Money is a difficult topic, but one that we need to talk about; it’s an important part of our discipleship. This sermon was part of the launch of our Stewardship campaign, encouraging everyone in the congregation and on the Electoral Roll to think about their giving. We were helped in this by the diocesan Stewardship Officer and by the Church of England’s Giving for Life material.
The image of the two seas is one that I’ve taken from my former training incumbent, Mark Ireland; it’s a powerful image and one which worked well.
There are two seas in the Holy Land, in the land of Israel-Palestine, where Jesus lived and died and was brought back from the dead by God. There are two seas, just over 100 miles apart and fed by the same river, the River Jordan. There are two seas, with the same water, but very different in character. There is the Sea of Galilee which is Peter and Andrew and James and John lived and worked and fished. It is fresh, teeming with life and the land around it is rich and lush. And then there is the Dead Sea, where nothing lives, where no-one worked, before the tourists came, and which is so salty that as you know you can float on it. These two very different seas are a great parable for our sermon this morning. And I’ll tell you why later.
We’re in the middle of our sermon series on discipleship. Over the last few weeks we’ve thought about the New Start that Jesus calls us to, we’ve thought about the Invitation that Jesus gives us, and the challenge of inviting others to come and see, to come and meet Jesus. And we’ve also thought about how our discipleship impacts on our everyday working life, whether that’s paid or unpaid. We’ve thought about what difference it might make to our work if we start thinking that we’re doing this for God, that God is our boss.
And today we’re thinking about money. That’s a difficult topic. It’s a topic that makes us uncomfortable sometimes. ‘They only want us for our money’ goes up the complaint. Well, no we don’t. That’s why we’re talking about this before Back to Church Sunday, not afterwards! But, our attitude towards money is a really important part of our discipleship, of how we respond to God’s love and God’s generosity.
In the passage we heard from Luke, Jesus said “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed”. We think we know what greed looks like. The problem is, it always looks like whatever someone else is doing, and not what we do. There can be greed for more and more stuff, or the greed of having the latest, newest gadget, car, clothing, whatever. There can also be the greed of knowing that you don’t have enough but becoming so consumed by that that it becomes a form of greed. Because these attitudes are about storing up things for ourselves, and not being rich towards God.
Jesus is not condemning wealth as such, but its use. He is challenging us to think about all the good things that God has given us. How do we use what God has given us? Do we seek to pile up treasure for ourselves? Is generosity our habit? Or does compassion take a back seat to our personal desires?
One of the things that the Bible does not say is “money is the root of all evil.” The Bible doesn’t tell us that. But it does tell us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It’s not what we have, it’s our attitude towards it.
Before I came here I knew that money was a worry. The Parish Profile, the document that tells you about the parish, that the PCC writes, said “we’re not quite paying our way”. And when I came I discovered that the situation was worse than that. We were running up a big deficit, we had stopped paying the Parish Share, we had dramatically cut the amount that we were giving to other charities, we hadn’t spent enough on maintaining our church building.
So, one of the big jobs that I’ve been doing is trying to sort all that out. We’ve set up a finance committee and we’ve set a budget. We’ve set up a building committee to look at the work that needs doing. I’m really grateful for the people who are on those and other groups. We’ve already been working hard and it’s been great to be part of groups where people are using their skills and gifts to help the church.
So, what’s happened? Well, we’ve worked hard to set a budget, to identify what our outgoings actually are and what we could do about them. And to work out how much was coming in. So, in July the PCC passed a budget for the rest of 2012. And it was a budget which, at the end of the year, should give us a modest surplus of a few hundred pounds. We’ve only been able to do this by budgeting to pay £10,000 of the £31,000 that the diocese have asked us to pay in Parish Share. We have spoken to the archdeacon about this, and he has challenged us to pay at a realistic level and to increase that level over the next few years. So, we no longer have a deficit, but we’re still not quite paying our way.
And, each year, we are planning to set a budget at the November PCC meeting for the following year so that we can be faithful stewards of the money that we have been given, of what we have been entrusted with. We are determined that we don’t end up in a situation again where we have a deficit.
As you may well know we also need a lot of work doing on our church building. So, the building committee have been doing something about that. We’ve been identifying what work we can do ourselves, who we can get to do other parts of it, and how we can raise money through grant applications. So, this month, I have spent a lot of my time working on a grant application to English Heritage for basically £250,000. The reason it’s that low is that’s the maximum amount we can apply for. There’s still more that will need doing. But, there’s other grants we can apply for as well. And we’ll need to raise some more money of our own, which we’ve talked about in the booklet. And if you give to the Churchwarden’s building fund, then all your money will go towards that. Also, we won’t hear until next March if we’ve been successful, so there’s a bit of a wait.
So, we are trying to be good stewards of what we’ve got, of the money that we’ve been given and of the building that we’ve been entrusted with. So, as part of this I’m really pleased that the PCC did one other thing about our financial situation. In June, we agreed to start giving away a proportion, a tithe, 10%, of our income. And I need to apologise for not explaining why more clearly sooner. I know that that’s made some people uncomfortable and I want to say sorry for that.
But, this is an important spiritual principle, which brings me back to the parable of the two seas in the Holy Land. The River Jordan flows down from the hills above Galilee, flows into the Sea of Galilee, and flows out down the valley and after just over 100 miles, flows into the Dead Sea. So, that’s about the same distance as from here to Skegness. The river Jordan flows through the Sea of Galilee and the sea is teaming with life. It’s fresh so you could drink from it and you can irrigate the land around it.
