‘Giving as part of a Christian Way of Life’

The sermon was delivered by Mr Hugo Cobham, Stewardship Officer,
Diocese of Lincoln, at the Special Gift Day United Parish Service in the Springline Parish, South Carlton on 27th September 2020
Opening Prayer

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen

Reading: Matthew 6: 24-34

Our Gospel reading is part of the ‘Sermon on the Mountainside’, when Jesus is teaching his disciples about what it is going to be like to follow him.

Verse 24 says that we cannot serve two masters.  We cannot serve both God and Money.

Jesus is saying to his disciples and to us, we cannot have split loyalties.  If we try to serve both, we will end up being completely conflicted in the decisions we make and the way we live our lives.  We will feel guilty and guilt will turn to us begrudging one or other of them.  But at the same time, we won’t be able to wholeheartedly love the other.  Eventually we will fall out of love with one of them.  Ultimately, we will have to make a choice, because it is unsustainable to live with that much tension and guilt in our lives on a day-to-day basis.  And if we don’t make a decision, then one of our two masters will make it for us, not contented with our half-hearted devotion and disloyalty.  Like oil mixed with water, sooner or later they will naturally separate.

So what Jesus is saying to his disciples here and what he is saying to us here through his Word, is, we need to make a choice.  We can’t keep sitting on the fence, having a foot in both camps.  Who are we going to follow?  Which are we going to serve?  Who is our Master going to be – is it God or Money?

As Joshua said to the people of Israel when he renewed God’s covenant with his people, in Joshua 24: 14 & 15,

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

So how can we make God our Master and live in a way that we are not mastered by Money?

Vs 33 of our Gospel reading suggests that it is a question of priorities – “Seek First

So our First priority, our Top priority is to what…?

To “seek his kingdom”

To “seek his righteousness”

But how do we seek or strive for those things?

In the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus will have just told to the disciples, earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, we say,

“Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

On earth, as it is in heaven.”

So, it’s about looking to do his will, what he wants us to do, not what we want to do.  And it’s about our looking for God’s kingdom and God’s reign to be established on earth, not building or maintaining our own little fiefdoms.

Why do we say, “your kingdom come, your will be done….”?

Why do we want God to rule and to reign on this planet, in the way that he rules in heaven?  Why do we want Heaven on Earth?

Well, surely it’s because it would be better than it is at the moment; much better.  In fact, it would be ‘thePerfect World’.

The Book of Revelation gives us a picture of what that will look like, inCh. 21 vs 3 & 4 says,

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

How we could do with that now! “No more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain”.  No more Covid, no more war and famine in Yemen, no more policemen being shot, no more policemen killing black people in America, no more Manchester Arena bombings, no more migrants drowning in the Channel and the Mediterranean seeking a safer and better life, no more people trafficking and modern slavery.  I could go on.

So what are we as God’s people on earth doing to hasten that day when God makes ‘all things new’?  What is God’s Church doing in South Carlton and the other Springline villages ‘to seek his kingdom and hisrighteousness’ to make ‘his kingdom come’ and ‘his will be done’ in this corner of Lincolnshire?  How are we demonstrating God’s love for the people who live and work in Springline in these times and despite our church buildings having been closed for 6 months?

Talking with Fr Sebastian, I understand that during this time:

  • weekly online services have been broadcast,
  • weekly pastoral letters and intercessions have been sent to church members,
  • telephone calls and some socially-distanced visits have been made to the old and vulnerable, to alleviate isolation and loneliness,
  • funds have been given to help those in greatest financial need,
  • Funerals have continued to he held,
  • People have been caring for one another within their villages communities,
  • The Springline Good Neighbour Scheme has been supported by church members, including doing peoples shopping for them and the like,
  • Scampton Church has been a leader in the Lincoln Larder Food Bank.

So the church has continued to be active within the parish communities during this time.

But this doesn’t all just happen by magic.  If it is to happen, it needs to be resourced; it comes at a cost.  Even though church buildings have been closed, the insurance still needs to be paid, as do staff wages, telephone and broadband charges, churchyards cut, buildings repaired etc etc.

If you are on the Electoral Roll, you will have received Fr Sebastian’s letter about the parish’s financial situation – a deficit of c. £9,000 – and how you can respond to this situation.

