Faith in Society

st nectans waterfallWhat does practical giving look like? What does having faith to serve our society look like? How can we get involved? Why should we get involved? My sermon looks at how Paul and Isaiah answer these questions.

This was part of our sermon series on discipleship, inspired by Rowan Williams’ book Being Disciples. The Church of England has produced a whole series of video clips called Faith in Action. I used one as one as part of this talk, and have used a number of others, which have been well recieved and which are very good.

Faith in Society; Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The reading we heard was from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. And in the part of the letter we heard, Paul is in the middle of trying to sort out a collection of money to help the poor persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. It’s a significant problem, not least as he doesn’t really have any particularly rich churches to ask who have a lot of money in the first place. And Paul spends a lot of time organising this collection, raising money for the collection, telling people about why it’s important, and working out how he’s going to get the money there once he’s raised it!

Paul spent quite a lot longer talking and thinking about money than we often like to think. But, our money and our time are really important parts of our discipleship. And Paul wants to give the bigger picture for the Corinthian Christians. He wants to give the reasons why giving money is such an important part of their, of our, Christian life. Because it’s about our attitude. It’s about an attitude of giving thanks, of being grateful for what we’ve been given, and for who has given it. So, he starts the previous chapter, chapter 8, by talking about the Christians in Macedonia, who are also giving to this collection. And he says: “their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”

Their joy in God’s love meant that they could give generously, even when they had very little. It’s about the importance of what we give and how we give as part of our worship. It’s about giving thanks to God, and giving thanks practically through our actions, through our giving of money, time, things we have, our skills. Which is why, as we thought last week at Harvest, it’s important to support the foodbank, support charities including Tearfund and Open Doors. It’s all part of the adventure of following Jesus, all part of responding to his love for each one of us. So, for our Gift Service at the start of Advent this year, rather than bringing toys, because we’re struggling to find people to give them to, instead we’re going to be asking you to bring a donation of money, to support the work of YFC, of Tearfund, of Open Doors.

And Paul says, our practical giving thanks leads others to give thanks as well. To give thanks to God for the generosity that his people have been able to show. But it does two more things as well.

It enriches those who have given. The act of giving flows three ways. It flows to the people who receive the gift and so people praise God. It flows to God, through that praise and through his delight in seeing giving. And it flows back to the givers, who are blessed by God, who are honoured by God, and who are given more things by God, so that they can continue to give. Love and praise and blessing flow and continue to flow because of the act of giving.

And Paul also more-or-less quotes the prophet Isaiah. It’s not a direct quote, so it doesn’t appear in the footnotes, but it’s close enough that Paul clearly expects at least some of his hearers to spot the reference. He says, in verse 10: “ Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food”, while Isaiah talks about “it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater”. Paul’s using the phrase perhaps because he’s thinking about the promises in Isaiah round that verse, or perhaps because he’s also expecting some of those listening to recognise it as well. Because that part of Isaiah, chapter 55, is where the prophet is talking about the vision that God has shown him of how things are going to be once God has sorted out the messes that his people have got themselves into.

God, says Isaiah, is calling out to his people. God calls:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

That in itself is a great encouragement for giving, a great reason for giving thanks, for following him, for being his disciples. We are welcomed by God to come and eat with him. But there’s more:

Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.

This isn’t just about eating and drinking, but about all the good things that we are given. This is about God’s everlasting love, a love that includes us, that we can celebrate and continue to celebrate. We are all involved, all valued, all valuable. A love that invites us in, and invites us to see that things can be better than they are. In our own lives, in the life of our nation and our world. Why is there hunger and suffering and poverty and climate change? Because we all have failed to live out God’s generosity, and have failed to encourage our leaders to act out God’s generosity. Getting involved in some way or another in politics, in political campaigning might be part of what we’re called to do as part of our discipleship. And we certainly need to pray for those who do. Whether or not we agree with them.

We’ve all failed to live out God’s generosity. But, says Isaiah:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

And over the next few chapters, Isaiah talks about how God will bless and transform the world. This is a great vision of hope for the future, a great encouragement that the way things are isn’t the way God intended them to be, or will leave them as. So, the need to raise money because the Jerusalem Christians are poor and persecuted will pass. The need to collect food and keep on collecting food because hundreds of people in Swad are going hungry will pass. The need to raise money for Tearfund because millions of people around the world are in poverty will pass.

