(Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/kQ4Ks_JqcxI)
23Jesus answered [Judas (not Iscariot),] “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. 24Whoever 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. 25“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But 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. 27Peace 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. 28You 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. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
There’s a funny story about a man who had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. He could receive little company and was not to be excited. While in the hospital a rich uncle died and left him a million dollars. His family wondered how to break the news to him with the least amount of excitement. It was decided to ask the preacher if he would go and break the news quietly to the man. The preacher went, and gradually led up to the question. The preacher asked the patient what he would do if he inherited a million dollars. He said, “I think I would give half of it to the church.” The preacher dropped dead.
Not that heart attacks or million dollar inheritances are funny. Nor clever pastors unexpectedly falling over dead! I guess what tickles the funny bone about the story is how drastic the preacher’s response is to such an act of generosity. Why such a response?! Why is it so shocking that someone would give half a million dollars to the church? And a preacher of all people! Isn’t he above material vanity?! Whether a person gives half a dollar or half a million dollars to the church, a good preacher should be more concerned with the heart of the giver, not the amount of the gift. So the preacher’s response is comical in its sheer absurdity. No preacher worth their weight in salt would react with such extravagance!
This story came to mind as I reflected on this week’s scripture passages. In all of them we encounter the extravagant giving of our God. Indeed, God’s giving is much more extravagant than that of the rich uncle or generous patient. No, God’s giving is beyond worth. We can’t put a price on what God has given us, is currently giving us, and will continue giving us. God’s gifts are truly priceless. They’re unlike any gifts we can give each other. We can’t give the same gifts as God gives. Nor can we give with such abundance as what God’s gives with. God gives like no one else can give. God gives and gives and gives some more! We are truly blessed to know and be in relationship with such a generous and merciful God! God loves us and out of such deep and abiding love God gives to us.
This season, this Easter season, is a time when we recognize just how much God loves us and gives to us. We hear how God suffers and dies on our behalf. Jesus, the Son of God, goes to the cross and suffers and dies. Not only Jesus the man but Jesus the Christ goes to that cross! God dies on that cross!! I know this is hard to wrap our minds around and theologians have been trying to explain it for centuries. I won’t try and explain it either for fear of heresy. I simply lift it up to convey the full magnitude of God’s gifts to us. God, in whom we have our source and being, gives in so many ways and with such an abundance that our minds have difficulty fully understanding. But be assured, God is the greatest gift-giver of all!
Just listen to how He gives in our readings for this morning. In our first lesson, we heard the story of Lydia’s conversion. Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman blessed with a large estate. She had amassed her great wealth without an understanding of who Christ is and the love of God found in and through him. Paul helps her become aware of the good news of Christ and she has her whole house baptized in response. God gives to Lydia, through Paul, an understanding of love that transforms her reality and the realities of those around her. God gives love both unexpectedly and generously. Surely there have been times in our own lives when God’s love came to us both unexpectedly and generously. We were just going about our business and God’s love was poured out upon us so unexpectedly and generously that we were overcome with emotion. We wanted to share His love much the same way Lydia shares His love with those in her estate. Such is the power of God’s love! It compelled Paul to venture into a foreign land to seek out Lydia and it compelled Lydia to convert her whole household.
John continues describing his vision of the new city of Jerusalem in our passage from Revelation. We hear how there is no temple in the city and how it “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.” God’s light, God’s love, is so overwhelming in the new city of Jerusalem that there is no need to shut the gates for “there will be no night there.” This is the reality that God wants us to know. God wants us to know a reality that is without fear and darkness. God wants us to know a reality that is lit by His radiant love. God wants us to drink from “the river of the water of life.” And not just in heaven but here in our world! This is the new Jerusalem, not the new heaven, that John is describing. This is to be known in this world, not the next! God’s love isn’t reserved for the next world, it graciously and abundantly giving to us in this world. We simply have to behold it, to understand it. God’s love will transform our world into a glorious world one day as is suggested by John’s vision.
In our gospel text, we hear God’s love spilling onto us in so many ways! Jesus explains, “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.” Like the great new Jerusalem coming to John, Jesus and the Father make a home with those who keep the Father’s words. In keeping His words, we are blessed with a home unlike any of our homes. It is a home overflowing with the love of God…warm and inviting. Jesus goes on to give more than just a new home. Jesus gives us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who teaches us and reminds us of all that Jesus has said to us. We all need to be taught and reminded about the love of God from time to time. It is easy to forget about it. So God, in His infinite wisdom, gives us a teacher and reminder. As if a new home and helpful teacher/reminder weren’t enough, Jesus goes on to give us another gift—the gift of peace. And not necessarily an external peace but rather an internal peace. This world will always be on the brink of collapse into utter chaos so an external peace is always only temporary. What isn’t temporary is an internal peace, at least not the peace that is found in Jesus. The peace of Jesus is sure and steadfast. The peace of Jesus is deep and abiding. The peace of Jesus is the love of God. The love of God is a gift unlike any other gift and it is given to us so graciously and abundantly through the peace of Jesus.
As we continue through the Easter season, let us ponder all the gifts that God gives to us. Let us reflect on not only the new life that Jesus gave to us by going to the cross but also on the full multitude of God’s gifts to us. God gives His love unexpectedly and generously. God gives us visions of a new reality in which His love is the source of all light and hope. God gives us the Holy Spirit to teach and remind us of His love. Finally, God gives us an internal peace that is unlike any other peace. Let us give God our praise and thanksgiving as we humbly and gratefully…receive His gifts.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.