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The way God gives – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

Easter 6 – Sunday 26th May 2019 – 10am Choral Eucharist

Acts 16.9-15 & John 14.23-29

‘I do not give to you as the world gives …..’ when Jesus said that the first time, I wonder what people thought he meant? It is the phrase I have been pondering since beginning to think about what I am going to say this morning.

‘I do not give to you as the world gives …..’ I can’t answer the questions about how this might have been understood in the 1st century but I will have a go at exploring what it might mean to us today. I think nearly everything the world gives is in the context of a ‘deal’. This starts in childhood – I can remember making all sorts of deals with my children as they grew up encouraging good behaviour, deals involving both rewards and punishments. The deals that get made later in life often involve an exchange of money – we get the goods we want when we hand over enough money. We give our time and our skills to our employer and they give us money. How many times have you actually read the Terms and Conditions pages on websites? These are the terms and conditions of the deal that we are making at the time. Even the exchange of Christmas Cards can end up feeling like a bit of a deal! We have got to the stage where we expect everything we ever receive to be actually part of some kind of a deal with someone else. It’s the way the world gives.

Today the world also tries to give with clarity – the tendency is that everything, from news to entertainment to other important information is given as quickly and as succinctly as possible, if not in ‘soundbites’ then in easily understood prose.

The world also gives by making noise. Mobile phones are constantly ringing, pinging and vibrating with the latest message, update, gossip or crisis. Roadside hoardings, TV adverts and the margins of most searches on the web, scream their messages about what we should be buying, what our bodies should look like and how we should be living our lives.

Nearly all of this is troubling and fearsome – even those with plenty of money are constantly worrying about whether they have the best deal, perhaps there might be a better one. Those with little money are also dissatisfied because their perception is that they cannot have what others have. We are troubled by the news and the way the news is reported – are we being told the truth as it objectively is or are we being told the truth through the filter of a particular political standpoint or the prejudices of shadowy billionaire or oligarch? Also soundbites can blur and misdirect as well as clarify. We are troubled by the constant noise which is a soundtrack to all our lives tempting us to look at this, listen to that, want this, think about that, laugh at this, cry at that … it goes on and on …. endless deals, banal soundbites and aggressive shouting provoking worry and fear in all of us …… these are the ways the world gives today!

“I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14.27

How does God give?

First of all, God gives himself to us generously in Jesus Christ, and there is no deal involved. There is love without conditions for everyone. This love is not earned or won or even deserved – it is just there for every single one of us and nothing can stop it. The unconditional love which flows from God cannot be taken away – as St Paul says in Romans ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God.’ Romans 8.38

The gifts of God are best spoken of in poetry not in prose. Carefully crafted words, music, art and architecture are the channels through which God gives understanding or provokes faith. The stories Jesus told and his actions, the washing of feet, the breaking of bread, are all poetic. They do not mean just one thing, their meaning is many layered, like all great poetry.

God does not shout. Sometimes God’s gifts are given in sheer silence.

Part of the problem we face today is that we are so used to being given things the world’s way, churches often try and be channels for what God gives, in the world’s way – and that will never work for long. I remember going to Willow Creek, a so called ‘mega church’ in Chicago. The massive car park and the entrance was just like a shopping mall and the ‘church’ was an auditorium or a huge lecture hall. No cross, no art work at all as far as I can remember. This was a church with the single aim of communicating faith in an easy, comfortable and accessible way – they were attempting to give the things of God in the way the world gives …….

Even the monk, Thomas Merton, the great 20th century spiritual writer talks of catching flu not long after becoming a monk and being confined to his bed in the monastery’s sanatorium. He remembers feeling a ‘secret joy’ at having time to pray without all the pressures of the chores and commitments he had as a member of a religious community – and then he was ashamed as he realised that all his bad, worldly habits had sneaked into the monastery with him – he was trying to live the Christian life with the same ambitions, self-centeredness and busy-ness that so often apply to the rest of life. Living life in Christ should not be just another version of living life in the world.

Richard Holloway, a retired Bishop from the Episcopal Church in Scotland in his latest book ‘Waiting for the last bus’ says

“The Church is for the most part led by people who believe that the best, indeed some would say the only legitimate way to talk about faith is prose. Clear and accessible statements about what is true. There are others in the Church and on the fringes who believe that the only real way to talk about faith is through poetry. Beautiful words and experiences, music and art which reaches for understanding and meaning and is content not always resorting to reason and grasping after facts.” p. 30

Holloway even talks about the power and effectiveness of a Cathedral Choral evensong to touch and inspire people with little understanding of faith and the things of religion – most people and many leaders in the Church would say that Choral Evensong is outdated and inaccessible to most people and in some senses it is, but Choral Evensong is above all else poetic – it raises the spirit and directs the heart to something beyond itself – maybe that is why our congregations here are so large?

God gives generously and without conditions. We cannot and should not try always to ‘package’ the things of God in easy ‘soundbites’. The things of God are best received in stillness rather than in noise and shouting. Jesus makes it absolutely clear that God gives, not to trouble or frighten us, but to bless us and to help us face the challenges we need to face. God gives in order that we may know that we abide in God and God abides in us. God gives in such a way that we become true disciples and start giving to others, not as the world gives, but with the same generosity, selflessness and gentleness that we receive from God.

“I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14.27


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