Why? Because Jesus is bringing about the promise of Isaiah. He proclaims the good news and heals people. He tells people about God’s love and shows people God’s love in action. And he says to his followers “The harvest is great but the workers are few”. There’s lots to do, get involved! That’s what our discipleship is about, getting involved. Not least by asking for the power of the Spirit to help us and to guide us. We are all called to be involved, we are all valued, and we are all valuable.

What does getting involved look like? Well, it’s going to look like different things for each of us, and it’s going to look different at different times in our lives. That’s why we need the Spirit’s help in guiding us. We’re going to watch what it meant for Jerry Marshall in a minute, who’s a businessman, an entrepreneur. So, not that like many of us. But, under the differences there’s some important ways that it is the same. Just one thing before we do. Jerry talks about using the Triple Bottom Line in his business. The Triple Bottom Line is one way that businesses aren’t just concerned about how much money they make, but also about their impact on people and the environment. So, profit, people, planet. We’ll watch the clip now.

Jerry talks about everything belongs to God, and that transforming his understanding. Everything belongs to God. Do we believe that? Would people know we believed that by how we live?

Jerry also talks about tithing. That’s about giving away 10%, one tenth, 10p for every £1 of our money. Whether that’s pocket money, pension, or your salary. After tax. It’s a good principle, a good guideline, but it’s not a rule.

And if you would like to give more to the church, then do please speak to our treasurer. If you’re able it would really help if you can go on to monthly payments through your bank, so if you can, do please talk to her about that. And if you pay tax, please Gift Aid your donations. We get an extra 25% from the Government if you do.

But some of us might be struggling to get by and don’t have enough money for our basic needs let alone anything else. In which case, you’re not in a position to tithe. But you might need help, so do say and we’ll try and put you in touch with a Christians Against Poverty Debt Adviser.

Which leads me on to another thing that Jerry said. He talked about learning to possess money without being possessed by it. That can be true for us, how much or however little money we have. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, Paul says. We might need to hear that challenge as part of our discipleship, and to repent and ask the Spirit to help us.

Instead, let us use the money we have for good, as Jerry said. Let us use the talents and gifts we have for the growing of God’s kingdom. Because, that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to work for the kingdom of God, the promise that we’re given in Isaiah 55 of how the world should look and is going to be. The harvest is great and the workers are few. There’s not many of us, and there’s a lot to do. Well, that’s the case now and has always been the case. It’s not a reason to fill discouraged or worried. It’s a reason to know that we are in good company, it’s a reason to know that God is working through the few faithful workers he has. And it’s also a reason not to think ‘well I’ve done my turn, it’s someone else’s turn’. The harvest is great and the workers are few. Whilst we are here we have a part to play, a job to do. And God will be with us as we do so.

And work is a lot bigger than giving our money. It’s about giving time and effort and skills and energy. To support the church. To support our local community. To support people around the world. So, we have people here who work hard in their jobs, and bring about God’s kingdom as they do so. Thank you. We have people who work hard in their voluntary work in the church and in the community, and bring about God’s kingdom as they do so. Thank you. There are people here who look after children, who support charities, who make a difference in the places where they are. There are lots of people here who do as much as they can do. Thank you. This isn’t about expecting you to do anything more. You might even be doing too much. Your challenge might be to stop doing some things, because you’re doing them out of guilt, not in a spirit of thankfulness. And there might be some people who might need to hear this challenge, to follow Christ by doing something new or something different. Doing something that more obviously grows God’s kingdom than how you spend your time at the moment.

The act of giving enriches us and leads us deeper into God’s love. The act of giving encourages us to look at those who need our help, need to be shown God’s love and generosity, and encourages us to do something about it. Not least because Jesus’ giving of his life and his raising from the dead show us how great God’s self-giving love is and how powerful that love is as well. That’s the same love and power that we’re invited to experience, to get involved with. We are all called to be involved and we are all valued and valuable. So we can all show God’s love in our words and actions. Words and actions that, in the power of God’s love working through his Spirit, bless those around us, show God’s love, and enrich us.

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