Margins of Grace
I have a friend who tells about wandering into an old library while traveling in London. He found a section with really old books and opened one. It had old English type script which wasn’t the easiest to read, but he found the language and style of writing very interesting. After a few minutes though, he realized he was getting a headache reading this book. He thought at first it might have been the font that was giving him problems, but when he set the book down and looked at the page from a distance, he realized the problem. There were no margins. In this old book the print went right to the edge of the pages and filled them from top to bottom. He realized he had never seen this before. We are so accustomed to looking at pages with margins around them, that trying to read pages with no margins tires you out.
That’s a pretty good analogy for our lives. When we see no empty spaces, no places that aren’t completely filled, we wear out. To live well we need margins. But, it’s up to us to create them.
I once heard a speaker who said that 95% of what we do could be done by someone else. Someone else could do our jobs, as someone else will one day. Someone else could do our chores. Someone else could serve on boards or committees we are a part of, but there’s at least 5% no one else can do. No one else can do our exercise for us. No one else can do our praying. No one else can do our resting or eating well. No one else can be a husband or wife to your spouse. No one else can be a parent to your child, or a son or daughter to your parents. We alone have to do that. So what is your 5%? What are the things in your life no else can do? What does that include? This is what goes into the margins of your life.
Think of your life as an open book. You have to have so much that goes on the page. So much time and energy for work. So much for chores and taking care of what you own. So much resources in order to live. That is what is necessary. The Margin is: The amount beyond what is necessary. The time, the energy, the resources you create space for in order to devote to what is most important. This is why we have titled year’s stewardship series Margins. The word steward means manager. It has to do with managing what God gives us as God would have. That includes more than money. It includes our influences, our bodies, our talents, as well as everything we borrow. Notice I didn’t say own. We don’t really own anything in this life. We just borrow it for the time we are here. What we do with it is a question of stewardship.
So try this for definition of stewardship: The purposeful effort to build margins for the things that matter most. That’s what we are going to talk about each week, the things that matter most in our lives and the margins we have to intentionally build in order to value those things. This morning we think of the number 1 most gift God gives us and that is people. People matter most. If we are to truly value people, what is the margin we will have to build into our lives to do that? Let’s listen to one of our members as he connects his volunteer service at church with what it means to value people…(Rob Wineland video)
I love that last part. We all need grace. The grace it takes for Rob to work in the parking lot reminds him he is someone who needs grace as well. If we are to value people it will require that we build margins of grace on our lives. Now that might not seem like a typical stewardship message, I know. Stewardship is often about just money. When we evaluate the biggest human needs in our world we often put dollar figures to it. To solve hunger it would cost so much. To solve the issue of clean drinking water for everyone in the world it would cost so much. To provide basic vaccinations for people, it would cost so much. But as my friend Ted Grossnickle, who serves on the national Generosity Commission points out, that just showing the dollar amount need doesn’t seem to cure the problem, despite the fact that in the last 20 years the average household income of the top 1% in America has nearly tripled, while average giving has held the same at 2%. If people just increased their giving 1% that would mean an additional 130-plus billion dollars given to charitable needs.
We have the resources to solve the world’s problems, but just talking about money isn’t enough. The need, or perhaps, the motivation runs deeper. It comes down to the way we value people. And this is something Jesus talked a lot about.
In the Gospel of Luke chapter 6 Jesus gives what is known as the Sermon on the Plain. In Matthew it is known as the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus preached from a hillside, but Luke says Jesus came to people on a “level place.” That means what Jesus had to say was for everybody.
I. So like Matthew Luke begins with the beatitudes, or blessings, but then moves into the verses we heard read earlier. The message is simple. Jesus describes what it means to show grace to others. You could divide it into two parts. The first, verses 27-31 are packed with weighty sayings: love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and the Golden Rule. And right in the middle is them is this: “Give to everyone who begs from you…”(v.30)
I have a little problem with this. Give to everyone who begs from you? That’s the very ethic that has created so many scam artist in our world. Because of people’s generosity there are those who take advantage of the kindness of strangers. A few years back I was walking to my car in the Target parking lot just down 86th street. A man approached me and said he was on his way to work at Butler and his car ran out of gas across the street. Someone at a service station at the Kroger was going to loan him a gas can but he needed money for gas. I only had a $10 bill so I gave it to him, my only cash. And then I did something I shouldn’t have done. I watched him to see if he was telling me the truth. He walked over to where he said his car was. He got in it, started it, and then drove off in the other direction! He never went to the service station.
