The Month long Giving and Stewardship Campaign was launched on Sunday with Sermons at 8am and 11am by the Diocesan Stewardship Officer, Richard Jones.
Some of your might have seen last year’s ‘Paddington Bear’ film. It’s not just for young children; it’s funny and it’s poignant – and there are subtle but profound messages throughout – I would say core Christian messages. And towards the end of the film there’s a line – these words; “Everyone can fit in around here because we are all so different”. (repeat). And so it is with our faith, and so it should be in all our churches. We should be proud (not ever ashamed) to belong to a church that welcomes all, where there is a place for all who want to know and share the love of God and out of which we can share generously with and minister into the needs of others.
Of course, it’s been a week when public attention has been fixed very clearly on the desperate and very sad situation of thousands of people fleeing war torn Syria and finding themselves as part of a so called ‘migration problem’ within Europe. It’s been a week when someone else’s problem has actually become our opportunity; for the tragic picture of that dead, drowned child on a beach in Turkey cannot failed to have touched anyone’s conscience; cannot failed to have questioned afresh our values and prompted us again to think again about the importance – indeed the integral part of who and what we are – in our loving, human and very real relationships with all our brothers and sisters the world over.
The letter of James which we’ve heard this morning, picks up very much on these theme’s of ‘them and us’. ‘Those who have and those who do not’. One might say it’s only human – all too human – to divide the world into ‘them’ and ‘us’. And of course we are always ‘the good guys’ or always on the side of ‘right’. Well, perhaps not – not according to James. He makes clear that it doesn’t actually matter where we fall short in our care of others, our sharing with others, our love for others. To fail in one respect is to fail in all says James. And as soon as we make that distinction between ourselves and others – and it makes no difference if we regard others as inferior or superior – we have breached the law of God’s love. We don’t truly regard our fellow human beings as true ‘neighbours’.
During this month of September we are thinking, praying and responding to challenge of Christian stewardship; how we regard, use and share all that God has given to each of us. In doing so we ask questions; the sort of questions that are raised in this little booklet about your parish, about being a follower of Christ and about our giving. Questions about Christian values, status, priorities. We are being asked ‘what makes us human, created (as we believe) in the image of God? Is it the things that the world counts as important, or is what God has given you? And how do we live (each of us) in such a way that other people can see the truth of this? As James also reminds us, ‘faith without deeds is useless’. To follow him as true disciples, we need to use as best we can, and to his glory, all the gifts he has given to each and every one of us, to bring in his kingdom to this world, into our lives and into the lives of others; we need to be pro-active in our giving, our love and action for God in the reality of life now. We’re not to sit around idly, perhaps even devoutly and prayerfully, just waiting for God’s kingdom to suddenly appear amongst us. God’s kingdom and the sharing of his kingdom values and his love, can and should begin now; in the reality of this world; not just in our minds as a far off, idealistic almost fantasy dream of God’s kingdom as ‘somewhere or something’ else. James our writer, is interested in enabling people to live in a relationship with God which has continuing significance and continuing life.
Too often our financial giving to the work of the church starts at a place of gloom; a place of survival; a place of fear possibly. We give gloomily; “what possible difference can my small contribution make? I don’t think it makes a difference anyway.” “We’ll never have enough money however much we all give”. “We can’t do that as we can’t afford it”. A place of real gloom and misery. Too often our giving is about ‘survival’. “I’ll give as the church is desperate”. “I’ll give to do my bit”. “I’ll give so we can carry on doing the same old thing, in the same old way as we’ve always done it”. “I’ll give so they don’t close our church down”. And of course giving for survival alone produces a survival mentality and attitude. “I’ll give as long as it goes to my church” or “I’ll give as long as my church doesn’t give anything away to anyone else –ignoring almost every command of Jesus possible to care for the poor and needy and to love our neighbour; and that includes the church here and how it uses the money you give.
But what if instead we looked at giving in a rather different way; if we started in a very different place. What if we were to be givers in the light of wanting to bring in and make real the kingdom of God – here and now? What if we really meant it when we said ‘Thy Kingdom come’ What if our giving to this church, each week, was about believing; about loving, about trusting, and about living – living our giving in a life for God. The kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ means that nothing will ever be the same again; that transformed by God’s love, we can transform the life of others too.
Giving is about our trust in God’s goodness; now I am privileged to have a working relationship with our dear Bishop Richard – one that is firmly based on just such understanding and trust. I don’t understand him and he doesn’t trust me! Of course to love wholeheartedly it is necessary to trust; A fundamental of any relationship. Our relationship with God requires of us to trust in him as a constant presence in our lives; in good times and in bad. We trust in a creator God; a God who provides for us; each and every one of us in some way has been richly blessed by God, whose giving to us knows no limitations. Our lives are full; we can have confidence and hope if we trust in God. And if we give as we receive, as God gives to us – with a generous heart and without condition – then surely we can also trust that God uses each of us too, through the sharing of what he has given to us, to bless others and to enrich their lives with the sharing of God’s love, his provision and his blessings. Do we give of all that we have, trusting in God?
As Christians we are called to live differently; to have different principles, different priorities, different practices. We need to reflect on how we regard our material possessions. How do we decide when enough is really enough? Is that purchase really essential? Do we surround ourselves with material possessions? Is it all about keeping up appearances or keeping up with the Jones’? What do our spending decisions say about us as individuals and our priorities in life? How can it ever be right when some have so much and others so little? How can it ever be right when 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of the world’s resources? How can it ever be right that people pay to lose weight, whilst others go hungry, and others starve and die? You see, the lessons of Christian giving are about so much more than what we put in the church offering each Sunday. It’s so much harder than that; it’s so much more complicated. It’s about a whole way of life; one we choose, when we decide to follow Christ. So what then might our giving look like if we truly took on that challenge to start giving in a different place? Well if as people who have heard the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, if then our giving for God isn’t then transformed and transfigured, then I have no idea what sort of God people think that they are here to worship. Think again on God’s giving and goodness and surely the church whip round collection, must surely become a true offering to a generous God of Grace. And our giving for God – can of course be giving in all senses – sharing our love, our time, our skills, our experience, and most certainly the giving of our money too. So when folk say to me, ‘why are you talking about financial giving in church?’ the answer is a simple one. Because it’s what God calls each of us to do – period – end of answer – let’s not make it unnecessarily complicated and let’s certainly not apologise for it, as we so often seem to love doing in church life! In facts let’s celebrate all that God gives and all the opportunities we have to share his love and build his kingdom and his church.
This is about you and your living and giving for God. We are each called to respond, to that encounter, that recognition, that invitation, that sharing, that love; – God in all we do, all we say and all we are. When we all see the very nature of God, the very face of God, in all that he gives to us and in all that we have the privilege and honour to be able to give to him; in all our time, money and talents, then we will each receive and learn something profound and beautiful in our lives and in the life of this church; about a generous and giving God who loves each and every one of us. I commend your church ‘Giving for Life’ initiative to you, for your thought, your prayer and your response.
Let us pray.
A prayer for each of us as stewards of all that God gives and for his guidance and blessing as we each decide how to respond to a call for a renewed sharing and a renewed offering of our financial giving to this church, to allow us to move forward with God’s work here in this place:
We give what we have, but not all – help us to be more generous.
We serve as we are called – help us to see when you are calling us further.
We love within our limits – help us to break down those barriers.
So that we may love and serve you and give wholeheartedly.
We hand you our gifts on a plate, you gave us your love on a cross.
Help us to reconcile the difference between our giving and yours,
for Jesus’ and the world’s sake. Amen.