Freely received, freely give
This week I was invited to be part of an online discussion about the role of AI in education. So I thought I might start by sharing with you what ChatGPT made of this challenge – “write me a sermon on Matthew 9:35-10:8 in the context of refugees”. This is part of its response (an extract, but otherwise unedited):
…in Matthew 10:8, Jesus instructs the disciples, saying, “Freely you have received; freely give.” These words emphasize the essence of Christian hospitality and generosity. We have received the boundless love and grace of God in our lives, and we are called to share these blessings with others, particularly those who have been displaced and are in desperate need. Our response should not be one of hesitancy or indifference but rather an outpouring of genuine love and care.
Today, we bear witness to an unprecedented global crisis of displacement, with millions of individuals seeking safety and a fresh start. As followers of Christ, we cannot remain passive or indifferent to their plight. We must recognize that behind the statistics are real individuals, each with a unique story, a face, and a soul yearning for hope and restoration. It is our responsibility, as the Church, to extend a helping hand, to offer comfort, and to advocate for justice on their behalf.
OK – so while I don’t know that I’m giving up writing sermons quite yet, it seems that ChatGPT gets it:
“Freely you have received; freely give.” These words emphasize the essence of Christian hospitality and generosity.
Indeed they do.
Jesus sent out his friends, those who had been sharing life with him, learning from him as their Rabbi, he sends them out to do exactly the things that he had been doing:
As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
All the signs that Jesus had been showing of the reality of the reign of God: people set free, from sickness, exclusion, even death – Jesus tells them to do those things, and as they do so, to declare his core message: “the kingdom of God, the reign of God, has come near”.
But that idea, that Jesus charged his friends, charges us, with the work that he came to do, that’s something I’ve talked about a lot in the past few weeks. Our bite-sized saying this week is in Jesus’ final words:
You received without payment; give without payment.
Or, as one might put it – when you share what God has freely given to you, don’t expect to be paid for it.
The Uniting Church, along with many Christian denominations has always understood the stipends given to ministers not as pay, but as doing what is needed to make it possible for them to do the work the Church has discerned they are called to.
So we don’t have the controversy of successful pastors with mansions: there is no pay for performance!
But expectations of recompense are often much more subtle than that. One of the questions you get invited to consider as part of the training for the ministry is how you would respond to people who are give generously to the offering, but then expect things to be done the way they want them to be done. Giving, but expecting payment. Overt expressions like this might be rare, but there is the more subtle expectation that if one gives (financially, or in the generous giving of time and energy), one might expect ones wishes will hold more sway.
But that’s not really where I want to go today either.
Because today we’re reflecting on refugee week, and perhaps there is nowhere in modern Australia that this command of Jesus could be more powerful than in our attitude to those seeking asylum in our land.
And when it comes to the opportunity to live freely in this country, we have received without payment.
We may not feel that we’ve won the lottery in life (though by global standards we surely have), we may rightly claim to have worked hard for what we have.
But everything we enjoy is built on what we have freely received; and which others have not.
Most of us here were not born into a warzone, or had our homes taken from us or destroyed. Most of us have not lived in fear that we, or those we love, might be taken from us, by the random chance of violence, or by systematic persecution based on our race, our language, our faith, our political views.
Most of us enjoyed the opportunities of education without having to worry about whether it was safe to go to school, or whether we would be turned away because of our gender.
Most of us have not seen our way of life degraded by changes in the environment – fish stocks decimated by mega trawlers, land lost to salination and rising sea levels, changes in temperature or rainfall – or by natural disasters of earthquake, volcano, tsumani.
Most of us have not found ourselves fleeing all we know to seek a new place for ourselves and our families because of events completely beyond our control. Or had our culture and way of life torn away from us by foreign powers claiming our land as theirs.
I name those (and there are, of course, many others) in the negative – things that have not happened; but given the world we live in, we should see their absence not as the normal state of affairs, but as a gift, a blessing. To have lived in a stable, relatively wealthy, relatively just, relatively free, society, is a gift that we have been given. Without payment.
And Jesus’ words speak to that truth: You received without payment; give without payment. We cannot hear Jesus’ words, and continue to argue that we should place protecting our standard of living above the needs of others. Because You received without payment; give without payment.
Or, as ChatGPT put it, We have received the boundless love and grace of God in our lives, and we are called to share these blessings with others, particularly those who have been displaced and are in desperate need.
Back when a computer AI beat the world Go champion – the last strategy game to fall to a machine – a friend of mine played the achievement down, saying “talk to me when it can write a decent poem.”
So the final word today goes to ChatGPT again, responding to my request to “write a sonnet on refugees based on Matthew 10:8”
Freely received, now freely we shall give,
To refugees who seek a haven’s light,
With open hearts, their burdens we’ll relieve,
In selfless acts, compassion takes its flight.
In foreign lands, they yearn for peace’s shore,
A guiding beacon in their darkest plight,
Their stories heard, their dreams we shall restore,
With empathy and love, we’ll make things right.
For as we sow the seeds of kindness deep,
A harvest blooms, a world united, whole,
In giving, bonds of understanding seep,
A tapestry of grace, our shared life’s goal.
So let us answer mercy’s sacred plea,
Embrace the refugees, their hearts set free.
Not great poetry, perhaps, but better than I can do. And definitely to the point.