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.