It is said of St. Francis, after his conversion experience, that he made his father quite angry one day, by giving away some of the family wealth.  Francis’ father was a cloth merchant, and good cloth fetched a handsome price.  Francis’ family was quite wealthy and when he gave the money from cloth sales to the poor, his father was furious.  So much so, in fact, that he took his son to see the bishop and complain.  He wanted the bishop to talk some sense into his son… what happened instead, is that Francis stripped himself of his clothes which I guess technically belonged to his father,  and gave them back to his father, proclaiming his new life in freedom from possessions.  Probably a comical site at least in retrospect.  But also one that made an impression on the bishop as well.  Francis lived the rest of his life that way; radically living a gospel life, giving everything he had to the poor around him, traveling and preaching the gospel to those who needed to hear it and begging for what he needed.  His was a life lived in radical giving.

Today’s gospel lesson has much to say about giving.  Giving, loving, and truth are intimately related in the gospel.  It is difficult to pull them apart really; they co-exist in such a way as to feed and enrich each other.

I read a story once about a man who went bargain hunting at his local KMart.  The store was going to close soon, and there were some sales going on.  He asked a cashier what would happen to the inventory if it wasn’t sold; she said that “super buyers” would come and purchase the inventory; my guess is that they would do it for resale.  This man, decided that HE would be the super buyer.  In what turned into a 6 hour shopping trip using all available cashiers, he purchased everything in the store, to the tune of over $200,000.  He then gave every single item to local charities for the poor.  A county representative said that for the first time ever, they would have enough coats, hats and gloves to give to the children in the county who needed them.  

Both of these stories are stories of radical giving … yet even they pale in comparison to what the gospel is talking about.  I don’t know what motivated the man at Kmart to do what he did; and I don’t know what kind of resources he had to begin with.   Francis’ life was one lived in giving everything he had because of the love he had for Jesus and because he knew that being loved by God required him to respond by loving God’s world.  

There is much talk in our gospel today of giving; the Father gives us to the Son, the Son gives us life and gives us back to the Father.  The Son gives truth and in that truth we find faith and we find God.  Today we hear part of what has been called Jesus’ “farewell discourse”.  In the gospel, it’s placed before his death;  some scholars believe it is actually words of the risen Christ to the community, and it certainly has that feel to it.  It makes sense in its place in our lectionary because we are now in that “place between places”; we are between Jesus’ ascension to the Father and the giving of the Holy Spirit.  And so we hear Jesus pray for his beloved and in that prayer he guides them and us into a life of faith, into a life lived in truth, in love and in giving.  The giving that Jesus talks of is a complete giving of one’s self; it is a giving up, in of one’s self so that we might be filled with God’s love and know true joy.  This joy can only be ours when we live in harmony with God and with each other.   It is the kind of joy that characterized Jesus’ life and ministry; his life was so intimately connected to the Father’s that they shared the same will for those whom they loved.  Jesus was so intimately connected to the Father that he knew what the Father desired and he knew how to make that known to others.  And, I am not talking here about empty and arrogant ways that some people seem to think they know what God is thinking or what God wills; one of the most unhelpful and downright hurtful things someone can say to another in crisis, is “It was God’s will”.  The God we worship is a God of loving kindness who does not will the evil that happens in the world.  God does not will our death and God has proven that by giving us the gift of eternal life; and that is true giving; God emptied God’s self to such a degree that it allowed God to live a human life in Jesus; not a particularly powerful life, at least by the world’s standard, but a life lived in service to others that grew out of a deep and abiding love.  And in that life, Jesus too, emptied himself so that God’s love could fill him and allow him to heal others and make them whole; not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

Giving… that is what God’s nature is, one that gives. God doesn’t give for God’s own status or need but gives out of God’s ability to love completely.  It’s a dangerous proposition.  It’s the kind of giving that risks everything for the one to whom all is given; it risks being hated, being left alone, being emptied so much that nothing is left, and yet like so much about the kingdom, when we empty ourselves in such a way, there is always benefit to those to whom we give of ourselves, and surprisingly, we benefit in ways we never thought possible.

This gospel ideal of giving is what we are all called to… It is not just the giving of material goods, as important as that is, but to truly give of ourselves to the point of emptiness… because it is only when we are empty ourselves, that we can become full.  Jesus will always fill us with more than we can ask or imagine if we trust him enough to empty ourselves as he emptied himself.  Do we trust him enough?