The Boomerang Syndrome
Peter Marshall –
If ever the name of a Presbyterian preacher were a household word, Peter Marshall’s name would be it. He is the best known, most admired Presbyterian of this century. His impact as a Christian in this nation was so powerful that they made a highly successful movie about his life. The film was entitled, A Man Called Peter. Powerful preacher, eloquent writer, innovative thinker, committed servant—Peter Marshall was all of these and so much more. His intense dedication was beautifully balanced with a wondrous sense of humor. You may recall that he was the one who said: “When I became Chaplain of the Senate, they told me that I was supposed to pray for the Senate, but I took one look at the Senators and decided instead to pray for the country!”
Well, since this is stewardship season here at First Presbyterian, it seems a good time for me to share with you a fascinating story about giving. It’s a true story—and it was told originally by the great Peter Marshall.
It seems that a well-to-do English family went to Scotland one summer for a family vacation. The mother and father were so looking forward to enjoying the splendid Scottish countryside with their young son. But one fateful day, the son ventured off by himself and, as young boys will sometimes do, he landed himself in big trouble. Hiking through the woods, he came across an old abandoned swimming hole. In his boyish enthusiasm, he took off his shoes and his shirt and plunged in for a swim. The young boy was totally unprepared for what happened next. He was seized and immobilized by a vicious attack of swimmer’s cramps. Both of his legs cramped up, and he began to scream for help, while fighting a losing battle to stay afloat. Fortunately, providentially, I believe, a young Scottish farm boy was working in a nearby field. He heard the cries and came running to the rescue. He dove into the water and pulled the drowning young English boy to safety.
Well, the next day the father of this rescued boy met with this Scottish lad to thank him for his heroic and sacrificial deed. As they visited, the English father asked the young Scottish boy what he planned to do with his future. With no real enthusiasm, the boy replied: “I guess I’ll just stay here and help my Dad on the farm.” The Englishman then asked: “Well, is there something else you would rather do?” “Oh, yes,” answered the young Scot, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but the truth is that we don’t have enough to pay for the education that would require.” The English gentleman then said: “Never mind that. If you want to be a doctor, you shall have your heart’s desire. You go on and study medicine, and I will take care of all of the costs. You saved my son’s life. It’s the least I can do.”
The young Scottish boy did indeed go on to become a doctor, and that grateful English father paid for everything.
Years later—it was in December of 1943—Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Great Britain and one of the great leaders of the world. While on a state visit to Africa, Churchill was stricken with pneumonia and became desperately ill. It was a grave and precarious situation. Word was sent immediately to Britain’s most noted physician, Sir Alexander Fleming, requesting that he come immediately to treat the Prime Minister. Fleming was the doctor who had discovered the new miracle drug penicillin. So Fleming flew to Africa and quickly administered his new drug to the desperately ill Prime Minister. In doing so, Dr. Alexander Fleming saved the life of Winston Churchill for the second time! You see, Alexander Fleming was the young Scottish farm boy who had plunged into the murky waters of that old abandoned swimming hole in Scotland many years before to save the life of a young English boy, whose name happened to be Winston Churchill!
This amazing story illustrates, in dramatic fashion, a great principle of giving and living taught to us by Jesus in Luke 6. Jesus said: “The measure you give will be the measure you get back.” In other words, what goes out comes back. The more we put into something, the more we get out of it. I like to call that “the Boomerang Syndrome.” You see, as a young boy, Fleming responded to an urgent need. He risked his life to save someone. He gave all he had, expecting nothing in return. Yet, as a result of that unselfish act, his great dream in life was made possible. He got to become a doctor. And then, look at this: Winston Churchill’s father gave Alexander Fleming his medical education. He gave it expecting nothing in return. He gave it for one reason and one reason only—gratitude! But look at how that gift boomeranged—how it came back to bless his family. The medical training he paid for as a gift of gratitude ended up saving his own son’s life!
Jesus makes it absolutely clear that there is a close relationship between giving and receiving. “The measure we give is the measure we get.” Now, we do have to be careful here. Make no mistake, Christian giving is not a con game. It is not a strategy developed to coerce God into blessing us or to get other people to do nice things for us. That’s not why we give. In fact, that kind of giving is not Christian at all. It is shallow, selfish, and manipulative.
A couple of years ago, one of the television news magazines reported that a TV preacher in Texas had a million people listed on his computer who were sending him ten dollars a month. The pitch was: “Send me ten dollars a month, and I will pray for you, and God will send you blessings and success and prosperity.” Think of it, one million people sending that TV preacher ten dollars a month, all of which prompted a friend of mine to say sarcastically: “I don’t know if that prosperity plan works for everybody, but it’s working real well for that preacher!”