I came back to the church and saw Jamalyn Williamson who was our Pastor of Outreach at the time. I told her that I thought I had just been ripped off and about the guy who needed gas money in the Target parking lot. Jamalyn asked, “Does he work at Butler?” I said,”How did you know?” She said, “Rob, everybody knows about this guy. He’s been working this entire area. Everyone knows,” and then in typical Jamalyn fashion she added “And now everyone includes you!”
It’s infuriating when you know you’ve been taken advantage of. And the temptation is not to give to anyone who asks, to think everyone is on the take. You can trust a soul. Before you know it you can become cynical, critical, stingy. And that’s not the way we are meant to be. And that’s not who we are called to be.
If you were here for the start of our last series going through the Bible, you might recall one of the foundational beliefs about God and humanity from the creation story. We are created in the image of God. God’s nature is loving, and forgiving, and full of grace. That is who we are.
Perhaps that is why Jesus gives the advice he does—if someone wrongs you don’t repay; if they take from you, just let it go; yet Give to anyone who asks. I don’t believe that means let yourself be intentionally duped. If someone calls you from a number you don’t recognize claiming to be your nephew stranded in an airport halfway around the world, for goodness sakes don’t give them your credit card number.
No, I don’t think Jesus is saying, “become a doormat.” I believe he’s inviting us to
Build into your encounters a margin of error. Because when people do sefish things, when they cut you off in traffic, when they cheat you out of ten dollars, that’s not who they really are. That’s not who God made them to be. It’s often who they have become in a world that has taught them to believe that’s who they have to be. So build in a margin of error. When the person zooms around you in traffic, and you want to speed up to prevent them from cutting in front of you, give them a margin of error. When you give money to help someone, just hope it is for what they say, give a margin of error. When someone offends you, don’t return the favor. Respond if grace. Give them a margin of error.
The peculiar thing is that every now and then, an act of grace is what keeps us from becoming cynical. My last church was located about 2o miles north of Charlotte, NC. Though it was a rapidly developing area, it was uncommon to see people at intersections begging for money, but while I was there, a man started appearing at the end of the main exit ramp off the interstate that took you by the church. This got people talking about this issue. Many said things like, “It makes me so uncomfortable to see people doing this when I am stopped.” “I hear many of these people aren’t even that poor. They make a lot of money they don’t even pay taxes on.”
Well after one of our services I was greeting people as they left and a man shook my hand and as he went past I thought he looked familiar. A few minutes later he returned. He handed me a $20 bill. He said, “Reverend, I found this in the parking lot. Someone must have dropped it, so I wanted to return in case they come looking for it.” When he left this time, I realized who it was. The guy from the intersection who held the sign asking for money. I just marveled at what had taken place, but then the story got better.
Two days later I received a message from a member in the church. He said he had been challenged by a sermon to look for ways to practice generosity. He was coming home from work that Friday, got off the exit, and there was this guy holding his sign. He felt this compulsion to give him something. He wrote, “I have never given to people like this before. How could I know they weren’t misusing my gift, but I felt a need to practice generosity, so I got my wallet and handed him the only bill I had, a $20 bill.” He wrote about the peace it gave him.
I wrote him back and said, “well let me share what happened after that experience…”
“Give to anyone who begs of you,” says Jesus. What if we all tried that this week? Just give when asked, not for anything unethical, but believing it would help a person. Who knows. Maybe we will discover the world’s not all bad. If nothing else, we will find that we’re not bad.
II. Then the next part of this passage is verses 32-36, which repeats the same principle but this time from an opposite perspective. In the first part Jesus tells us not to respond in kind to people who wrong us. This time he says essentially the same, except it has to do with those who show us kindness. He warns not to return favors just to those who have shown favor to us. Even “sinners” do that says Jesus.
This word sinner gets bandied about quite loosely in the first century. In one regard it meant what we may mean, immoral people, people who use and abuse others, and so on. But in Jesus time, it was more often used simply to describe people who didn’t believe as they did nor follow the Jewish laws. In other words sinner was a way of talking about “those” people. People they felt were not as good as they are.
