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What I Have I Give

More than twenty years ago, sociologist Wayne Baker was looking for a new idea in

business. He was inspired by the Kula Ring, a ritual gift exchange that happens among people in the 18 islands of the Massim archipelago in Papua New Guinea. Baker wanted to come up with a way to leverage resources within communities in a way that helped people to create a reciprocal network of generosity to solve problems among the participants. If that felt like a lot of business-y jargon, fair enough. Basically, he was looking at the problems and needs experienced by entrepreneurs and realized that if people had an opportunity to connect with others and share resources, they could solve each other’s problems. “You need this? Well, I know a guy. I need this. Who can help?” So, in naming his inspiration and goal with his wife, Cheryl Baker, a social scientist herself, Cheryl crafted what is now known as a Reciprocity Ring.

Organizational Psychologist and Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant helped adapt the idea, and he now implements Reciprocity Rings in groups and companies around the world. Grant writes, “The idea is to show everyone involved how little it usually takes to get something done when an entire group puts their energy behind one individual’s needs.” Everyone participating in the Reciprocity Ring is required to share a need and the entire group works together to make relevant connections, open doors, share lab space, offer feedback, whatever is needed to solve the problem. It’s an incredibly successful idea as far as business goes- people get jobs when others can help make connections, less money is spent, people spin their wheels less. And everyone pitches in to solve the problems because 1) a lot of people want to help others, 2) everyone wants to receive help, and 3) no one wants to be the jerk who didn’t help. In the business world, the efficacy of Reciprocity Rings is tracked. Their research indicates that the “monetary values of benefits achieved typically exceeds $150,000 [and that] time saved by participants typically exceeds 1,600 hours.” Reciprocity Rings, regardless of industry or scale seem to work. But of course, none of this is a surprise to people of faith who have learned from Jesus’ own generosity.

Peter and John are on their way to the temple for afternoon prayer when they encounter a man who is unable to walk for himself being carried by others, presumably, hopefully, friends. Each day, they would set him outside the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Heartbreakingly, someone whose body did not work in a typical way would not be allowed to actually enter the temple. So, each day he would sit outside, asking for alms from those who were going into the temple. The text tells us that this man had been disabled since birth, and in 4:22 we read that he was more than 40 years old. While we don’t consider 40 to be old now (thank you, very much!), remember the average life expectancy in this era was closer to 35 due to a lack of medical care or sanitation. This man would be considered an old man on top of being physically disabled.

He sees Peter and John entering the temple and as he likely did with every other passer-by, he asks them for money. Peter and John “look intently” at the man, and Peter tells him to look at them. The man “fixes his attention on them” and Peter explains that he has no money, but Peter’s got something else he can give the man. “Stand up and walk,” he says before taking him by the hand and helping him up. And the man is healed, his feet and ankles are made strong. And he jumps and walks, dancing, leaping, and praising God as they all three enter the temple together. And everyone inside, everyone who walked past him and probably tried not to make eye contact, or gave him nothing more than a sympathetic “I’m sorry” kind of smile, everyone who was resentful of his begging, everyone who threw a few coins his way, recognized him and looked on him with wonder and amazement at his healing.

This is a great story. It’s just the first part of a much larger story for Peter and John and the healed man. But there’s a lot of meat on this bone already. Every time I read this story I am struck by the interaction in verses 3-5 where these people really seem to see each other, truly, in a different way. The man notices Peter and John, they look intently back at him and tell him to look at them and he fixes his attention on them. There’s something there, right?

This man has quite possibly been laying outside this gate every day for 25 years. He’s a fixture now. He’s as familiar as the gate itself. And he was probably pretty much invisible to the people who passed him by regularly. Most people probably stopped really looking at him, even those who would throw some money his way. I say this with some confidence because I know how the world, how I, how we, treat people in need now. And it isn’t just people asking for money or those with physical disabilities. We look away from those experiencing mental health problems, those living with addiction, those whose families are in turmoil, those who are sick or in pain. It’s normal to want to look away, to avoid contact so we can preserve our own resources and stay comfortable. Even knowing it isn’t true, we sometimes feel as if crisis might be contagious. People are looked over for a hundred different reasons- their age, their looks, their clothes. It’s a tragic, common truth. It’s normal, but it is not how Jesus treats people, and it isn’t how we ought to either.

Peter and John see this man. They really see him. I’m struck also by Peter asking for the man to look at him and John. Many of us want to help people. We want to be seen as good people, to be known as good people. Being a helper doesn’t require having your recipient look at you. But being a friend does. It’s reciprocal, right? They don’t just see him, they want him to see them. And in this looking and seeing and fixing attention, there is a relationship forged between the three of them. So often, we assume we know what people need because we see their problems, but we never actually see them as a person. People are not problems to be solved. We are meant to be in relationships and in those relationships, to know and be known, and there we can meet one another’s needs.

Of course, Peter can see that the man clearly needs money. Money is what the man is expecting. It’s what he’s asking for! But, in case you forgot, Peter is an inconsistent fisherman and an itinerant preacher. He’s probably not lying when he says he has no cash. Instead he utters this line that I find so compelling- “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you.” Peter gives the man something much better than money. He offers him healing. And don’t forget that that healing comes with restoration to the community. This man who has sat outside the Beautiful Gate for a very long time, for decades perhaps, will finally be able to enter the temple. For the first time in his life, he will enter the temple in whose shadow he has sat each day. Healing is never just about the body; it is about one’s own soul being restored. Peter gave what he had, and it was everything.

So often, we fall into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking. We tell ourselves things like, “I can’t really help. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the right tools. I’m not good with that kind of thing. I don’t have money to offer. The problem is too big for me. Someone else can do it. I’m not the right person for the job.” But what if we simply said “what I have I give”? You have gifts. You have time. You have talents. You have something you can give.

As you know, last week I was away for continuing education with a group of my clergy colleagues. This is our third year gathering together, and we’ve really grown together in important ways. I was catching up with one of these colleagues, someone who I actually don’t know particularly well, but I like and trust her. And our conversation turned to some really hard things that have happened for me this year and really hard things that have happened to her as well. When she finished telling me her story, I said something like “I wish I had a magic wand and could just fix it for you.” And she said “yeah, same, I’d use mine for you too!” and we just kind of laughed. But y’all, having a safe place to lay our burdens down, having someone listen with empathy, it’s a magic wand. I was reminded of the Quaker writer Douglas Steere’s words that “Holy listening, to "listen" another's soul into life, into a condition of disclosure and discovery, may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another…”

“What I have I give.” What do you have? How are you giving it? God has given you exactly the right gifts to meet someone’s need. We can’t necessarily create a Reciprocity Ring to fill everyone’s needs in the world, but there is enough to go around. There is enough time and energy and money and support. But only if we give what we have when we see the need, when we see others.

So I ask you this: who are you in this story? Are you John and Peter, doing your best to see the needs of other people and to give what you have, trusting that it will be enough, that God will use it to bring about healing? Or maybe you feel like the man- neglected and needy, ignored, unseen, desperate. Maybe you are waiting for someone to really see you and to offer you some hope. Or maybe you are the silent characters in the story- those faithful religious people who have neglected to see the needs around you. Maybe you have been going through the motions of “church” without allowing God’s redeeming love to transform the way you live. Maybe we’re all all three, all the time.

Friends, the God of grace has given us plenty. It is not everything, but it is enough. To a hurting world, to one another, to ourselves, let us say “what I have, I give.” Let us live with the courage to ask for what we need and the generosity to give what we have. Let us see and be seen. Let us give and receive. Amen.

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