From The Acts of the Apostles
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.
1 God be gracious to us and bless us •
and make his face to shine upon us,
2 That your way may be known upon earth, •
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; •
let all the peoples praise you.
4 O let the nations rejoice and be glad, •
for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; •
let all the peoples praise you.
6 Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, •
and God, our own God, will bless us.
7 God will bless us, •
and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.
Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5
Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Sermon for Easter 6
“I do not give to you as the world gives.” – What do you think Jesus means by this saying? It is rather curious, isn’t it?
How does the world “give”? How do we use the word in ordinary speech?
We give a birthday present. We give our apologies. We give our condolences. We give our time and talents. We give information. We give our parents trouble. We give a party. We give the impression. We give knowledge. We give a prognosis.
There are other uses, aren’t there? — The floor gave way. The car gave up. He had a lot to give. His personality had a lot of give. These are all common uses of that word – to give. It raises a great many thoughts about its meaning in our lives.
But the one expression I like is this, “He is an Indian Giver”. Have you ever heard that expression? In my imagination, it has to do with the american indian practice of taking back their gifts. It actually had to do with proving valour and cunning, not mere mean-mindedness. You gave those prize ponies in exchange for something, then you got those ponies back again by courage and guile, in something akin to battle. One was held in esteem if he did win back the gifts.
That is the negative Indian Giving, this taking the gift back. However, there is another way of giving, a positive way of understanding the Indian Giver. This involves what is called the potlach. Among the northwest tribes they would give greater and greater gifts between themselves. It was to keep the other in debt to them, the value of the gift kept rising. First it was one pony, then two and so on.
Is this the way we give? I don’t think the potlach is the pinnacle of giving in the christian community. We would rather only give the bare minimum – just enough to carpet the chancel, just enough to repair the roof, just enough to get that pesky little job done because everyone complains about it.
If we would keep the potlach in mind when we give, what a different state of affairs would be in this building! If we would give more and more, what would would it be like? Perhaps – We would have an overabundance of people in the pews. Or – We could give to those in need here and in the far reaches of the world. Or – We would have enough people willing to play their musical instruments or to lead worship, day by day, let alone week by week. What a holy, catholic and apostolic Church we could be part of!
The potlach calls to my mind Queen Elizabeth’s progress through the west country. One distinguished man put himself in debt to what would be millions of pounds in today’s money, in order to entertain the Queen. This is the way the world gives – in order to gain something for itself. Why? Was he expecting something of greater value back from the Queen?
So with all that in mind, let’s try to interpret this simple sentence of Jesus. “I do not give to you as the world gives.” How does this statement impact on what we understand as giving? How is the gift Jesus gives so very different from our own? Can we start to compare them?
I always think of Jesus’ words, “Greater love has no man, than that he gives his life for his friend.” Can any of our gifts be of that magnitude? I know that mine do not. I give in little ways, but not to the extent that I would give my life for my friend, let alone do anything more than a little bit for the stranger. However, Jesus gave up his life for me, someone unknown before my existence. How can I top that sacrificial giving? My ten pound note is nothing in comparison.
Do we give to those whom we don’t know? Charitable giving goes to those bodies whom we know, doesn’t it? The RSPCA gains its donations because it is known to do good works for animals. – I suppose this is the potlach at work in another way – even Oxfam works on this principle.
In reality our gifts somehow come back to us with more value, don’t they? What about here in Church? Does our giving have to come back to us? We all gain a spiritual home, what price can be put on that? We have to give in a way that the world does not understand – that is what I think Jesus is saying to us all. Do we put a price on this spiritual haven we attend at this holy hour?
I was reading in the Golden Bough of Thomas Aquinas about this verse we are considering and came across this – Augustine writes “He adds, Not as the world gives, give I unto you: i.e. not as those men, who love the world, give. They give themselves peace, i.e. free, uninterrupted enjoyment of the world. And even when they allow the righteous peace, so far as not to persecute them, yet there cannot be true peace, where there is no true agreement, no union of heart.”
What is he giving us – since we are the you Jesus is speaking with – what gift is ours at this point of the story of salvation?
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” The world as Augustine wrote does not understand this peace Jesus gives. It is given in an incomprehensible way – that is, incomprehensible to the world, but to us who obey that command of love that giving never stops giving to us. The peace Jesus gives is something more profound than absence of conflict. It is the ground upon which all life flourishes. Without the peace of God, all fails – isn’t that what the law and the prophets teach us?
I think this is why Jesus goes on to say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
This is the peace of Christ, where there is no perturbation of any sort, where there is no fear at all. We all remember the existentialist dread and angst, don’t we? We have to assure ourselves that in the peace of Christ, there is no anxiety of any sort. We don’t even worry about where the next meal is coming from.
We don’t worry about anything, for “sufficient is the day” … This is not how the world behaves is it? Nothing is sufficient – there is worry and anxiety – there is always the craving for more. We need to give in a way that does not reflect the world.
We need to get back to the peace of God and give that to others in full measure. We need to embarrass them with our generosity, with our gift to them of the greatest value – our love which Jesus commanded.