From what I see as a Diocesan Stewardship Officer, you are not in a unique situation either.  Many other parishes are struggling also.  Indeed, the Diocese itself is having to make difficult decisions about the jobs of central support staff like myself, needing to let go about 20 – 25% of its staff to reduce wage costs, due to Coronavirus impact.  Inevitably, clergy numbers will need to be reduced to address the pre—Covid annual deficit of £3M.  If you would like to ask me about this or anything else I say this morning, I will be around after the service and will be delighted to try to answer your questions.

So, back to my question ‘How can we make God our Master and live in a way that we are not mastered by Money?’  Well, one very good way is to give our money towards God’s work.  Indeed, what better way to trust God with our lives – what we will eat and drink and what we will wear – than to trust him with our finances and to include him in how we manage what he has given us?  Regular, generous giving to God for the work of his Church and to other Christian causes, proportional to our income, is a recognised hallmark of a mature Christian.

That being the case, the $64M question is, How much should we give?

You may not be aware that the Church of England has some guidance on this very question.  It’s 2009 Giving for Life Challenge recommends that as Christians we give 5% of our net income to our church and 5% to other kingdom-building charities.  That honours the Biblical principle of the tithe, or tenth.

Fr Sebastian included in his letter a quote from 2 Corinthians 9: 6-7 which says,

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

This is really helpful in guiding us as to how to give and how much to give:

  1. “Each of you should give what you have decided”. We have a decision to make. God leaves it up to us.
  2. We can decide whether we are going to give “Generously”, or “Sparingly”, in the knowledge that we reap what we sow, and as Jesus says elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”.
  3. How do we decide what we are going to give? “…in your heart”, effectively our inner-most being, our conscience.
  4. Helpfully, the passage tells us how not to give; “Reluctantly, or under compulsion”. Can you think of something which each of the adults here will probably have had to pay during their lifetime, which we may well have done somewhat reluctantly and under compulsion?  Yes, tax!.  Rightly or wrongly, if you are anything like me, we tend to pay are taxes somewhat reluctantly and begrudgingly and we certainly only do it under compulsion.  I don’t know of any one writing to the Inland Revenue saying ‘here’s a hundred-quid as a present – I thought the Government could do with it”!  So we are not to give to God with the attitude with which we pay our taxes, basically ‘how little can I get away with and still be on the right side of the law’.
  5. No, the passage says that we are to give Cheerfully, because God loves a cheerful giver. The Greek word for cheerful is hilario, so our attitude is perhaps to be verging on the hilarious, ‘How much can I give away’, not ‘How little can I get away with’.

But how can we give cheerfully and willingly, not reluctantly and feeling as though we have to?

I’d like us all to pause for a minute here, to think about all the things that God has given us as individuals.  Everything that God has given us since we popped into this world as a tiny naked baby.  Let’s just close our eyes for a minute and think about perhaps the three things that God has given to us that we value the most?

(PAUSE)

If you’re anything like me, I suspect your thoughts may have included some of the following:

  • The places we live and the beauty of God’s creation
  • The people in our lives – family and friends
  • Life itself! – what an amazing gift!
  • Eternal life – forgiveness for our mistakes through Jesus giving up his life for us on the cross
  • The gift of being able to know God

Wow!  Hasn’t he given us loads!

It is a fact that it is not possible to give, unless we have already received.  We have each received so much from God already.  And how grateful we are to him for that.

It is through gratitude and giving thanks that we will be able to give cheerfully, willingly and generously.

If we choose to serve God as our Master, we will have grateful hearts.

If we choose Money as our Master, all we will ever want is More.

This is a choice that we not only need to make once, but, such is the nature of our consumer society, it is a choice which we need to renew each day as we seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.  Not just a one-off gift on a Special Gift Day – vital though that is – but as a way of life, as we seek to live generous and grateful, God-centred lives, in the places and with the people that God has given us.

I’m going to close with a prayer of David when he, as king, and his leaders had given freely and wholeheartedly to the building of the Temple, that his son Solomon was to build and there was much rejoicing.

David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly,

Let us Pray

 

“Praise be to you, Lord,

    the God of our father Israel,

    from everlasting to everlasting.

11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power

    and the glory and the majesty and the splendour,

    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.

Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;

    you are exalted as head over all.

12 Wealth and honour come from you;

    you are the ruler of all things.

In your hands are strength and power

    to exalt and give strength to all.

13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,

    and praise your glorious name.

14 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”   

Amen.