We are nearing the end of our series on the Sermon on the Mount. In fact we wrap it up next week and then we’ll circle back and begin another journey through the Old Testament. This summer we have studied the book of Romans and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And we did them in that order so that we had a really firm grip on God’s grace and unconditional love before we started talking about how we should live. It’s very easy and very common for us to get the idea that God loves us and accepts us because we are good people, because we do the right things. And that’s just not true. God loves us and accepts us because that’s just how God is. But it does matter how we live. We understand God better because of how Jesus lived. And the world will understand God better because of how we live. The Sermon on the Mount is all about that. Salt and light, living by the principles of God’s law, how to handle anger, lust, making promises, taking revenge, loving our enemies, giving the poor, prayer, fasting, our relationship with money, anxiety. So many ways that we can demonstrate who God is by how we choose to live. This morning’s verses are about how our relationships with other people are reciprocal, how our relationships are balanced between what I do and what you do. This is probably another very familiar set of verses, so I invite you to try to listen with new ears this morning. Ask the Spirit to show you something different. “So let us listen now in the reading of Scripture for the Word and Wisdom of God.” – Iona Community Worship Book
Scripture Reading Matthew 7:1-12
Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to someone, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from another’s eye.
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
How many of you liked math when you were in school? How many of you didn’t? I bet that for those of you who didn’t, one of your biggest complaints was, “When am I ever going to use this?” Well my mother is a math teacher and I asked her this question once and you know what she told me? She said, “You’re never going to use this. But that’s not the point. Math is about teaching you how to think.” When we do math, we learn to reason and to think in steps from one idea to the next. And those are skills we all need, even when we are interpreting the Bible and thinking about our own lives. So this morning, I want to invite you to use a little critical thinking skills with this text. The things we are going to talk about today have been big lessons for me and I want to share them with you.
I’m sure that none of you can relate to this, but I used to be very hard on myself. Now Sam will probably tell you that I still am hard on myself, but I used to be VERY hard on myself. And one day someone told me that if I were more gracious with myself, I would be more gracious with other people. That really bugged me, because I thought I was already pretty kind and understanding with other people. I thought I was pretty good at not judging others, even if I did judge myself harshly. But that idea got stuck in my craw and you know what? As I worked on being more gracious with myself, I discovered I really was more gracious with others.
Jesus is not lying when he says, “The measure you give is the measure you get.” And it works both ways. The measure you use for others will be used against you. And the measure you use against yourself is actually a pretty good guide for how you are going to measure others. If you are judgmental with yourself, then deep down inside you are being judgmental of other people too. Now you may be good at hiding it. But it’s there. If you learn to be more gracious with yourself, you will be more gracious with others too, especially with strangers.
Here’s the kicker about the Bible. It’s a great mirror, but a really poor lens. Or maybe I could say the Bible is a camera and it takes great selfies, but it takes really bad pictures of other people. What I mean is that the Bible is not meant to be used to help us figure out what other people need to do. The Bible is meant to be used to help us figure out what we need to do, to help me figure out what I need to do.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t worried about what other folks are doing. He’s focused on what his followers are doing, how we are living. We are the ones with logs in our eyes. We are the ones who judge hypocritically. The measure we use is the measure that will be used for us. It’s the measure we will use for ourselves, the measure that other people will use for us, and other verses remind us, it’s the measure that God will use for us.
These verses warn us against being both too harsh and too lenient. Don’t be judgmental, but also don’t throw your pearls to the pigs. Be discerning, be honest, be kind, in how we treat ourselves and thus in how we treat other people. That’s the first half of the verses we heard today.
The second half is about helping and being helped. Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. We can trust that’s true because we trust in who God is, in how loving and kind God is. We trust that God wants our needs to be met. Which raises a really good question: how does God meet our needs? If God is the source of all good things, how do those good things get to us?
I personally have never received manna and quail from heaven, like the ancient Hebrews did when they were wandering in the desert. I have never woken up in the morning to find my front yard covered with bread and meat from God. But I do believe that God that God has provided for me. I have been given groceries by a friend who knew that I was going through a financially difficult season. When I first moved to Ohio, I had nowhere to live. And some distant cousins that I had never met before agreed to let me sleep in their spare bedroom for a couple of weeks. Now, I believe those groceries and that shelter came from God. But they came through other people, people who knew that I had a need.
