Good Measure, Pressed Down, Overflowing – Chuck Rush (11/12/17)

Good Measure, Pressed Down, Overflowing
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Lk. 12: 22-34 Lk.6:32,34,36, 38

“And in the end, the love you save will be equal to the love you gave”
This is one of my favorite lines in scripture. Luke is actually talking about the function of forgiveness but I think it applies to a whole range of spiritual issues. Jesus says if you forgive others, you will also be forgiven. If you bless others, you will be blessed. If you empower and lift others up, you will be lifted up. If you pray for others… If you give your money to charity, if you give to things that advance the cause of God, ‘it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, overflowing in your lap.’
It is an image of super-abundance like Father Christmas bedecked in every good food and jolly beyond the thinking of it. A friend of mine was once hiking out west across the desert without enough water and he became thirsty and hours later very thirsty and by the time they got to the ridge of the mountain hours later sill, he was almost panicked. On the top of a ridge, they found a spring that flowed into a stream and they dropped their packs and jumped straight in clothes and all. There is nothing quite like it. Being submerged in grace, having it just poured over you, more than a container could catch, just breathtakingly washed in it.
September 11th, shortly after the second plane hit the World Trade Towers, Air Traffic Control knew they had a big problem on their hands but they had no idea how big, so they ordered all the flights in the world to set down at the nearest airport, emergency landings the world over, in the hopes that the Air Force could then identify the planes that didn’t obey the order.
All the planes flying back to the United States from Europe were over the Atlantic and the nearest place they could land was Gander, Newfoundland in Canada. It is a huge airport from World War 2 from an era when we couldn’t fly as far as we can today. All the American Air Force planes would land, refuel and then cross the Atlantic to England.
So all these planes started coming (to this big airport in a tiny town no longer really used), 38 of them in all, with 6800 passengers and they descended on a small town of 9000. The guy that was in charge of Air Traffic Control called the Mayor of Gander and said, “You may want to get down here pronto”.
Like the rest of the world, the residents of Gander stood before their television sets watching the incomprehensible on TV from New York. And they sprang into action.
Turns out, the Mayor and the School Bus drivers had been in a bitter dispute over a contract and the bus drivers were all out on strike that day. But they held an emergency meeting, suspended the strike, all met at the school bus yard and started a convoy for the airport to transport the plane people.
The churches filled up as organizing centers, volunteers massed at the schools, all the emergency cots were reconnoitered and they started turning gyms into shelter areas.
Church ladies got to work organizing kits that women would need, that children would need, that men would need if they couldn’t get to their toiletries. The stores downtown just opened their markets for the church ladies to shop. They didn’t know how they would get paid but they just trusted that it would all work out eventually.
People poured off the planes, some of them having been stuck on the tarmac after a very long ride already. You may remember just how anxious everyone was that day to make contact. All 6800 people, many of them flying to New York, just wanted to contact their relatives to tell them that they were safe and not on one of the fateful flights. It was an era just before cell phones took off, but people all over town volunteered their phones so that the plane people could call their people.
And the residents of Gander opened their homes, so that plane people could come and get a hot shower, the simple things that are so important when you’ve been traumatized. Some of them took people in to stay with them.
An amazing kitchen was set up and a cafeteria sprang to life.
The next day, word had gotten out and the Mayor of wee Gander on the remote Newfoundland found himself on the phone with the Prime Minister of Canada, who was moving emergency food to Gander for the plane people, who were literally from all over the world.
But they had no place to store the food, so the Mayor had it all stacked on palates on the hockey rink in the middle of town. On day two, some people now needed a change of clothes, as the town of Gander stopped all of their normal functions and cared for their guests.
Turns out it was three days before we opened the airways again. And the morning of the third day, almost as fast as they landed, an announcement was made that the passengers must board the bus because all of their planes would be departing in an hour.
Boom, everyone on to the bus, out onto the tarmac, back on to their planes, and just like that they were up in the air. It took a while for the whirlwind to set in. But one of the passengers asked for the mike and a stewardess gave it to him. And he announced that he was starting a scholarship fund for the people of Gander and he passed the hat.
People spontaneously responded with gratitude and by the time the planes landed, they had $60,000 collected. Shortly after that people on those flights started telling their story to the media and word spread and people started giving across the country, then around the world.
Then tens of thousands turned into millions- the people of the plane, then the people of our country, then the citizens of the world.