The river Jordan flows into the Dead sea, and doesn’t flow out. So, the Dead Sea is one of the saltiest seas on earth. Nothing can grow around it, nothing can grow in it. It is dead and has poisoned the land around it. The sea where water flows in and out, which receives and gives, is full of life and is life-giving. The sea which receives and does not give is dead and poisonous.
Do not store up things for yourself, but be rich towards God.
In the episode we heard from Exodus, God’s chosen people have escaped from Egypt. They have been set free from slavery and have gone into the desert to find the promised land. But they didn’t go empty-handed. They were given riches by the Egyptians who were desperate to get rid of them. They had known poverty, they were in an uncertain place, in a desert, but they generously responded to the call to give. Now, they could have said ‘well, we need this wealth. We don’t know what’s coming up ahead. We’re still in the wilderness, we don’t know what we’ll need when we get to the Promised Land. We’ll hang on to what we’ve got. That would be more sensible.’ They could have said that, but they didn’t. They gave and gave generously. God told Moses to “receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give”. And look what the people gave: “gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil; spices; and onyx stones and other gems”
And this isn’t the only place. We’ve called the booklet we’re giving out ‘the Grace of giving’. That’s a quote from 2 Corinthians, from one of the letters from Paul to the early Christians. And it may surprise you to hear how much time Paul spent on financial matters. Because one of the big projects that we read about in a number of his letters is a collection that he is organising from some of the churches that he has planted to support the impoverished churches in Jerusalem.
Paul was doing this because he knew that all believers are part of the body of Christ, that what happens to one affects all and he knew how important generosity was. So, in 2 Corinthians he praises the Macedonian church. He says “their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity”. Their overflowing joy at what God had given them. And, their extreme poverty. So, the temptation must have been to say ‘we don’t have enough, so we won’t give it away’. But they didn’t. They as a church gave out of their poverty and weakness, not from a position of strength and wealth. They gave because they knew that they were part of the body of Christ, that the money that they gave would help grow God’s kingdom. They gave because they knew the love of God and how generous he had been to them.
So, this isn’t simply about us as individuals giving. It is about us as a church, us as the body of Christ giving. We are called by to respond to what we have been given by being generous. And that is as true for us as a church, as Christ’s body here in Swadlincote, as it is for us as individuals. We are called to have the grace of giving in our own lives and in our life together. We are called to worship God through our giving. We are called to worship God through how we use all our money.
And I don’t just want the charitable giving to be something we just get the Treasurer to sign a cheque for. I want it to become part of our lives, so that we pray for the people and organisations we support, so that they enrich our life and worship. I want those people and groups to become as much a part of the life of Emmanuel as if they were sitting in the pew next to you. Because we are all part of the body of Christ and we are called to be generous, in response to God’s generosity.
So, we’re giving everyone on the Electoral Roll a copy of ‘the Grace of giving’. If you’re not on the Electoral Roll then we haven’t prepared a pack for you. If you haven’t heard of the Electoral Roll, briefly, it is those people eligible to stand and vote for the PCC, it’s those people who are committed enough to give us their names and addresses! If you’ve been baptised and either live in the parish or come regularly then you can go on the electoral roll. And, if you have been coming regularly, if you consider yourself part of Emmanuel church, then please join the Electoral Roll. If you want a giving pack anyway, then please ask for one. If you’re not in those groups then well done for staying and staying awake! You won’t get a pack and that’s absolutely right. It’s for those of us who are regulars to commit to the giving. But, if you’re going to put something on the collection plate if you can gift aid it that would be great!
So, if you do get a Grace of Giving pack please take it away, read it, and prayerfully consider what your response is going to be. It might be that you’re already giving a proportion of your income to Emmanuel and to other charities and so you can’t increase your giving. It might be that you’re struggling to make ends meet, that you’ve recently retired, or been made unemployed, or your income has dropped. If that’s you, you need to seriously consider giving less money. I was really pleased when, after I’d said this to someone, they actually started giving less. Because, they’d listened to me, so that’s always encouraging, but actually more because they’d grasped the principle of giving proportionately. And, I hope and pray that when their income goes back up they’ll increase their giving again.
Because, it might be that you’re giving the same amount of money you were a few years ago. It might be you just give whatever happens to be in your purse or wallet at the time. It might be you’ve never really thought about it, or that you’ve had a pay rise, or got a better job, or come into some money. If that’s you, I want to challenge you to prayerfully consider giving more money, giving a proportion of your money to Emmanuel and to other charities. If you want guidance, the Church of England recommends giving 5% to your local church and 5% to support other charities. That’s guidance, not a rule. The rule is the one we heard in the reading from Exodus: “receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give”.
Because how we spend our money is part of our discipleship. Worship is about what we give worth to. And what we give worth to is shown by how we spend our money. Let us worship God with how we spend Sunday morning, how we act the rest of the week in all that we do, and in how we spend our money. And that’s all of our money. The money we spend on food and clothes and holidays and the car if we have one, and the money that we give away so that we have less money to spend on food and clothes and holidays and the car and anything else.
We have been blessed with many good things. We can use those good things to be full of life and to be life-giving. Or we can be dead and poisonous whether we have a little or a lot. We have been blessed with many good things by the God who loves us, by the God who gave his son that we might have life, life to the full and eternal life. And it is that God who says: “receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give”. Amen.