Valentines Day sacrifice…

Following a few days holiday and then the family getting the lurgy… here’s a belated Valentine’s Day preach for you… also linking to Deuteronomy chapter 26 for those who like your Old Testament teachings on generosity and giving…

During Lent we’re encouraged to focus on God and our own lives… how we live out the Christian faith Monday-Saturday as well as in Church. People have often done this by giving things up- coffee or smoking, meat or Facebook, but more recently there has been a growing trend to take things up- whether that’s exercise or reading, or acts of kindness, daily prayer or whatever.  During and around Lent, this time when we give up and take up, when we focus on God, there are also 2 other celebrations- in 3 weeks time we’ll be celebrating Mothering Sunday, and today is St Valentine’s Day, a day when card and sweet manufacturers go giddy with excitement as the world overflows with expressions of romantic love (I think the best one I’ve seen recently has to be the marshmallows that can be printed with pictures or messages for your loved one…).  This morning we’re celebrating not just the gooey marshmallowy kind of love that has become the norm for Valentines Day, but the love that lies behind Valentines Day. By the way, anyone know the actual origin of Valentines Day? St Valentine… who was he? As far as I can tell, no one is quite certain- there are a few versions around, but the oldest seem to point to a bishop in Italy in the 3rd century who was arrested for something (possibly sharing the gospel, possibly protesting against persecution of Christians, possibly conducting weddings so people wouldn’t be conscripted into the army or arrested…) and then found favour with the Roman Emperor so wasn’t sentenced to death- well, until he tried to convert Emperor Claudius to Christianity… If we see any inspiration in the (most probable) story of Valentine, its that love leads to action, without any certainty of the result… do good not because of reward but because it is right.

If we take that across to Lent, of how we live our Christian lives, it helps us to get our priorities right- its not about the reward. Jesus didn’t resist the temptations that he faced in the wilderness because he wanted to look good, or so he could ‘pass’, but because it was right to…

Some of you may have come across 40Acts, or LoveLife LiveLent or other tools to help you in that- there’s fliers for 40Acts, a campaign to promote generous living amongst us all- not just for Christians; but it is something that we have a good track record of- Christians built the first schools and hospitals in our country and have been involved in care for the vulnerable since the time Christianity first arrived on these shores, and it is something we have a good motivation for… if we need it.

Our motivation is this- that when we were in the wrong place with God, he sent Jesus. That he acted to avoid having to judge us for our mistakes and our stupidity and our laziness and our wilful selfishness- when we deserved judgment, we got mercy… All the times that we talk about God’s love, God’s grace, God’s generosity to us, we need to remember that the starting point for all of those is that we hadn’t and haven’t done anything to make us deserving of them… in the Old Testament the prophet Hosea enacts with his life a picture of God’s love for his people- He marries a woman, and they have children, but she is unfaithful to him, she leaves him and has affairs with other men who do not remain with her, but Hosea seeks her out, woos her and brings her and their children back to the family home… where judgement is deserved, God shows mercy… and they are reconciled.

Now, in any situation the depth of our response to something is linked to how much we appreciate it- when we are famished we’re grateful for food, but after a big lunch it takes something to rouse our hunger… when we’ve felt unloved, to know that someone cares just a little bit can bring us to tears…

That’s where the people of Israel were- they’d been saved from slavery and given a hope and a promise and a land to live in… that’s where we are today- we’ve been forgiven for all our sins, given new life eternal, the Holy Spirit within us and a place within God’s people and kingdom… the language of first fruits and tithes isn’t very accessible- we’re not subsistence farmers for starters… but the idea to grasp from that passage for us is this…

All we have comes ultimately from God… take these flowers- humans cannot create flowers from nothing… even fake flowers come from things that we cannot create… If I have this bunch of 10 flowers, they are mine. I can do whatever I want with them, I can throw them in the bin, put them in a vase in my bathroom, dry them to keep forever… but I choose to start with gratitude and generosity, not because of any reward, but because its right… so I give one back to God- at the outset, not at the end.

And then? I’ve still got 9 left… I can give one to you, one to you, and still, even now, I’ve a bunch of flowers to give to Carolyn and tell her that I love her and that she means more to me than I can possibly express and that I’m sorry I forget to tell her that more often…  at the end of it all I’ve got nothing left in my hands, but look at what I’ve done with it. Flowers, or money, or any other resource that we have can be hoarded, wasted or used, but it is important to know that what we do with the things we have, how we hold them, shapes our thinking. If love and generosity shape how I think about these things, and that stems from knowing what God has done for me… If I respond to all that God has done for me with appreciation and gratitude, and continue with generosity, then I am demonstrating in my actions how much his love means… just as Valentine demonstrated in his actions which led to his arrest and death…

Over the last few years the leadership have spent some time talking about how we can demonstrate our faith as love in action to the local community- and one way that we have been working towards that is by encouraging one another to grow in our generosity- by giving time and money as well as our voices and our hearts to God… Over the years our church has consistently had running costs higher than the income we receive from giving, hire of the hall etc.  We’ve discussed tithing, and how if each of us within the church could give sufficiently it would enable us as a church to reach out and bless the community without constant fundraising just to pay bills, or just going bust.  We’ve been working on how to solve this, cutting overheads where we can, and its been proposed to us that we invite the community to contribute- that’s the letters we’re going to be delivering to the local neighbourhood in the next week or two. Now I’m happy to invite anyone to contribute to the work of the church, or to donate for specific items such as the replacement lighting or the window, but I feel its wrong to ask people outside the community to help us pay the bills, and I know a few others have shared their own reluctance about this. The reality is that if just 20 people here took this idea seriously and really went to town- went all the way for a tithe of all their income given to the church, then we’d be able to continue and develop our childrens, families, youth and support of elderly ministry, alongside improving our building… no problem at all…

But there is an alternative- a bunch of flowers. If we could each buy God a bunch of flowers costing £3 a week- giving an additional £12 per month on top of what we’re giving, then we’d be fine, without any scrabbling around or feeling we need to fundraise for simple things… Some of us might only be able to afford a 50p bunch of daisies, while others might be able to stretch to a dozen roses- that will depend on our life situation and on what we feel that God is saying to us, and it takes time for us to learn to trust God with this part of our lives, to change our way of thinking about money which the world tells us to worship. But none of us can say its not our responsibility- this is our church, this is how and where we gather to be God’s people. God has been generous to us, has given us life and love when we deserve nothing, and has called us his people. So lets be generous in return… because we can and because we want to?

 

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