Sunday 12 July
Holy Communion Hadlow
Giving For Life Talks
(This week and next week the talks are based on the Giving for Life Website talks)
1 Chronicles 29:10 -17 & Matthew 25:31-46
May I speak this morning in the name of God, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
One summer’s day a travelling circus came to town. In one of the sideshows there was a strongman who performed all kinds of demonstrations of his huge strength to the gathered crowd. At the end of his show he took a lemon and squeezed every last drop of juice out of it. He then said to the audience:
“I will pay £100 to anyone in this audience who can squeeze another drop from this lemon. But, be warned, in the 16 years I have been doing this show no one has ever managed it.”
From the audience there emerged a thin, elderly lady. She took the squeezed out lemon from the strongman, gave it the once-over, and then calmly squeezed not one but two more drops from it.
The strongman was amazed and asked her how she did it. “Well, she said, you may have been a strongman for 16 years but I have been a church treasurer for 30.”
Sometimes it might feel like our need for money requires us to try and squeeze more out of those who already support the church. But that shouldn’t be the case, and if we have a right view of generosity, we can be confident in our giving. This week and next week we are focusing in on how generosity can enable mission, and in giving to meet the needs of the church and of mission, we are also giving back to God from the gifts that he gives us.
And, of course, the gifts that God gives us doesn’t just include the ability to raise money or to give money; we all have a host of God-given talents and I want to encourage everyone to think deeply about how you can use your talents in church and for church.
Because the church was never intended to be a spectator activity like going to the cinema or the theatre – and that is why the layout of church buildings is so unfortunate because it does promote a sense of audience and show. But, of course, we are all called here not to watch a show but to participate in the body of Christ, each using our different gifts and talents as we are can to the service of the greater good.
During next week’s service we shall be distributing envelopes to everyone called “The Harvest of the Talents” which is going to be a fun challenge over the summer based on the parable of the talents, so do come along next week to hear more about that and to collect your envelope.
But before I go any further down this path let me just make a couple of points clear: Firstly, I don’t enjoy particularly preaching about the subject of money. That is partly because I am English and I therefore find it terribly vulgar and partly because I have seen too many preachers whose entire ministry seems to be based on asking for money and I always found that incredibly off-putting. So this is me out of my preaching comfort zone.
The second point I wanted to make at this stage is simply to recognise the fact that many people here already give a great deal of their time, money and talents to the church in this place. In fact without the generosity of many of you and your forebears in Hadlow there would simply not be a functioning church here. So please don’t think that what you already give and what you already do is in any way unappreciated, because that could not be further from the truth.
But the reality is that we need to do more than just scrape along, always swerving between break-even and deficit. I would love this church not only to survive from year to year, but to truly thrive and to become a centre of ministry and mission. There are some wonderful green shoots of growth happening but in order to be able to water them and see them grow to maturity we do need to ensure that our church finances are on a stable footing for the long term. At the risk of sounding like George Osborne we don’t want to be Greece. Although the weather might be nice.
Whilst our church numbers in terms of attendance remains very healthy the sad truth is that our income from substantial, regular, donors has declined as some substantial donors have sadly died or moved away from the area. At the same time our expenses on utilities, insurance and so on has increased. Our fund raising teams have worked spectacularly hard and well at plugging the gap, but we are always running to stand still.
So let’s look a little further at the theology that lies behind supporting the church financially.
Our first reading this morning was from 1 Chronicles 29, which is King David saying a prayer which I shall look at more closely in a moment. This reading is also the source of the prayer that I say that the offertory every week when the gifts of the people are brought up to the Altar:
“Everything we have comes from you and of your own do we give you.”
Does anyone watch The Simpsons? Well, Homer once said a Grace before dinner which went like this:
“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”
These two prayers give us a neat choice in how we treat the resources we have. They are either a gift from God for which we have to be thankful every day or they are all the result of our own efforts, in which case thanks for nothing. If you are tempted towards the latter let me just remind you that on the one hand we have King David, the king of Israel and ancestor of Jesus and on the other we have Homer Simpson.
The prayer of King David comes from towards the end of David’s reign. God had told David that because he was a warrior who had spilled blood that he would not be allowed to build the temple that would house the ark of the covenant and be the centre of worship in Jerusalem. Solomon his son would have that privilege but, concerned about Solomon’s youthful age and lack of experience David set about preparing the materials needed for the building of the temple.
So David called together a national assembly and he challenged the people to give generously for the building of the temple.
In verse 1 David said to the whole assembly:
“The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God.”
Sometimes when we give to the institution of the church it is easy to lose sight of the fact that our giving is for God and his mission. And that is why it is important to remember that the church is not simply a gathering of people at either local or national level – the church is the body of Christ on earth set here by God to continue his mission. And the task is great because we live in an age and a part of the world which seems to grow cold towards God’s transforming mission, most people would rather follow Homer Simpson than King David or King Jesus.
But, in the hope that Homer is not to be our guiding light, that which we give to God, we believe, comes from God.
In verse 14, David says, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”
It’s such an important point that he reiterates it two verses later:
“O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.”
And here is what we may call our first cycle of generosity. All we have is from a generous God and we offer it back to God as we give to his work.
Although not much given to quoting Martin Luther I did like this:
“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still posses.”
I have mentioned the first cycle of generosity which is from us directly towards the work of God, recognising that we are mere stewards of what we have rather than absolute possessors.
The second cycle is from us towards our fellow people. This recognises that our faith is based on the two golden commandments to love God with all our being and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Our gospel reading this morning is challenging in all sorts of ways not least because it reminds us that our generosity can take many different forms and may send us to people and to situations that may well feel out of our comfort zone. Have many people here visited someone in prison? Many moons ago Vivienne and I belonged to a church that sent regular groups of visitors into the local prison to visit those who may have had no one else.
But although we are certainly called to love our neighbours for the sake of their own humanity and dignity today’s gospel also reminds us that as we serve the needs of others we also directly serve Christ himself. A great deal of work is going on at the moment to set up the Lighthouse Youth Group in the Hy Arts centre and that is being done by the church to meet the needs of the young people of Hadlow. But as we serve those young people this gospel tells me that we are also serving Christ in them.
To follow my quote from Martin Luther I have another from John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
You will have a leaflet this morning that contains five short passages and reflections on some of these issues and I would encourage you this week to reflect further on the issues of God’s generosity to us and how our generous response both to God and to our fellow humans is not a peripheral issue but is central to our life and discipleship as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. And do please come back next week for your Harvest of the Talents envelope!