Last Sunday we began to celebrate our patron saint- we’re called St John the Baptist Church, so we celebrate the birth of St John- from the Gospels we understand he was around 6months older than Jesus, so it takes place at the end of June each year… Here’s what I meant to say on the day… of course the actual version is here
I’ve been asked to speak about how money- about how the way we handle our finances, is part of our Christian discipleship. It seems that today, on the first part of our celebration of the birth of John the Baptist, is a good time to do this. John knew that his life was a miracle, that he had been blessed by God, and lived his life out of that understanding- I want us to think today about what it means for us to bring that same understanding to our handling of finance. Those of us who heard our treasurer speak at our AGM a few months ago will know that in the last year our church accounts stood at a deficit. If you’ve been around a few years you’ll know that, as a church, this is not unusual for us- fundraising for particular project, a generous legacy or a grant for work are what keeps us afloat. You’ll also know that the gap has been shrinking these last few years, due to the hard work of many of us to keep costs down, to find grant funding, and to increase income from the hall- and everything I say starts with ‘thank you for what you already give, in terms of time, skills and finance’. Without your giving, collectively we can achieve very little, and there is so much that we want to do. People in churches across the county already give over £1million to charity each year, along with hundreds of thousands of hours of voluntary service- aside from what they give to their own local churches.
Last year the gap between the church’s income and expense was just £1 per person each month… so in some ways I’m talking about small change… probably most of us could find £1 a week extra, let alone £1 a month, and that difference would enable our church to plan further ahead than paying our next bill. Today’s service is, as well as part of our patronal celebrations, a giving Sunday- a chance for us to prayerfully reflect on our giving and make a gift towards the ministry of this church. Over the next few years the leadership of our church are hoping to continue the upgrades to the hall- to develop the facility we offer to the local community, we’re hoping to further develop our work with young people and families through appointing a trainee, and alongside this the running costs of a growing church… There are giving envelopes in the back of your seats and we’d invite you to take them home and prayerfully consider your gift into the future ministry of our church.
However, fundamentally, that isn’t what a Christian approach to money means. It is much more than just whether the church accounts are in the red or not and what our church’s future plans are.
Some may question whether Christians should talk about money- it’s a material, grubby thing, not something for us to concern ourselves about. The reality is that if we don’t- if my faith and my church doesn’t help me with my approach to money (my own and others), then I’m reliant on other voices to help me… and the voices I hear around me speak loudly about gambling, grabbing money, about how money and the things it buys will bring me happiness and make my life better.
Some may question whether God cares about this- but as we read the Gospels and the whole of the Bible, we see that God, Jesus, and the early church spoke a lot about money… the passages we’ve heard today are just two out of many. In the passage from Luke we hear Jesus speaking about how giving is proportional- there is no set membership fee for those who follow God, but what Jesus praises in this woman’s behaviour is the sacrificial nature of her giving. She gave generously out of the little she had- There’s no clever parable here, no imagery: rich people giving a large amount that they barely notice; while a poor person gives a small amount that has an impact on their life… Jesus notices it and praises her sacrificial generosity. The manner in which we give is as important as the amount… we recognise that God has given us everything, so when we give to God, how generous are we?
In the Old Testament we read of the tithe- the 1/10th of the crop or the income that every family gave to God; but we also read of the wave offering, the thanks offering and the feast offerings… and the amounts given at these were varied and open ended… but they were indications of generous hearts. There is no real reason why we, today, cannot do the same- the difficulty we have is that our attitudes have, over the years, become accustomed to think that all I have is mine, and I begrudgingly hand over my bills, tax, rent etc, pay for my food, maybe something in the savings and a bit for me to have fun, and then look at what is left… and I’ll give some of that to God, and some to charity, because I want to help others and to express my gratitude to God. If, instead, we recognise that all we have is a gift from God- for it is only by grace that I am blessed with the job, home, family and health that I have, that I was born here… and so if my initial response to all I have is one of thanksgiving; and my desire is to help others and express that gratitude to God, then my first priority will be to give.
I was challenged to consider tithing many years ago by a friend- we didn’t look at whether it was before or after tax or any other deductions; the simple principle was ‘give 1/10th to the work of God in the church you’re part of’… anything else you want to give on top of that, to anything else you want to support- that is an act of generosity, but 1/10th? That’s the start point. What made this easier for my friend and I was that we were both young and single- we didn’t have 40yrs of ‘financial planning’ or a family that questioned what we were talking about. For St Paul it is part of Christian discipleship- as he wrote to the church in Corinth, we can give with joy and generosity out of poverty as well as riches- if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable to God based on what we have. And my experience is that this is true: the more generously I gave of myself and my finances, the more joy, the more purpose in life, the more freedom I have had. As I step into the freedom that comes from following Christ, my understanding of grace, of my identity in him, of how I handle my money, of what it means to be saved for this life and all eternity, all of these become less a case of the tick-list and more about my acceptance of God’s love for me- all that I am and have changes in the light of that.
John the Baptist, who’s birth we’re celebrating this week and next, knew that his life was a gift from God, and he used it to serve God- as we are inspired by him to share God’s grace and the Good News of the gospel with those around us, so let us be equally inspired to recognise that our lives are a gift from God, and to respond to that gift.