Recently I was reading and took note of these words: “When adding ingredients to a measuring cup, be sure no air pockets are trapped inside the cup and the ingredients are level with the top. A ‘regular spoonful’ means the ingredients in it should be rounded, but a ‘level teaspoon’ means the ingredients are even with the top of the spoon. When using kitchen measuring spoons, be sure all measurements are level with the top. There are several places in this book where I mention using a ‘heaping cupful.’ This means you scoop up a full cup of the ingredients, letting the cup hold all it can.”
Now upon hearing this, it would be understandable if you thought that I have been baking cookies for today’s gathering at the Surburg house. It sounds like language out of a cookbook. However, this language about getting proper measurements comes from a very different source. And those of you who come by the house today will quickly understand why I have been reading it.
I have been involved in model railroading with my dad for all of my life. I have helped him build his current model railroad layout that he has been working on for more than thirty five years. However, I use the word “helped” loosely here. When it comes to the layout itself, I have been the second pair of hands. So I have seen my dad do everything, but before building my first layout in Brookfield, IL I had never actually done any of it myself. I built, detailed and decaled engines, freight cars and passenger cars and became very good at that. But I had never actually built benchwork, or laid track and done wiring.
Naturally I had seen my dad do these things. I also talked to others who had done it. But it probably won’t surprise you to hear that one of the things I found most helpful was to read about it. I purchased several really good how to books and read them carefully and this helped greatly. And so when it comes to the bench work, track and wiring of my layout I am very pleased.
However, if you have a chance to visit today, you will immediately see that one significant element is missing – my layout does not yet have any scenery. There’s no grass; there are no trees, or hills or mountains. It’s just plywood. Now I have been working on buildings – especially in the steel mill area – as I get ready to build scenery. But as of yet there is none.
And so I have been reading about building scenery. The statements with which I began the sermon are not about measuring ingredients for cooking or baking. Instead, they are about measuring ingredients for building model railroad scenery – for mixing things like plaster.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus talks about a measure that is used. He says that it is full measure, compacted and running over. He tells us to use this full measure in dealing with others, because the measure that we use is the one we will receive from God. Yet as we listen to the words of the our text, we can never lose sight of the fact that Jesus speaks these words as the One in whom God has already given the over flowing measure to us.
In our text this morning, we jump mid-stream into what Jesus is saying. This section begins by telling us that a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all over the area gathered with Jesus at a level place. We hear, “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’”
If these words sound very familiar, it is because similar ones are found in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. The fact that we find similar words in different settings is not surprising. First of all the Gospels are theological biographies. While they accurately portray real events, it is not their goal to provide an exact chronological account. And second, it is highly unlikely that Jesus never said the same thing twice – or at least something very similar. Like any teacher he came up with good ways to say things, and then used it with different audiences.
I mention these first words, because they are key to understanding what Jesus says in our text. If you listen to our text, you will find that we are being told to engage in a lot of doing: be merciful; judge not; condemn not; give. As a teacher, I certainly repeat things that I find to be helpful. And so many of you have heard me say a hundred times: the Law is what we must do; the Gospel is what God has done for us in Christ. These are statements of law. But the beginning of the sermon makes it clear that they are not bare statements of law.
Jesus begins by saying that to the poor – and here the Old Testament background indicates that we are talking about those who recognize their spiritual need and who trust in God – to them belongs the kingdom of God now. As you know, when Jesus says the “kingdom of God” he is not referring to a place. Instead he is talking about the saving reign of God that entered into the world in him and his ministry. As Jesus will say later in the Gospel after casting out demons: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Jesus speaks because he is the One who is freeing people from Satan, sin and death. This saving work will reach its culmination as he dies on the cross for your sins. But then, through the work of the Spirit, he will rise from the dead on the third day. He defeated death and now has been exalted to the right hand of the throne of God.
This is how God has loved us. This is how he has shown mercy to us. This is how God has given to us. And so in our text, Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” God has shown us mercy in his crucified and risen Son. And now through the work of the Spirit in us, we show mercy to others.
In particular, Jesus says that we show mercy in the way that we judge and forgive and give to others. He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
When Jesus says judge not, he’s not teaching that we never call sin a sin. This is, of course, the way the world today wants to hear these words. Yet Jesus is the One who told his disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” There is forgiveness where there is repentance. And there is repentance where sin is confronted.
Instead, Jesus is teaching us that we are not to be critical of others just to find fault with them. We are not to look to speak about their faults in order to make ourselves feel better. We are not to find fault with them while also ignoring the fact that the same things are present in us. It is not that we are to be silent in the face of sin. Instead, we must repent of the same things that we confront in others.
And we are to forgive. Just like the language in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Jesus speaks as the One who has already given you forgiveness. You have been baptized for the forgiveness of all your sins, as Jesus’ saving work was applied to you. You receive his true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of sins. You are forgiven. But Jesus also says that in this divine dynamic the forgiveness that you refuse to pass on to others cannot remain yours either.
It becomes clear that for those who have received the gift of salvation from Christ, the orientation is directed toward others. He says, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” We who have received the superabundant grace of God in Christ now seek to give abundantly to others.
To be sure, these words of our Lord can strike us in several different ways. On the one hand, no doubt, we hear them and recognize that we fail to do them. We are critical and judge. We don’t forgive. We don’t give. And so when we see this log in our own eye, we do what Christians do: we repent. We confess the sin that is present and return to Christ’s Means of Grace through which we have the assurance of forgiveness. And in this we find forgiveness and peace.
But at the same time, we hear these words and know that we want to do them. You are not a stone. The Holy Spirit has given you the washing of regeneration and renewal. You have been born again of water and the Spirit and so you are a new creation in Christ. You have put on the new man and so by the Spirit’s leading you hear these things and know that they are right. You know that they are good. You know that you want to do them. And guess what? Because of the Spirit it is possible to do them.
No, it won’t be perfect. It won’t be without fail. The old man is still present as you live in a fallen world. But when we listen to Christ; when we seek to follow the Spirit’s prompting; when we are nourished by Christ’s Means of Grace these are things that we can do. We can do them not because of who we are, but because of what Christ has made us to be. For we are those who have received the saving reign of God that arrived in Jesus.