But you see, that’s an awful, abusive, sickening, and sinful distortion of this great Biblical principle. We don’t give in order to gain prosperity. We give because we are grateful. We don’t give in order to get God to do something for us. We give because God has already done something for us—He saved us in Jesus Christ. So when Jesus said, “The measure you give will be the measure you get back,” He was simply reminding us that the more we put into something, the more we get out of it. If we reach out to others in caring love, that love comes back to us many times over. If we touch other lives with kindness, kindness is most often returned to us. If we immerse ourselves in involvement in the life of the church, oh, how that blesses us. If we dedicate ourselves without reserve to the cause of Jesus Christ in the world, a sense of meaning and purpose begins to flood our lives. Of course, the flip side of that coin is equally true—if we are harsh and judgmental and critical and negative toward others, then the world tends to be harsh, judgmental, critical and negative toward us.
That’s the Boomerang Syndrome. What we send out tends to come back, either to bless us or to haunt us. The measure we give is the measure we get. On the strand of that marvelous teaching from the lips of Jesus, let me string three pearls of wisdom, not my wisdom but the Lord’s…
Ponder the measure we give of our presence—P-R-E-S-E-N-C-E—to the church.
Let me say something to you with all of the feeling I have in my heart: please come to church. Make church attendance a priority in your life. I was visiting the other day with one of the great couples in this church. They have a place at the beach which they dearly love and regularly enjoy on weekends. But do you know what they said to me? They said: “We have learned that we can enjoy our time at the beach more if we get up on Sunday morning and drive back into Orlando in time for church. We found that by doing that, we take better advantage of our time at the beach, and we inevitably find a blessing in church.” So let me say to you: if you have been away, please come back. If you’ve gotten out of the habit, make a new start. If you’ve never been a church attender, why not give it a try? You will be welcomed with open arms. We can’t all preach the sermon, we can’t all sing the solo, we can’t all teach the lesson, but we can all be present; we can be there; we can support the church with our presence as long as we are physically able. You see, every time we come to church, we are taking our stand with Christ, and we are exerting our influence for His cause in the world.
Do you remember the story about the man who was blind and mostly deaf, but who never missed church? He was there every Sunday. Someone asked him: “Why? You can’t see what’s happening, you can’t hear much of what’s said, but you are always here. Why?” He answered: “Because I want the world to know whose side I’m on!” Well, I wonder. Can the world tell by our love for the church, by our devotion to the church, by our attendance at the church—can the world tell whose side we are on? The church needs our prayers. And the church needs our presence. The measure we give is the measure we get.
And next, ponder the measure we give of our presents—P-R-E-S-E-N-T-S—to the church.
We have so many dreams for this church, so many exciting programs we want to expand, so many helpful ministries we must continue, so many new ventures we want to initiate. But the truth is: we need your help. We need your support. We need the gifts of every single member. Think of it in these terms: if every member of this church would pledge and give in proportion to the blessings received from God, we could do so much good in people’s lives and in our city and in our world. Do you realize that if every member of First Presbyterian gave five dollars more per week in 1995 (that’s the cost of a small pepperoni pizza!), it would increase our budget by 1.3 million dollars! If every member were to increase his or her giving by just one dollar a day, it would increase our budget by 1.8 million dollars. If all of us were to tithe? Oh, well, what could be done for Christ is almost beyond description!
But let me turn it around for just a moment. In the great moments of life, the most significant moments of life, even the most difficult moments of life, the church is always there for us. In the joys and sorrows from the cradle to the grave, the church is there for us. When a baby is born, the church is there. For children and youth, the church is there. At marriage, the church is there. When sickness hits, when troubles arise, when death comes, the church is there for us. Now, it’s time for us to be there for the church with our gifts, our presents, our money. The measure we give, Jesus said, is the measure we shall receive.
What I am referring to today is a life of commitment, a life like that of Jimmy Marius…
Jimmy Marius was a Down’s Syndrome child. When he was small, his parents moved to a place called Dixie Lee Junction, Tennessee, so that Jimmy could grow up in a place of tranquillity. They had a farm there and attended a small church nearby. Jimmy became a fixture in that little church and town. Jimmy had three things with him all the time. One was his Bible. He carried it with him everywhere, even to bed. He couldn’t read it, but he couldn’t stand being without it. The second thing he carried was an unsharpened pencil. He liked it striped, and so people who loved him sent him striped pencils. The third thing was a fan. Even on the coldest day, Jimmy would sit in church fanning himself. It may have seemed strange to some, but Jimmy got a lot of joy from it. Best of all, though, Jimmy loved to go to church. He loved to sing, and he loved to put his money into the offering plate.
One icy Sunday morning, his parents told him that the church had been cancelled. But, then, someone rang the church bell, and Jimmy heard it. He was so distressed about missing church that his father had to carry him piggy-back up the hill and through the snow to church. Some, I suppose, might regard Jimmy’s life as unproductive; but the people who knew him learned a lot from him about the true meaning of commitment to Jesus Christ. He lived to be 65 years old, and, when he died in December of 1991, people from all over crowded that church to overflowing in tribute to this loving, utterly selfless, human being.
As I think about Jimmy Marius of Dixie Lee Junction, Tennessee, I wonder what you and I are doing with the gifts God has given us. How much of our lives, if any, belongs to Jesus Christ? Ah, it might do us all good to think long and hard about Jimmy Marius of Dixie Lee Junction, Tennessee. For, you see, the measure we give in life is the measure we get.