They wanted to be among the children of light, not the children of darkness. Acts of goodness built one upon the other, so that we started a conspiracy of goodness and the next thing you know you start living, ‘graciously give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over your lap.” Our world longs to become the children of light.
Jesus teaches us that it takes a conversion of the heart, but we have the power to open the channels of spiritual power all around us. In a world of hostility, we can open a spiritual floodgate by loving. In a world that keeps score and settles resentment with vindictiveness, we can open a spiritual floodgate by forgiving. In a world where ‘what is mine is mine’ we can open a spiritual floodgate by giving to others freely.
We can always wait for someone else to pick up the ball and get things started. But we know that the world is not going to become a loving place, a forgiving place, a giving place, except that we actually do it.
We know this about the spiritual realm. We know that we have to be the ones to do it. But when it comes to money a good percentage of us stop trusting and become cynical. People think, that is not a spiritual principle, that’s just a ploy to get me to support their cause. And we start to think that we can have all of the spiritual blessing that we need without really being financially responsible. Somebody else will cover it. We just don’t see giving is part of spiritual grace. We just don’t believe that when we let money go that it will open spiritual channels that set, in motion a movement of grace that circulates around and comes back to us in profound and indirect ways.
I suspect that a lot of people in the younger generation are like someone I heard interviewed recently. He is a very successful investor. In his late 30’s, he has already accumulated a pile of assets. He was at a seminar that brought together a great number of millionaires and even some billionaires. He sat down next to a fellow, I believe he was the owner of Domino’s pizza, a man who has made his million’s multiples of times over. They were chatting about this and that. Naturally the young man wanted asked this very successful entrepreneur lots of questions about how he succeeded and what his life was like, how he lived…
Finally the older man looked at him and said ‘Jim, what kind of service work are you involved in?’
The younger man looked back and said ‘Service work?’
‘Right, what do you do through your church? What charitable boards do you serve on? Where are you giving your money to make a difference in the world?’
The young man mumbled something like ‘well, I’m not really involved anywhere really like that right now.’
And the older man said ‘My philanthropy is what gets me out of bed in the morning.’
Sir Winston Churchill once said “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” That saying is truer the more we get beyond simple subsistence.
We want you to support Christ Church because this is the primary place you join with the other children of light. We gather in worship every week, not as perfect people, but complicated people pointing ourselves again in the right direction.
When you put talented people together, who are trying to become better, who want to make our world a better place and who are committed to each other, it is a catalyst that unleashes a ‘conspiracy of goodness’.
We need a place for a deeper discussion about world issues. We need places that organize volunteers around great ideas like “Grace Kitchen” that feeds 40-50 families with fresh groceries every week in the atrium.
We need spiritual communities that are intentionally welcoming and inclusive so that our kids can grow up with real friends that are as diverse culturally as the world they will have to lead in just a few years.
Jesus taught us that our heart and our pocketbook are intimately related. In fact, money is the alabaster box that carries the contents of our heart. And the contents only become perfume when the box is broken over the Holy One’s feet. As Jesus taught us ‘where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.’ The question is not ‘how much of my money will I give to God?’ The question is only ‘how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?’
We need more of you to join with the rest of us and pledge to support this congregation with your money, with your time, with your talents. We have pledge cards around the sanctuary. Take it home fill it out. Let your light shine here. 85% comes in this way…. The occasional gifts, the money in the plate people give- all that represents only 15% of what we need.
I am told that if you fly over the North Atlantic Ocean, and carefully examine the icebergs floating in those frigid waters, you will see some icebergs moving in one direction, and other icebergs moving in another. The explanation of this phenomenon is that surface winds are driving the small icebergs, while the huge ones are controlled by deep ocean currents.
Our lives are like that. We are driven by two countervailing forces. The shallow waters push us by the surface wind of ego anxiety, fear and negativity.
The deeper currents pull us towards love, grace, and blessing. The deeper currents are divine. In the last analysis, what you do with your money is not simply about supporting some institution. It is a spiritual issue about who you are and what you are becoming.
Commit yourself and open the floodgates of grace. Become a vessel of blessing. And may it come back to you in “in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing in your lap. Join the “conspiracy of goodness” Amen.

