Along the way, along the journey from the Festival of the Resurrection to the Festival of the Pentecost, you and I are being invited to so much richness. This is truly what Isaiah the prophet calls “a feast of fat things.” Present company (perhaps) excepted.
During the Easter season, we hear of the very first history of the Church, in the Book of Acts. Last week, Acts spoke to us of Peter having visions that people could walk in the Jesus Way who had lived in the Jewish and Gentile traditions and no traditions at all. Peter being equipped mainly for tending the flock and feeding the lambs in his own ZIP code. Here, we see Paul, who has a serious case of wanderlust, showing you and me the Jesus Way for a man of Macedonia, which is in Paul’s world not very far from the western edge of the world. So the Jesus Way is also for Greeks. Well and good. And then what happens?
Finding themselves in Philippi on a sabbath, Paul and his companions go outside the gate of the city to the river, expecting to find “a place of prayer.” And, the text says, We spoke to the women who had gathered there. Bible readers know Lydia as the first female convert named in the Book of Acts. And she deserves a sermon of her own. But consider the implications!
Even as Peter is opening the gate to the Jesus Way to Jews and Gentiles, Paul is opening the gate to Greeks and to women. To women! That must mean that the Jesus Way is open to you and to me. And more than that, much more. That means that the Jesus Way is open to people who find companionship and intimacy in ways that are not like me. And people whose bodies function differently from mine. And people whose brains operate differently. And …
Okay, we could go on like that for a very long time. And yet. There is so much more richness in the readings for today. Deep breath. Let’s continue our journey.
What does Psalm 67 have for us? May God be merciful to us and bless us; may the light of God’s face shine upon us. This calls up echoes of the Shabbat prayers made in an observant Jewish household on Friday evening. The earth has brought forth its increase, the psalmist writes; God, our own God, has blessed us. May God give us blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe.
Even as Paul and his companions are sharing the Jesus Way to the ends of the earth, the psalmist from generations before Paul reminds us, invites us, to ask for the blessing of the Creator. One more point before we move along: the blessing over the candles, the blessing bringing light into the Sabbath in the household, that’s one that the woman prays. A woman like Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth.
So together with Lydia and her household, and together with the households that gather and pray for God’s blessings and mercies, we turn to Revelation, where we encounter the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, and on either side is the tree of life.
The river of the water of life. Was not the place of prayer that Paul expected to find … outside the gates, by the river? Is not the river itself representative of a source of life that takes us from Revelation all the way back through our journeys to the Garden? Almost as though this whole Jesus Way is circular. And that you and I are together walking this way along with, well … along with Jesus. And so we arrive at today’s Gospel reading.
Here, in John 14, Jesus is preparing to depart from his students and travel to the cross. And, as does every good teacher, he has a heart-longing to give them a parting gift, one that will sustain them all the rest of their earthly lives and beyond.
Peace I leave with you.
My peace I give to you.
I do not give as the world gives.
Last week, we heard that the Kingdom of God present among us here and now, is different from the kingdom of the world in which we live. And that the Kingdom of God in the life to come is different, because there is no more division, but the same, because we are present with God. It is in this understanding of kingdom that Jesus speaks his last gift of his earthly life to this intimate gathering of students.
Not peace as in: Peace out, y’all. Not peace as the world gives. My peace I leave with you. The peace that passes all understanding. The peace of the Kingdom of God, you and I are invited to a transformative foretaste of that peace, here and now, and a promise of a really good seat at the table, near the desserts, in the Kingdom of God yet to come.
And the follow-up reminder: I do not give as the world gives.
The world gives with strings attached, perhaps. How often have you and I given our time, our selves, our possessions, with expectations? Maybe the expectation is to feel lighter and freer after having donated lots of stuff to the yard sale. Maybe the expectation is that when we give and give and give our time and energy to another person, the recipient should feel obligated, if not grateful.
In our family, we have been known to give cash or a check at Christmas with a scrap of string or yarn taped to it. The giver will explain to the recipient: “Use this for your mission trip. Use this at the bookstore. Use this at your local yarn shop.”
So the response to hearing Jesus say, I do not give as the world gives is not to feel guilty about all the giving we have done, or will do, or to beat ourselves up for not being Jesus. I have checked. I’m not Jesus. And my information is that you’re not Jesus, either.
What if the response to hearing Jesus say, I do not give as the world gives is for our hearts and our minds to think: Wow! How does Jesus give? And like the Teacher he is, Jesus answers the question even as we think about asking it. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.… I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Show them what you’re going to show them. Show them. Show them what you showed them. And you and I and all of us have been invited to go and do likewise.