Again and again outsiders who wanted to alleviate the simplicity and austerity of their way of life found no one ready to receive the money or goods offered. Thieves were therefore no threat, partly because the hermits had nothing worth stealing but also because they wanted to have less and not more:
When Macarius was living in Egypt, one day he came across a man who had brought a donkey to his cell and was stealing his possessions. As though he was a passer-by who did not live there, he went up to the thief and helped him to load the beast and sent him peaceably on his way, saying to himself, ‘We brought nothing into this world (1 Tim. 6:7) but the Lord gave; as he willed, so it is done: blessed be the Lord in all things.’
A brother was leaving the world, and though he gave his goods to the poor, he kept some for his own use. He went to Antony, and when Antony knew what he had done, he said, “ If you want to be a monk, go to the village over there, buy some meat, hang it on your naked body and come back here.”
The brother went, and dogs and birds tore at his body. He came back to Antony, who asked him if he had done what he was told. He showed him his torn body. Then Antony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep their money are attacked in that way by demons and torn in pieces.”
Macarius and Antony as cited by Benedicta Ward in The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London: Penguin Books, 2003) 53.
The key message in this morning’s Gospel is to put it plain and simply that God calls us to be generous. We know that this is how God is towards us, so we are to follow his lead and example. It sounds simple and straightforward, and to put it simply, it is. But it isn’t easy – oh no, far from it; it’s fine in theory but when it comes to practice it is a different matter entirely.
People simply don’t like doing it! Following Christ makes demands upon us: who and what we are, what we do, how we live our lives. It is far easier to be selfish, self-absorbed, to love wealth, power, and influence, than to love and follow Christ.
SO this leads me to my next question this morning, how do we? How do we live lives of generosity? I suspect that there’s no magic formula, no deep spiritual insight other than to say simply by doing it! The more we try and do it, then the easier it gets. If we get on with it TOGETHER then: it is less strange, there is camaraderie, and it gets easier. This is what being a Christian community, and living a Christian life together looks like. It’s easier if we do it together, we can love, forgive and support each other, carrying each other’s burdens.
The world around will tell us otherwise. It will tell us that we need to care about wealth, and power, and stuff. That it’s the way to be happy, to be powerful, and successful, to gain respect, and value in the eyes of others and ourselves, that this is where happiness and respect lie. It is certainly a seductive proposition, and many are seduced by it, both inside the church and outside, the temptation to be relevant, to give people what they want rather than what they need, to go along with the ways of the world. To be seduced by selfishness, self-interest, and sin. But we need to get some perspective: these things do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Wealth, power, and influence, are no use to us when we are dead, they won’t help us to stand before our maker, we cannot take them with us when we depart from this world. They may benefit our immediate family and friends, but that is no guarantee of anything in the long term. Would we not rather, when all is said and done be remembered as kind, generous, loving people, quick to forgive, and seek forgiveness. Isn’t this a better way to be?
What does matter, however, is firstly loving God, and listening to Him, and secondly loving your neighbour – putting that love into practice. This is the core of our faith, what we believe, and how we are supposed to live our lives. The costly love of God and neighbour is how we need to live, to be fully alive and live out our faith in action. This is what Jesus shows us in the Gospels, this is what he teaches and why he dies and rises again for us, and we need to listen to Him, and to follow His example.
It’s why he gives us the Eucharist – to make us one in Him, and to give us strength. It is why we are here this morning, so that we can be nourished body and soul with word and Sacrament, so that we can be transformed more and more into His likeness, fed with the bread of life for our journey of faith, strengthened to live like Him, to live with Him, and in Him, strengthened by the gift of his Holy Spirit, poured into our hearts. So let us come to Him. Let us be fed by Him and with Him, and transformed more and more into his likeness, to live out the same generous self-giving love in the world, let us lose our life so that we may truly find it in Him, who is the source and meaning of all life.