How Will You Measure Your Life? By How and What You Give
When I was little, probably between 3rd grade and 6th grade, I was a part of 4H. You can focus on a lot of different skills in 4H clubs, but mine was focused on cooking and sewing in particular. I remember gathering around the kitchen counter of my leader’s home, learning how to cook and bake. Only, there were a lot more rules involved in the cooking and baking than when I learned at home. In 4H, you learn how to do things the 4H Way. Seriously, that’s what we learned to call it. The 4H way of cooking in baking involved a lot of precision, and very careful measuring, and mixing things in separate bowls, and combining them carefully, and washing hands between every step, and making sure to use your level whenever you measured flour. And there definitely was no licking batter off the beaters at 4H. Every year, I would take part in a cooking demonstration at the Westernville Town Hall. I’d prepare a poster board with the recipe I was going to make, and then have to tell a roomful of people how to put together the recipe, making sure, of course, to do everything the 4H Way. Believe it or not, I used to be petrified of public speaking, and these demonstrations were among some of the most terrifying times in my young life!
I loved being a part of 4H – don’t get me wrong. 4H was a centerpiece of my social life! But cooking and baking at home with my mother and grandmother was a lot different. I can’t remember, to be honest, ever using a level to precisely measure something. There were a lot of recipes in our family that included helpful instructions like “until it looks right,” if it was even written down at all. Tasting the batter was a right of the baker. My grandmother was always making a little extra dough so that if she was baking bread, for example, there was always enough to make us kids our own little mini-loaves to have. Everything was made with a generous hand.
I think about going out to eat with friends. I have a couple of friends, friends I love dearly, but they drive me a little crazy when it comes times to dividing up the bill and calculating a tip. I try to be a generous tipper. Not excessive – I couldn’t afford some of the extravagant gestures I read about sometimes in the news. But generous. However, I have a few friends who, though sufficiently well-to-do, seem to use the $5 or $6 that might be a reasonable tip as the place to start pinching pennies, shortchanging the server by a $1 or $2 – something that would really add up for the server but not make much of a dent to my friend. I believe in being frugal, thoughtful with how I spend my money – but if I’ve already decided to go out for a meal, I don’t want my savings to come at the expense of my server.
Today we’re continuing to think about how we will measure our lives. We talked two weeks ago about who and how we love – and I asked you to be intentional about your loving actions. You even got an extra week to work on it! Today, we’re thinking about measuring our lives by how and what we give. What do we give? How do we give it? Our gospel reading today is from Luke’s gospel. It’s part of what’s called The Sermon on the Plain, a big chunk of teaching from Jesus that takes place while the disciples and crowds are gathered together to hear him. He touches on many topics, some in depth, some with short sayings. Our passage for today is a kind of medley of teachings, but Jesus’ words coalesce around some common themes. He teaches that crowds to love their enemies and do good to those who hate them. Perhaps we are enough used to or familiar with Jesus’ teachings that those words no longer stop us in our tracks, but they’re pretty extreme. Love your enemies. He calls us to give to anyone who asks from us, to give even to those who don’t bother with the asking! “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” After all, he says, if we only love those who love us, and do good to those who do good to us, what does that say about our character? Everyone can do that! Jesus expects more of us than being nice to people who are nice to us. “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” When we do this, we’re modeling behavior after God’s, because God is kind and merciful, even to those who are ungrateful and evil. Don’t judge, don’t condemn. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Finally, Jesus concludes: “The measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
When we measure our lives, friends, what kind of measure are we using when we give? Are we measuring the 4H Way, making sure to be exact, not a pinch too little or too much? Are we like a stingy tipper, cutting corners in what we give to others to make sure we have as much for ourselves as we want? Or do we look to how God gives, how God measures? Jesus says the measure put into our lap is one that is running over. And indeed, throughout the scriptures, we find images of God’s abundance, God’s extravagance in giving. Just yesterday at Katie Moore’s funeral, we shared together in the 23rd Psalm, saying, “My cup runneth over.” How does God give to us? God gives like one who knows there is no end to the supply of what is available. God gives like it is God’s greatest joy to give to us. God gives to the kind and loving, and to the ungrateful and hard-hearted. God gives to us like we’re God’s favorite things in the world! God gives with a generous measure, always putting in extra for us.
How do we give? There are many places in the Bible where we get to listen in when someone asks Jesus a question. I read that there are about 65 questions that Jesus gets asked across the gospel accounts. There are a variety of questions, but I notice that several of them that lead to some major teaching from Jesus in response share a theme. Here are a few of those questions: Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath? Do I have to pay taxes? How many times must I forgive someone? Is seven times enough? Who is my neighbor? What do I have to do to get eternal life? Do you sense the theme? As I hear them, in all of these questions, if we strip away to the core of it, the person is asking: What is the very minimum I can do and still be ok? What’s the least I have to forgive? Who is not my neighbor? How little can I give? How little can I do and still “get into heaven?” It seems like a lot of times we want to know: What’s the least I can give and still be ok? I’m not just talking here about how we give financially – although that’s something to consider. I think sometimes we act like we want to know the least we can give of our time, our energy, our lives, our hearts, our control, our plans, ourselves, and still be ok with God.
God wants so much more from us and for us! God want us to do unto others as we’d love for them to do to us, to measure for others like we’d like them to measure for us. Our best bet, as always, is to follow God’s example. How does God measure with us? I don’t want God to be using a level, making precisely sure not to give me too much, making sure not to leave too big a tip, trying to save few pennies when it comes to blessing me or my loved ones, frankly. I’m so thankful that God is so generous, so extravagant, so ready to fill our lives to overflowing! I want to learn to measure with the same measure God uses on us.
Pastor Adam Hamilton shares about a conversation he had with a man who runs auctions, especially estate auctions, where a persons’ possessions – often a whole household of trinkets and furniture and treasures and collectibles – will be auctioned off at a special event. The auctioneer says he often talks to families before the auction to give them a few words of warning about how this will feel. He tells them, “We’re going to take your life’s work and dispose of it in 4 hours.” But Hamilton reflects that the auctioneer’s words are only true if we see our life’s work as the stuff we’ve accumulated. What if, Hamilton asks, your life’s work is to pour yourself out into other people? “We can only take with us what we give away,” he says. (1) How are we giving? We are called to pour ourselves out in generous measure, overflowing the lives of those we meet with love and compassion, just as God does for us.
What’s left is simply to discover what it is that we’re called to give. Here’s what’s on my list: Love, of course. Mercy. Forgiveness. Compassion. Our time, which we treasure perhaps even more than our money. Our hearts. Our selves. All of us have these gifts to give. And all of us live in a world that is aching with need for the very things that we can pour out with a generous measure, and still find ourselves with yet more to give. This week, I want you to pay special attention to what you give and receive. Who will offer you forgiveness, and who will you forgive this week? Who will show you compassion? Where will you offer mercy instead of condemnation in a world that thrives on instant judgment? How will you spend this gift of your time this week? Who can you make time for? How will you give your heart to God this week? What will we make our life’s work? How generous is the measure you use?
“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.” Amen.