My best friend Jill and I have a little principle that we like to call the Reverse Golden Rule. It goes like this. Let’s say I go into labor at 3 in the morning and our car won’t start. I bet that a lot of you would say, “Pastor Beth if that happens you should call me. You could borrow my car or I would drive you myself.” I bet almost all of you who have a car would say that to me and Sam. Now, how many of you would be willing to call me if you needed help at 3 in the morning? I’m not asking you to raise your hands, but I bet it’s a lot fewer of you.
The Reverse Golden Rule is this: if you would do it for me, you must be willing to let me do it for you. Most of us want to be the helper. Very few of us want to be the person who needs help. And that, my dear friends, is unbiblical. God invites us to be just as willing to receive help as we are to give it. Do we want to be courteous in this? Of course. When someone helps us, it’s good to express our gratitude. Obviously. I’m not talking about trying to take advantage of one another. I’m talking about doing what we would want others to do if they were in our situation.
So let’s think for a few minutes about why we are hesitant to do this. It’s very cultural. Most of us in this room were raised in families where we were taught to work hard, to take care of ourselves, and to put ourselves last. In fact the narrative of our whole country is that people earn what they have and that if you just work hard enough, you can get what you need. This is a country built on an unhealthy level of self-reliance. We judge people’s human value by how much money we are able to produce. This is what we are taught and so even if we push back against it, it’s deeply rooted in us. Which means that most of us are ashamed when we need help, especially when we need financial help. But many of us also feel ashamed to need help as we age, or even just when we are sick.
Friends, this is not healthy and it does not reflect the Kingdom. All of us in this room have at some point been in a situation where we needed some kind of help. Sometimes we got there because we made a really stupid choice. But more often than not, we got there because life is hard and complicated and even when we do the best we know how, things just don’t always go our way. And there is nothing to be ashamed of in that. Those are exactly the moments when God wants to meet our needs through the caring and generosity of the people around us.
Think about how good you feel, how blessed you feel, when you are able to help someone. Now imagine that every time you are willing to ask for help when you need it, you are creating an opportunity for someone else to feel that good. When we refuse to ask for help, we are keeping someone else from being blessed. When we are ashamed of needing help, we are saying that everyone who needs help should feel ashamed of it. And I know you don’t actually think that. Because that’s not how you treat people. I’ve seen it. I’ve watched you step in and be generous and serve one another.
So this is where we use our logical math skills and our Bible knowledge. If someone else should not feel ashamed of needing help, then there’s no need for you to feel ashamed of needing help. You are not better than other people. You are not a special category of human from other people. It makes no sense for you to be harder on yourself than you are on other people.
Now I’m being so direct about this this morning, because as the pastor, I hear things that not everyone else hears. I know there are needs in this congregation that you are not sharing with each other. I’m not going to call you out, that’s not my job. But there are those among us who have financial needs, who have food needs, who have transportation needs, who are lonely. And there is also tremendous capacity in this congregation to meet those needs. And friends, that is why God has brought us together. As we said last week, each of us has a gift that we all need. We have gifts of money for the Family Emergency Fund or just to give one another. We have gifts of time to spend together. We have gifts of preparing a meal, gifts of networking to help people find jobs. But if we don’t know what the needs are, then all of those gifts just lie dormant. They just sit inside us being unused. We spend our free time watching TV and fill our spare bedrooms with stuff, and we miss out on all the blessings of giving. And we miss out on the blessings of receiving.
Now it’s scary to ask for help, for all of the reasons we’ve already discussed. I know it is. But if no one knows you have a need besides God, most likely no one is going to meet it. The enemy of our souls uses the power of secrets and shame to keep us separated from one another. But God calls us to be courageous and vulnerable so that we can do the work of the Kingdom: feeding the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the foreigner, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoners.
The measure we give is the measure we get. Jesus invites us to do for others as we would have them do. As a rabbi once said, “That’s the whole Law, everything else is commentary.” Amen.