Open-Handed Living February 20, 2022
Thanks for tuning in.
Today's message is about living by God's generosity, or as I like to say, open-handed living.
Our passage is found in Luke 6:27-38, where Jesus is giving a life-altering sermon to his followers, and we read:
** "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.
If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
**30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do that.
34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
**35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
**36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
**38 Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.
For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
**Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist who came to Christ at the peak of his secular career, was forever changed by his time with Mother Teresa.
He talked about her order coming to start a ministry in London, which happened to be during a labor strike in which the power companies had turned off the lights in the city in a protest for higher wages.
As they dedicated the building, they took a moment for a quiet service in that darkened house.
**It was the most beautiful service I have ever attended.
As it happened, the electricity workers' go-slow was on, so we had only candlelight, which somehow added to the mystery and majesty of the proceedings.
I thought of the vain battle of greed which had plunged London in darkness that day, and of how such battles and such darkness are the stuff of history and the fruit of our unredeemed moral natures.
Here in this front parlor of a small suburban house, where an altar and a cross had been set up, a little clearing was made in the dark jungle of the human will.
I was enchanted to be there.
(Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, pg 109).
The dark jungle of the human will.
The airless chambers of greed where nothing and no one is ever truly free.
We've all been there - we've suffered from it and been part of creating it.
As Muggeridge writes, "such battles and such darkness are the stuff of history."
Humanity runs by the expectations that "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" so to speak.
We give only to the point that we've gotten ours first.
Tit for tat, eye for an eye, this for that.
If they give me a gift, then I'll give them one.
It's so easy for our love and generousity to become conditional.
**Greed and powerplays certainly aren't restricted to individuals.
Lately we've heard, "If you promise that Ukraine won't be permitted to join NATO, then we'll pull our troops back."
Or how about this one: "Lift all COVID restrictions and we've leave Ottawa."
Perhaps you can think of other examples.
Indeed, this is the stuff of history AND our present day.
Jesus' sermon in Luke 6 frees us from this dark jungle of greed and power-playing.
In just a few paragraphs that probably took twenty minutes to speak, Jesus turns the whole tired human story on its head.
Let's look back at this well-known moment in Jesus' ministry to see how he undoes our human instincts and shows us what it means to be truly human, how to pursue open-handed living.
Although Jesus' message provides enough subject matter for a dozen sermons, we are going to focus on three details today.
**These might seem a little disconnected from one another, but we'll see how they tie together in the end:
* **The level place
* The golden rule
* The generous measure
We'll start with the **The level place.
Let's read Luke 6:17
**And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people (Luke 6:17 ESV)
This verse appears a little bit before the focus passage for today and gives this passage its name, "The Sermon on the Plain."
Matthew's account of this sermon is called the "Sermon on the Mount," which is probably better known.
Whether the writers were telling this from two different angles or Jesus gave the sermon twice we don't really know, but it wouldn't be a surprise that an itinerant preacher like him would recycle and reuse material.
Harmonizing these two details is not nearly as important as what the details tell us.
**Matthew sets this on the Mount, casting Jesus as a parallel to Moses, who received the law on Mount Sinai.
Matthew's Gospel is written with Israelite history as a theme.
But Luke's theme is economics and inclusion, and he regularly writes about the poor and the outsider as being central to Jesus' mission.
**The setting of Luke's version is on a plain - a "level place," which works as a visual metaphor for collapsing the hierarchy of human society.
In Christ, there is no rich or poor or slave or free, but all are one, as it says Galatians 3:28, and Luke sets Jesus' speech in a place where everyone stood on equal footing.
Jesus had proclaimed what his kingdom would be like in Luke chapter 4, where he described his ministry as the Israelite year of Jubilee, in which slaves were freed and debts were forgiven.
Luke follows this declaration with several stories in the next chapters of people who aren't usually welcome - disabled people, tax collectors, prostitutes - that Jesus heals and welcomes into his community.
The Sermon on the Plain follows.
It is a manifesto of what Jesus' kingdom looks like, where the poor are blessed, generosity trumps greed and enemies are loved.
And he does so in a level place, where all the odd balls, sophisticates, outsiders, insiders, elite and outcasts look each other in the eye.
**What does it mean for us, in our society today, to meet on a level place?
For those of us in the West, equality and egalitarianism is something we talk about a lot, but it's not always something we act on, even in the church.
Those who look or dress different than us are often left out of the conversation while we wait for our homogenous group to come back around so we can truly be ourselves.
**But Jesus invites us into a different dance.
He says that the old hierarchy, which was brutal in the ancient world, won't work anymore.
He calls us to unity without uniformity, celebrating the unique voice that each person brings to the choir.
**The Golden Rule
**Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?
For even sinners love those who love them.
(Luke 6:30-32 ESV)
You probably recognize the "golden rule" in the midst of Jesus' words here.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
This is one of the most famous pieces of Jesus' teaching, but it was actually not original with him.
Similar phrases were spoken by other ancient teachers.
Typical of Jesus, however, he spins a phrase in his own direction, taking it to the next level.
What Jesus takes aim at here is the ethical code that Rome and much of the ancient world lived by: **Quid pro quo.
In Latin, the phrase means literally "what for what", or "something for something"
Society at this time ran on this exchange.
You gave a gift to someone because they gave you one.
You hosted someone at your house, and they had to host you, or they would be shamed.
And that shame meant more than embarrassment.
It meant loss of reputation.
Possibly loss of livelihood.
Society became this maddening web of who owed who, of who thanked who, who offended and avenged who.
**This is not exclusive to the ancient world.