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Sermons & Presentations

Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, An Altar in the World, tells a story about a time when she was guest preaching at an Episcopal church in the south. She arrives early to check out the sanctuary & get settled in. She immediately noticed that behind the altar there was a striking mural of the resurrected Jesus, stepping out of the tomb. After greeting a member of the altar guild, a manicured and proper southern lady, Barbara walks up behind the altar to get a closer look at the mural. She says that Jesus looked “as limber as a ballet dancer with his arms raised in blessing…except for the white cloth swaddling his waist, Jesus was naked. His skin was the color of a pink rose. His limbs were flooded with light.”
Barbara felt protective over Jesus with so much skin showing, he is all exposed in such a public place. She recognized the beauty in this painting that in Jesus' moment of transcendence, he remained human, he came back wearing skin. But then she also quickly noticed that something was missing, the wounds in his hands and feet were apparent – though not grotesque. His arms were thin but strong, but then staring at his underarms, she noticed - that Jesus had no body hair! “Beautiful, isn't it?” asked the woman who was polishing the silver. “It surely is that,” Barbara said, “ but did you ever notice that he has no body hair? He has the underarms of a six-year-old and his chest is a smooth as a peach.” And the woman shrank in awkwardness. “Uh, no, um, wow…” she said.

This may or may not have sent me on a Google hunt to find a picture of a hairy Jesus, but alas, in the collective Christian imagination, Jesus is really into hygiene. Seriously though in a majority of these portraits, Jesus skin is silky and “rosey” and white and “hair free.”

And this perfectly manicured Jesus is problematic especially when I imagine Jesus in our gospel reading today. First of all - let's get something straight up front, Jesus was not fair-skinned, which is another sermon for another day. Second of all Jesus most certainly did not have access to spa treatments, sunscreen, or a personal trainer. I mean seriously though it looks like he baths in milk and does mint julep masks every day! And yes, Jesus was crucified, but he looked damn good doing it! The reality is that Jesus was a poor drifter teacher who trudged around in dirt and grim and touched lepers. And who knows, Jesus may have even been uglier or fatter or shorter or grey-haired or balding than our perfect-bodied Jesus! Why would that be such a scandal?

It would be a scandal - because we are generally uncomfortable with our own bodies – we decided to manicure Jesus' body and make it perfect to make us feel a little more at ease about the imperfections and struggles in our own bodies.

So Jesus' messy body – with smelly feet and bad breath and hunger and pain and a couple grey hairs – one day in his travels encounters a man who's body is covered in leprosy. And the man's frail and weak body covered with open wounds throws himself on the dirt ground at Jesus' feet in desperation. And Jesus heals him and restores him to his community. And I need Jesus to have a messy, real body in this scene. Because imagining the rosy pink flesh that is unblemished and perfect touching the broken body of the leper with open wounds just doesn't do it for me. “Rosey-skinned”

And perfect bodied Jesus doesn't fit in this story for two reasons:

1) Jesus' body certainly stands in contrast to our leper friend. The leper's flesh is rotting and open to infection, while Jesus' skin is shiny and new. If Jesus' body in our cultural imagination is perfect, unblemished, without warts or bad breath or hangnails, then we can hold his body at a bit of a distance. And the reverse is also true, Jesus can hold our bodies at a bit of a distance – and he would hold the body of a man with leprosy at a distance.

