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Sermon for 7 Epiphany, Year C

Based on Lk. 6:38

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Overflowing Abundance”

The Bible teaches us that when we cast our bread on the waters, it will return to us. Someone once said: “Cast your bread on the waters, and it will return to you buttered!” In today’s gospel, Jesus affirms this truth by saying something similar. The last verse of our gospel passage today—which is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain—provides us with a wonderful summary of the gospel message. Jesus teaches us to: “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.

   God’s grace and generosity, God’s abundant giving is one of the central themes running through the Sermon on the Plain. This verse gets that message across with a colourful word picture. God’s overflowing abundance is described in the words: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together.”

   Even today, when we go on a trip and wish to take along everything but the kitchen sink; we will likely choose the largest suitcase available and press down, or even shake together our belongings in order to get as much in the suitcase as we possibly can. Jesus goes on to say that what we receive will be “running over (and) will be put into your lap.” Now why would he want to put anything running over into our laps? That seems like a rather unusual place to put something running over, doesn’t it? You know, nice fashion trousers, or that stylish dress, we don’t want something to happen to them now do we?

   Well, in Jesus’ day, the words “into your lap” meant a large pocket made above the belt area from the fold in a robe, which was usually quite bulky. Jesus was saying that even this huge bulky pocket was not big enough to contain the good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. The Good News Bible captures something of God’s superabundance by rendering it this way: “Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping.” We cannot really measure the generosity of our God because it is so broad, deep, wide, and high. It far exceeds our human capacity to measure. As God’s sons and daughters, created in God’s image, we too are taught here by Jesus to share God’s generosity with everyone. The following story underscores the truth of our Lord’s words in a rather negative and sad way.

   For many years a man had worked faithfully as foreman of the building crew for a wealthy contractor. The contractor decided to take a long vacation on a world cruise, but before leaving he gave his foreman a set of plans for a dream house. “Build it according to specifications and spare no expense,” he instructed. “I want this to be a good house for a special reason.”

   After the contractor had gone, the foreman thought about the many years he had worked for small wages, and he decided that this was the time to make a profit for himself. He cut down on the specifications for the house and substituted cheap material wherever it would not show, pocketing the difference. Then the contractor returned and examined the house. Then he told the foreman, “You have served me well for many years. In reward I have planned this house for you. It is yours, to own and live in.”

   Who got cheated?1

   As Jesus says: “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” In our lives too, most likely there have been times when we have been miserly like this foreman—times when we have lived to regret our lack of giving and our failure to be generous. Hopefully such times in our lives have taught us a thing or two about the need to change our attitudes and behaviours; to follow our Lord’s teaching by practicing generous giving. Since everything that we have and own is really a gift of God’s love and grace; entrusted to us for the service of God and our fellow humanity; is there really any other option available to us than that of generosity?

   The following story shows us that generous giving is not done out of a sense of nagging guilt or after listening to some manipulative hard-sell tactics. Rather, generous giving is done freely, lovingly, joyfully, as the result of God’s grace working in, through, and with us.

   Four years after Frances Ridley Havergal had written the words of the hymn “Take my life,” they were printed.

   When she re-read the verse, “Take my silver and my gold, Not a mite would I withhold…” she suddenly realized the true meaning of the words and her own failure to obey. For she had an amazing collection of exquisite jewellery, most of which she had inherited. They were kept in a fine jewel cabinet. Immediately she packed the jewel box full (except for half a dozen pieces which were special mementoes of her parents and relatives), and she sent it to her Church Missionary Society.

   Then, just to make sure, she wrote a cheque to cover the value of the jewels she had chosen to keep. Afterwards she said, “I don’t think I ever packed a box with greater pleasure.”2

   In every area of our lives Christ’s words ring true: “give and it will be given to you.” Moreover, what is given back to us so often is, as Jesus said: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.”

   Dr. A.J. Fristoe once said with deep conviction that for every good thing he had ever done in his life he had received from God payment in full, and then he related this experience:

   I went to England on a preaching tour once, and the committee who met me told me that I was to be the guest in one of the finest missions of the old country and that they had not arranged it but that the owner and his wife had come and begged for the privilege of being my host and hostess for the entire time I was to be in England.

   When I walked into the palace, I was dumbfounded and deeply curious. I knew that back of it all must be some reason. I was not kept in suspense long, for as soon as we were comfortably seated my host told me that they didn’t feel I was a stranger; for their son had spoken so often of me and had told them so much about me that they had known me for a long time.

   This son was an officer on a British cruiser which had docked for repairs at Norfolk, Virginia, years ago. He had drifted into my church, and because he was concerned about his spiritual life I invited him to come home with me to dinner. He came often after that, and we became fast friends. One day he became a Christian and I had the pleasure of baptizing him, but I had long since forgotten him, even his name.

   The British newspapers had reached his cruiser on the other side of the world, announcing my coming to England, and he had cabled his father. It was the first time I had ever been entertained by royalty. For nearly two months I lived amidst the loveliest expressions of gratitude.3

   May we, like Frances Ridley Havergal, like Dr. Fristoe, and countless other, be blessed with the faith to see how richly our Lord has provided for our every need. In response to our God’s generous gifts to us, may we be blessed with the gift of being generous in all that we think, say, and do.

   So, cast your bread upon the waters, and not only will it come back to you buttered, it will be filled-to-overflowing with the best that God has to offer, now and always: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.”

 



1 Albert Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 107.

2 F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1977, meditation for February 5th.

3 C. Roy Angell, Iron Shoes (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1953), pp. 42-43.

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