Sunday, March 23, 2014

Generosity Brings Life

In March 2012, an executive director of an investment bank resigned, saying that ‘… after nearly 12 years at the firm, the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. His resignation letter went on..

‘… It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.  Over the past 12 months I have seen 5 different managing directors  refer to their own clients as muppets… I hope that this can be a wake up call to the board of directors [to] weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm…’

Money can have terrible power to corrupt. Even if we have little of it, we easily fall for the devil’s lie that a little more will sort out our life.  If money is the measure of all things then it slips into the driving seat of our life and soon starts to break the speed limit. As Christians, the measure of all things must be the love of God.  Money is morally neutral - neither good nor bad - but Jesus has quite a lot to say about it recognising the powerful hold it can have over us and how the accumulation of it can displace God at the heart of our being. But if we get the relationship between faith and money right - it can be transformative and life giving.

Jesus did talk a lot about money - 11 of 39 parables talks about money.  1 in 7 seven verses in Luke’s Gospel talk about money.  The word for money (used by Jesus or in connection with Him is used 25 times in the Gospels.  Whilst Jesus seems to talk about money more than any other single issue, He never does so in positive terms - money should not be stored up, rather it and possessions should be given away. He teaches we should not be preoccupied with wealth, constantly trying to acquire it, but that instead we should rely on God’s provision for us.

Jesus talks about and demonstrates often the outlandish, extravagant generosity of God more generally.  This morning’s Gospel is one of many great examples of that.

According to the norms of His day, Jesus shouldn’t have been sat near, talking to or receiving anything from this Samaritan woman. Such was the enmity and hatred one group for the other. Yet Jesus’ loving encounter with this woman, which began with asking for something simple, ended in an offer of the extravagant love of God which transformed not only this woman but her whole community.

Friends, generous giving and living like that brings life - not just to those who immediately receive. Just as when you throw a stone in a pool, the ripples spread to the edge, so it is with the love of God.

But it goes deeper still than that. Cast your mind back to the beginnings of Scripture.  In Genesis 2, God makes everything but there is no-one to tend and care for all that is. So God makes a man from the stuff of creation - from the soil, and God breaths into his nostrils the breath of life and he lives.

Just as God’s giving breathes life into his creation, so our giving enables fresh life elsewhere.  In the same way that God’s giving expresses His love for us, so our giving allows us to express love and compassion in turn.

Our giving to the church does two things - it pays the bills (heating lighting, insurance, human resources and so on and it must), but it also allows us to respond to God’s invitation to participate in His work in the world, His mission, and in doing so, lets us be caught up with Him in his giving of new life - God works through us, both as individuals and as churches.

A letter was pushed through the vicarage door : ‘Dear Vicar, I'm sorry I can't put more money on the plate, but my dad hasn’t increased my pocket money for ages. Could you please preach a sermon about that? Love, Claire. Age 10’

We are called to give generously of what we have - not of what we might have - in response to what we have received from God.

And so we are called to give regularly, and to give generously.  Proportionate giving enables us to assess our generosity - it is a ‘yardstick’ or measure, rather than law. As Anne reminded some of us last week - the Church of England suggests that we should give 5% of our disposable income, and as I said - Scripture calls us to tithe - to give a tenth of what we have.  Either way, if our yardstick shows that our giving is just one or two per cent of our income, it is difficult to believe we are being truly generous.  St Paul understood this, and he encouraged the Corinthian Christians, in his second letter, to understand it too: 

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work…. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God

Our giving brings blessing and life to others, you only have to have watched a few minutes of Sport Relief on Friday night to totally understand that - the transformative power of our giving in the lives of those receiving - we are challenged to give in response to God’s generosity to us, rather than in expectation of what we might receive in return.

Friends, these things seem tough to preach and still tougher to hear, but if we get the balance of what we give wrong, then we are not listening to what Jesus says again and again and again about the money we have. It’s not even just about giving to support overseas work - it is about seeing the hand of God at work wherever - internationally, nationally or even locally - right here - and generously joining in for the flourishing and life of people and God’s church.

But it’s also about praying for a change of mind and a change of heart in us - giving is not about paying our dues, or about fund raising - as both of those imply money given to join a club or financially supporting the stays quo. Rather our giving needs to in response to the love of God so that we can share that love in turn. As Mother Theresa said:  “Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace.”

1 comment:

Madge said...

Courageous and necessary - we are in the red here too as giving has gone down year on year for the past 3!
HOpe you get some positive results. LOL