2) Leprosy is contagious, physically and socially – by touching this man, Jesus risks, pain, brokenness, loss of feeling, loss of limb, being socially ostracized. So when Jesus' body touches this leper – he risks being contaminated with this curse – this social and physical death. He puts his body on the line. And to top it off Jesus risks his own religious authority – if he contracts leprosy, everyone will think that it is his fault- that he deserves this suffering because he has sinned.

And so rosey-skinned-unblemished-no-body-hair-Jesus just doesn't do it for me in this scene. He is too ethereal, too perfect to risk touching a leper. The rosey-skinned Jesus has a special body and he can stand apart from us – he doesn't really get what it's like to be human. The Jesus with body hair, he is on our team, he is vulnerable, he touches lepers. He has skin in the game. He is moved with pity to touch a man who is untouchable.

But here is where the rubber hits the road, (START SLIDESHOW) just like the portrait of Jesus' perfect body we idealize the perfect human body now more than ever, and our relationships with our bodies are so complicated and loaded that we often cope by ignoring our bodies until they scream at us for attention.

Think about the struggles that land in our bodies: Struggles in our sex lives, with body image, with our relationship to food, our ability to balance rest and work, our relationship with other people's bodies, bodies that don't fit quite so easily into nice categories. We have an insidious cultural habit of demeaning and objectifying bodies in order to sell perfume. And don't get me wrong the Christian church has been the worst, trying to control our sexuality, and creating negative images of our bodies to suppress and oppress certain people with shame.

All of these complications and struggles divorce us from our bodies. Like the leper our bodies are fraught with illness – we are the most addicted, overweight, prescribed adult cohort in human history. These sacred vessels created in God's image are at risk of being subsumed by the quest for the “perfect body.” This dichotomy between our own body and the perfect body - divorce us from our bodies – suppress the beauty that we already are for some ideal or we ignore our bodies because they are loaded with shame

So here's the deal – This leper story is a story about isolation. This man is divorced from his own body, and kicked out of his religious, social and familial support system to battle this disease alone. And to top it off he is isolated from God, in their cultural context, this disease is proof that he has sinned before God and is therefore paying penance for his sins in suffering. So this man is left utterly isolated.

Jesus' miracle here is that he restores this man to his own body. When you have leprosy you lose sensation – you lose your connection to your nerves, which can eventually cause loss of limb. And so when Jesus heals him – he now is restored to his own body. This man is also restored unto his community, and they can now begin tending to the wounds of his soul from the pain of social isolation.

Like the leper we need Jesus to restore us to our own bodies and to restore us to authentic communities that can help us heal.

Why are people cast out in our society because of their bodies? Maybe they are too fat, too thin, too old or too young. Maybe they happen to love the “wrong body.” People are isolated because they are differently-abled, or their bodies carry the weight of illness or chronic struggles. We carry shame around in our bodies, not just eating disorders and a distorted idea of what “healthy” bodies look like but the general feeling that we are unaware of our bodies and our connection to God through them.

When we affirm Jesus' imperfect skin, we also need to affirm our own sacred skin. How does our culture try to divorce us from our own bodies? How do we lose touch with the sacred goodness of each unique body that is created in God's image, with one uniform and oppressive definition of “healthy” and “beautiful?”

Here me now when I say, “you are a person of beauty and worth, created in God's image.” How does that mantra change us? How can we develop rituals to remind ourselves of the sacred connection of our bodies and souls and minds? What does cherishing and affirming your body look like for you? Is it a yoga practice or a sport? A good bath, a long walk? Is it a nap or a morning routine?

Jesus says, “This is my body – broken for you”

Jesus body was broken

Our bodies are broken

And yet we celebrate them today as a place of sacredness – that God calls “GOOD.”

A beautiful miraculous gift – these things that we walk around in

These bodies that heal and breathe and walk and sing and dance

These bodies are our spiritual homes

May we gather in communion today with this mantra

“I am a person of beauty and worth – created in God's image”

And may that mantra heal us and draw us into communion with God and each other.