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The Measure You Give

Luke 6:27-38 and Excerpts from Loving Your Enemies

by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Rev. Nicole Lamarche

Sunday February 20th, 2022

Good morning again, it’s really great to be with you! Here it is a beautiful morning in South Boulder and we give thanks for this spectacular place!

Now, I invite you to take a moment to take a deep breath, and to let yourself arrive more fully, to listen to your heartbeat and give thanks for the chance to worship together in all of the ways that we can. Gracious God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

At their first meeting together, a man named Calvin Craig refused to sit next to any Black members and he even refused to shake Xernona Clayton’s hand. It was 1968 in Atlanta, at a time when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was boldly out in the open, burning crosses in front of homes, businesses and more, engaging in violence and intentional intimidation, wearing their robes and walking in lines outside of restaurants and other white-owned establishments to discourage Black people from coming inside.

Xernona, a Black woman, was at the time, the leader of the Model Cities Program, which was a government initiative to help end poverty in urban areas. And Calvin Craig, was then Georgia’s “grand dragon” of the KKK, and he worked alongside her with Model Cities too.

Xernona said, “I was thinking: if I do battle with him, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

And as Steve Rose wrote of the story, “Over the course of the next few months, Calvin Craig began to drop by Xernona Clayton’s office to talk.”

And maybe even when it was hard for her, “she was always civil and courteous with him. She taught him to say “negro” instead of the racist slur “nigra;” she told him she had many white friends, who often came to dinner.”

And Calvin Craig would carry on and come to her with his pro-segregation arguments, and statistics about how more Black people owned their homes in Mississippi than in the “free north.” And Xernona “would politely counter that less visible forms of segregation existed in the north,” She would kindly talk about low wages and redlining and high property prices.

And she would also talk to him about her faith. In her words, she said to him ‘You go to church so many times during the week, and you got the kind of ideas you have?’ “That’s the way our talk would go.” She said. “Every day, he would come. And he would laugh, laugh, laugh and I would challenge him. I liked him.” She said.

She even came to like him.

And then one weekend, one Saturday, Xernona came home to find numerous cars in front of her house, news trucks and reporters followed by cameras and police vehicles.

She later said, “It turned out that they were looking for me,” “Because Calvin Craig had held a press conference earlier announcing that he was coming out of the Klan, denouncing the Klan, and he credited a Black woman with changing his negative attitudes. And she said, “I was that Black woman.”

I think this teaching from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is one of the most challenging he offers to us. As scholar Vaughn Crowe-Tipton writes, “while the Gospel might be Good News for us all, it is not always easy news… Jesus points his followers then and now toward a narrow and difficult path illumined only by grace, but it is one that rewards us in ways we can hardly imagine.”

I think it is in fact a narrow and difficult path to try and do what Jesus asks here. What if more people took this literally? To love our enemies, to pray for those who do harm, to give to everyone who begs from us, to withhold judgment and condemnation, to forgive. To be clear, I don’t think this text supports remaining in abusive relationships or environments. Doing good to those who hate us, can often include drawing healthy and important boundaries.

Rather, I see this as an invitation to try and live in a lavish love, beyond our egos, beyond being right, beyond judgment, to take the energy inside that we would spend on being mad and transform it, maybe slowly, but to turn it with time…

I think Jesus is saying something similar to what Xernona Clayton said, “if we do battle, we’re not going to get anywhere,” and so what happened is that over many encounters and with patience and faith, the measure of kindness and openness she extended, the teaching she gave him with time and the grace she offered and the kind boundaries she drew even around his words, she still showed the way forward with her love, and the measure she gave, she was given back in ways she could hardly have imagined.

Maybe it feels hard to be as awesome as Xernona. It feels quite extraordinary and hard for me to imagine that she even got to like him. But still, I wonder if part of our call as people of faith is to remember that our power, that inner and outer transformation don’t come from hate or judgement, they don’t come from withholding forgiveness and kindness. It’s clear that the life we need, our inner and outer peace will come from love, from an ongoing commitment to extending grace. And I am finding that sometimes that requires letting go again and again and putting down what might not be ours to hold, the decisions of others, past mistakes, history’s harms, whether someone is deserving.

As we heard from the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “the word agape…speaks of something “creative, something redemptive and creative that seeks nothing in return.”

Maybe the love of which Jesus speaks here is about creativity in the big and little things, even when that is hard? I think that is part of what is meant by it being a narrow and difficult path because doing what Jesus asks here is hard.

Living in a love that seeks nothing in return is a high bar for most of us. So not everyone in the end, can do that, but if we keep striving for a love so lavish that it helps us to reach and be reached across divides like this as one scholar wrote if we are open to, “sowing generosity where nothing is expected to grow.”

Xernona said, “I read the Bible, which says none of us know the day nor the hour when we will leave this earth. So what I do is take each day as it comes. I’ll wake up in the morning, think: ‘Looks like this is a good day to do something good,’ and do it.”

I believe that this happens right here and now, this measure we give and get back. I don’t think it’s about an afterlife because I have seen what happens when we extend grace, this can lead to receiving it and I have seen what happens when we show kindness in the face of anger, that leads to more kindness, if we dare to be creative, and sometimes even vulnerable, we can do all of these things and love beyond our sides. And just like with Xernona and Calvin I think it does take laughing together as we are open to being challenged and extending the challenge to one another.

The pandemic has put all of this right in our faces, that life can change suddenly and it can go fast and it is clear that the seasons carry on and that evolution continues to happen whether or not we choose to evolve. So in light of this truth, I am wondering if we might take more seriously letting go of anger or bitterness because I am finding it is a gift we give ourselves, not allowing that pain to be in the present if it doesn’t need to be, not letting history’s hurts lead our way forward. What would it be like if we took these words literally? And choose to be active participants in a creative and redemptive goodwill? I think we should see what happens. When we recommit to the “narrow and difficult path illumined only by grace” giving our energy to transforming anger for ourselves and for the whole world.

Let us dare to love our enemies. Let us pray for those who do harm. Let us give to those who beg from us. Let us withhold judgment and condemnation. Let us seek to forgive.

Because beloved of God, it looks like this is a good day to do something good,’ and the measure we give, will be the measure we get back, right here and now… I believe it, I have seen it, may it be so for each of you and all of us. Amen.

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