not only preached into our ears, but also lived out with complete precision, without flaw or defect in the life of the One who alone can free us from the gravity of our sin. As Jesus preached a message of showing love to our enemy, His life was showing love to you and me and to the whole world, even though we would all universally reject, deny and betray Him. Yet, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ‘leap’ and ‘spin’ of God for us that creates a completely different story. Where instead of His righteous judgment coming down upon our poor and feeble attempts, and even our own willing disobedience to His will and ways, we receive back a portion that is overflowing without any limits at all. God’s grace and mercy are the only things that matter. His love for us is now the motivation and power in our lives that alone can return good for evil, turn the other cheek, give and not expect return. That He would first love us and give Himself for us creates the ‘spin of faith’ and the ‘leap of love’ in us that is unstoppable.
When Martin Luther was in the throes of the Reformation and the people of the church began to neglect the hearing of the Word of God and the receiving of the sacrament, he needed to motivate and encouraging the laity and pastors to come to the sacrament of the altar. Rather than guilt or guile, he simply returned to that which had turned him – the abundant grace of God. Luther chose to focus on the words that Jesus spoke that night and nothing else. What is the sacrament? Simply what His word says … “Take and eat; this is my body given for you!” What makes the sacrament effective? Nothing but His Word… “Take and eat; this is my body given for you!” What is the benefit of taking the sacrament? Only what He says… “Take and eat; this is my body given for you!” How can one prepare to receive this great gift? Only believe His words… “Take and eat; this is my body given for you!” We don’t come to the sacrament because we are forced to, or because it will win us points with God, but only because He is for us.
Jesus is the measure that God has measured unto us. This gravity-defying good news causes us to leap and spin in a new direction that alone brings all glory to Him. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Plain point us to His immeasurable and inexhaustible love that has been poured “into our laps” as the ultimate motivation for our lives that results in an Epiphany ‘Re-turn’!