I have shared before that in seminary in my twenties, I spent five months studying at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. One weekend, a local student named Phillip invited another seminary student, Todd and I to visit his grandmother in his hometown of Mutoko about 150 kilometers away in the Eastern highlands. Phillip had few resources, so Todd and I rented a little 4-seater car that Phillip drove. The trip was going to take about 2 ½ hours depending on road conditions. We drove out of town and as we chatted away, Phillip saw two people walking on the side of the road. He stopped and talked with them, and they got in the back seat with me.
I had the back seat to myself —a back seat I had paid for—and now I was crowded. We headed off again. A little further down the road, Phillip stopped again, and he picked up two more people. Todd now had a woman on his lap in the front seat, and I had someone half on my lap, half on the person squished next to me. Jammed up against the door handle with the window crank in my ribs, I put my face out the window to get a little air. I was so uncomfortable and started to get mad. Todd and I had paid for this car—it was our money; it was our car, even though Phillip was driving. This was our trip, and essentially, and it was our right to determine how uncomfortable and inconvenienced we were willing to be when spending our money. And we were being nice! Phillip would never have gotten home if it were not for us.
Fifteen minutes later, Phillip stopped the car again, and picked one more person to make 5 in the back and 3 in the front in a car built for 4 people. I was mad!
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus continues his sermon on the level plain—he came down to a level place so that everyone would know that they are equal in the kingdom of God. Now he gives a little more detail about what living in God’s kingdom is really like if we are still listening!
• Love your enemies,
• bless those who curse you,
• Give to everyone who begs from you;
• Do to others as you would have them do to you.
• lend, expecting nothing in return.
• Be merciful,
• Do not judge or condemn
• Forgive and give
Jesus reveals a society where everyone trusts ultimately and only in God’s goodness as the pinnacle of our life, our relationships, and even our social networks. Jesus wants all people to experience blessing, and for us to be the vehicles of God’s goodness—not based on how other people treat us, but rather based solely on how God treats us—on God’s unlimited love and mercy for us.
It's hard to imagine isn’t it?
• Never letting someone make you mad,
• never giving into vengeance,
• never expecting someone to return a favor,
• never wanting them to give back what they borrowed,
• not hating the person who has done you wrong,
• not resenting being completely squished in the backseat of a car that you’ve paid for without even being asked
Instead, Jesus invites us to be so singularly rooted in God’s over-powering, out-pouring, over-flowing love and mercy and grace, that all of those negative thoughts and feelings fade away; love and forgiveness and generosity come pouring out instead.
Jesus not only did this throughout his whole ministry, but he also behaved this way from the cross:
• seeking mercy for the soldiers who executed him he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
• offering salvation for the criminal who hung next to him, he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus died blessing people.
Jesus rose again so that we might join him and live out his mission of blessing people. Through his resurrection we are filled with his Holy Spirit, so that through him, we might have moments and ministries when we love as God loves, when we offer mercy as God offers mercy, when we give generously as God gives generously. None of us do it perfectly all the time, but through the gift of Jesus Christ flowing through us, we can offer God’s love and mercy and generosity more often than we know.
When we arrived on that car trip to Mutoko, Zimbabwe, we were like clowns pouring out of a Volkswagen. We all stretched and worked out the kinks. I was so relieved to get out of the car and take a deep breath. I was still trying make sense about what had happened in my car that I had rented. Then I looked at the faces of the 5 people we had picked up. They had such huge smiles on their faces! They were so grateful, and so, so happy. They were shaking hands with Phillip and each other, and laughing—they were so excited and so relieved—they had made it home! They could spend more time with their families whom they had come to visit. We had driven nearly 100 miles—it would have taken them 3 days to walk the whole way.
If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again…. Do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
It was a humbling lesson.
Before we headed to his home, Phillip took us on a hike through the foothills off the road just to look around. We came upon a hut with a thatched roof, and an elderly woman came out to greet us. She was very thin, wore a white wrap around her head. Her old shirt and skirt were threadbare. She gave us the traditional greeting by clapping her hands in welcome, she bowed down and offered us water. We sat with her outside her home and after bringing water, she knelt before Phillip and asked him if we would be staying for dinner, or if we would need to stay for the night. She had no idea who we were and yet she was ready to offer what little food she had, and her home as shelter from the wild animals at nightfall. Phillip thanked her for her hospitality and let her know we would be moving on to his family’s home.
Give to everyone who begs from you; Do to others as you would have them do to you.
We were even more humbled by her generosity and hospitality.
When we did arrive at Phillip’s grandmother’s house, she had been grinding by hand a delicious stew of squash and peanuts which we at for dinner.
Life for Phillip, for his family, for the woman in the hut, and for most of the people we met on our trip, was not about acquiring ownership, and anxiously hanging on to it –it all was a gift from God to be shared. Life was about using whatever resources they had at their disposal to bring benefit and blessing to the most people possible.
Give, and it will be given to you. 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.
On Sunday when we drove back to Harare guess what we did on the way home? We invited people to get in the car! We had a resource to share—and we found out on that trip, that it was not a car for 4, it was a car for 8! It was a beautiful way to learn that I do not own anything, only God does. And when I share what God has given me generously, it gives God a chance to give me more to share.
One of our members with whom I have spoken a lot about giving and this campaign said to me that whenever he gives generously God, God always gives back what he gave, and more! He looks at his accounts and the money has grown again to more than it was before! I call that 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.
That’s what we celebrate today as we bring forward our pledges and prayers for our Moving Forward in Faith Campaign—that God is generous to us and through us, and because Jesus’ Spirit dwells in us, we can share generously with God’s mission as we look to the future. We all have something to offer the mission of Jesus Christ at St. Luke’s.
On a dusty African road, I learned that all that we have is a gift from God to be shared to bring benefit and blessing to the most people possible. And that’s what we do in this church where Spirits Come alive! So let’s join together in believing the foundation of Jesus Christ, belonging in unity for mission and growth, building God’s vision for our future!
Image Attribution: JESUS MAFA, Cameroon. The Sermon on the Mount, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48284 [retrieved February 21, 2022]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).