The first time I practiced yoga, the instructor, once everyone was seated and quiet, encouraged the class to close our eyes and to “begin to notice your breath.” Despite her calm voice, my competitive and perfectionistic brain took a hard left in attempt to ‘win’ at yoga on that first try; I overcorrected and when I noticed that my breathing was shallow and swift, I forcefully slowed it, taking long and slow breaths. Just as my inner narrative began to congratulate myself on succeeding at yoga in the first two minutes, the next thing she said was, “don’t change your breath, just notice it.” I immediately felt let down by my own self-imposed and manipulative changes instead of taking the opportunity to listen to the teacher and to let her words guide me.
As I prayed through the gospel text for today, I felt myself leaning into a similar self-imposed and manipulative structure. We pick up this week where we left off last week, still in the Sermon on the Plain. My first thoughts were that I do not love my enemies as I should; if someone took my goods, I would, in fact, ask for them again. And I felt myself begin to make a mental list of all the things one needs to do to ‘win’ at Christianity. You gotta give to everyone, you gotta not be judgy, you gotta bless those who curse you. Pretty soon, I felt myself sliding into a fatalist understanding of what God is inviting us to here; I felt overwhelmed by the idea that this list just sets us up to fail. And not only that, but I also began to bristle at all the times “pray for those who abuse you” has been said to a woman in a broken, abusive marriage to maintain the sheen of Christianity, and how forgiveness has been so twisted as to be demanded by those in power, without equality of relationship or change of behavior.
And as all of this jumbled in my mind, it was the last line of our gospel text that made me pause: “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Something clicked in my brain, and I realized that I was forcing my perception of Christianity around what I thought Christ was meaning instead of simply listing to the teacher and letting his words guide me.
And I don’t want us to get it wrong. Jesus is not saying these words in congratulations to this crowd for all the ways in which they’ve got it right, but he is instead, inviting them to a life that is shaped by the love that will ultimately land him on the cross. The words of Jesus here are the words of God inviting us into a deeper way of life; this way of life, this cruciform way of living is one that Christ is offering to the crowd as they consider if it’s worth it.
In the Sermon on the Plain, Christ works to make things level, and it gives us a chance to decide. Do we actually want to be disciples of Christ and not just nominal Christians? Do we want to take up the patterns of life that Christ offers here?
I think that we, here at this church and in this community are uniquely positioned to consider this question because we are in what seems to be a holding pattern. It doesn’t feel like a pause, I know; everything feels so hectic and busy-ness continues to plague most of our lives. But if we stop and notice our breath without changing it, we can see that we are nearly suspended in time and place; our community is still recovering from a natural disaster.
One of the things that Father Steve said in our staff meeting a few weeks ago that has stuck with me is how with each change in the tornado recovery, it is like it unearths a new layer of grief. When whole housesfinally get taken down or fallen trees removed, it is jarring. It feels like we should be over it, especially for those of us who had no damage, but we are held right now in the truth that we are not even three months out from the worst natural disaster most of us have ever been through, and we are held in this place of continual and renewed grief.
On my eight-block commute to church, I pass truly unfathomable levels of devastation. Every day, a stray shingle, a bit of insulation, or a silent, still pile of concrete blocks remind me that everything is not quite as it once was. And for you, this might be your own neighborhood, or maybe you don’t see any tornado damage in your normal rhythms of life, but as I was turning past what used to be thriving business on my way to church this week, I thought about how tender I am feeling. How this grief is holding me in place, it’s like I’m out to sea and at the will of the waves all around me; sometimes I have the strength to swim, but largely I just have to look around and take stock of where I am right now.
And this is where I think we have a unique gift in light of Christ’s Sermon on the Plain. I think this season of life provides the opportunity to pause and to notice where we are and what we are putting out into the world. Is it easy for us to love our enemy, but hard to not judge? Or perhaps it’s easy to write checks without need for repayment, but the idea of forgiveness rattles your weary bones? Maybe you’re waiting to feel stable after the tornado or maybe just all of it feels impossible right now.
The reality is, we are different people than we were three months ago, we are a different congregation, and the unique gift of that is it allows us to stop and consider whether we actually want to be disciples of Christ. Not whether we want to be nominally Christians, something terrifyingly easy to do in our region of the world, but whether we want to be changed by the teacher who invites us to a deeper way of life. I would argue that it is worth it. I would argue that the measure we give is worth paying attention to. That loving our enemy is worth what it costs us as is judgement-free mercy that challenges us in this deeper way of life. I believe that it’s worth it, I believe that it worth considering the measure we give and accepting God’s invitation into a deeper way of life, but this is a decision that you will have to make on your own.
You are the one who must consider what it will cost to be a disciple of Christ; to consider the uncomfortable places that Christ invites you to in today’s gospel. To consider the measure you give to the world, and whether you would be happy with it being returned unto you the same.
The measure we give to the world is one that will be deeply shaped by the things laid out in today’s gospel, perhaps especially to the extra tricky parts. And so, I invite you this week, as we all stand in this in-between place full of grief and recovery to consider the measure you give, the measure we collectively give. And as you do so, perhaps notice it, but don’t change it and consider whether or not you’ll accept Christ’s invitation into this deeper way of life to become disciples of our crucified and resurrection Messiah.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on February 2.0, 2022 for Epiphany 7C on Luke 6:27-38