Jesus says if you only invite to dinner people who have invited you before that’s no different than what sinners do. And though Jesus didn’t say it, the implication is clear, and none of us would dare invite a sinner to dinner would we? Because we only show kindness to people we believe deserve it.
Fred Craddock in his commentary on Luke says, “The difficulty many of us have with God’s kindness is two-fold: First, God’s behaves with favor toward persons whose life-style does not merit such favor; and second, we are to relate to others with the same graciousness of God. God’s people do not so often quarrel with God about how they themselves are treated as they do about how God is too generous toward others.” (Commentary on Luke, pp90-91)
Just like we don’t like it when someone takes advantage of us, don’t we get a little put off when someone gets more than they deserve? That’s perhaps why Jesus gives this advice. If the only kindness we show is to people who have done something for us, then life will become one giant quid pro quo. We will put everything on a ledger sheet and keep up with what we owe and what is owed to us.
Look Jesus words in verse 32: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (v.32) Notice the word credit. Some other translations use reward. Clearly it is saying what are you going to get out of it if all you do is love those who love you? But the word translated credit or reward is charis, the Greek word for gift. If all you do is love those who love you then where is your chance to give? Where is your chance to show grace? Because when we show genuine grace, when we do things in which we aren’t looking for reciprocity, then we discover that we don’t really want to live in a world where everyone gets treated the same. We want to live in a world of grace.
So maybe Jesus lesson here could be summed up this way: Focus on Blessing, Not Fairness! (vv27-32) We teach our children to be fair and play fair, and I wonder if we do them a little disservice, because they grow up believing everything in life should be fair, and it’s not. And we really don’t want it that way, because if we all got what we deserve, what would we have? In the end, our greatest need is grace. When we give without expecting in return we discover true grace, and find that’s a much better world.
Let me close with a real life parable. Remember, a parable is something that has many levels of meaning. I’ll just tell the story and let you determine what it means to you.
Several weeks ago Iowa State University played Iowa and was featured on ESPN’s College Gameday. Carson King held up this sign (pic) that said, “Busch Light Supply Needs Replenishing” and he gave his Venmo address which is an online payment system. This made it on camera. As the morning went on, his friend noticed that Carson’s found kept showing he was receiving messages. He said, “Who keeps texting you?” Carson checked and said, “It’s not texts. Its my Venmo account. I already have $400.” He was shocked. Aren’t we all? Talk about just putting it out there. No duping. No cheating anyone. Just a brash request for beer money, but it worked.
Not only that, within days, $400 became thousands of dollars, and hundreds of thousands! After consulting with family and friends, he decided to take anough money to buy one case of Busch Light and give the rest to the Stead Children’s Hospital in Ames Iowa. That hospital is named for Jerre Stead the chair of the board of trustees at Garrett Seminary which I am a part.
Well the gifts have continued. Busch Light found out about and matched the total gifts to date along with a year’s supply of Busch Light to Carson. Venmo has also given. Just a few weeks ago Carson presented this check more than $3 million dollars to the hospital.
But there is an added twist to this story. A reporter for the Des Moines Register started doing some background investigation into Carson King. The reporter found that when King was 16 years old he tweeted a racist comment, and published it in the newspaper. King quickly denounced his action. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t say, “But look at all the good I’ve done.” He didn’t attack the reporter. He admitted being a foolish teenager and that is not at all what he thinks or believes today, and he’s sorry he ever said such a thing.
Now get this, a little investigation was done on the reporter. It was found that he had previously done the same exact thing—sent a racist tweet. He’s now been fired from his job.
As for Carson King, he has $400 in his checking account. He works for the Rapid Response Security team at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona. He is trying to save enough money to go back to college and one day get a job in law enforcement. He says, “I make my own money. I just bought my first house. I pay my bills, and I am happy I could this for the Children’s Hospital.”
Story if Iowa State student…
You just never know but when you show grace you discover goodness.
Read some of verses 33f. If all we do is help people who help us back we will keep life on a ledger sheet. We will keep track of who has paid us back, what we are owed, etc.
Grace breaks the need to keep life fair. Yet, that is a value we teach our kids. Be fair. We teach the idea that life should be fair. But life isn’t fair, and we really don’t want to live in a fair world, because if we all got what is fair, we will probably get a lot less than we should. We don’t need fairness, we need grace.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.