Below is the sermon I preached today. Some people asked that it be posted here. I hope it speaks for itself. If you want to respond to it, I'd love to hear from you.
First after Trinity
Today, Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in the Gospel bring two things into sharp relief. First, his instruction to “go not to the Gentiles” is an interesting one since we are used to hearing a Gospel which is for everyone. But it is I think, a call to get our own house in order, before we seek to share the Good News elsewhere. I wonder too how the Gospel passage begins to feel for us if we replace the names of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel passage with our own….? I encourage you to try it. It makes a difference. When I was ordained I committed to proclaiming the Gospel afresh in each generation and though we may be far removed in time from those first disciples, the Gospel is the same and the call to get out into the field and do the work which we were given to do, is exactly the same.
Paul’s epistle is a reminder that we live in the grace of God even in the midst of our struggles but that does not mean that our charge, our instruction from God is to be passive and to treat our faith like some private treasure. Surely we have read enough parables about treasure to understand Christ’s call against burying our treasure or nurturing it privately. On the contrary, we need to be active where we can in the way we respond, the way we treat, what we have been given.
Care and responsible use of what we have been given, including the Gospel is what the church tends to refer to as stewardship; responsible stewardship means looking carefully at how we respond to what God has given us – the Gospel, money, time and talents.
I’ll be looking specifically over the next couple of weeks at the question of financial giving, of what we give and where we choose to utilise what we give, but today I want to put the whole question of stewardship and giving into a wider context – this seems to me imperative, not least in light of the events of the last few weeks and particularly the tragedy in Grenfell House in London.
There are essentially, two ways in which we could look at the question of what we give to the church. We could just look around our church, see what needs paying for, raise money for it, pay for it and move on to the next thing. Indeed, I know that the church has had a number of discreet appeals for things, not least the organ and they have been very successful. Sometimes, for one off building projects and the like, they are the right way to respond financially.
I have to tell you though, that long term, they are not the “right” way to give, because they miss the underlying principle which I think, as Christians, should underpin our giving.
First and foremost, we give as a response of gratitude to God and as a recognition that we are called, if we are in a position to give, to give in response to the needs of those who have less than we do. That means – and we need to think about our giving – that it should cost us in the sense that we should give enough to notice that we are doing it – and we also need to recognise the actual cost of what this church costs to run -it’s much more than you probably think and there is no “magic pot” called the Church of England that keeps us afloat.
If we have been tempted in the past to look to our own needs first in terms of giving – and then stop, I want us to turn that on its head and begin to think how Christ calls us to give first.
That call feels like it has a special urgency this week in light of what happened at Grenfell House. The people in that building died, essentially, because they were poor. Because they had no voice – and fewer choices than people with money. Their choice, essentially, came down to dying in a burning flat, or jumping out of a window. This is a political question for sure, but it has nothing to do with party politics, whether we like Jeremy Corbyn and what we think of Theresa May, and everything to do with the fact that – as someone in the congregation said to me earlier – money trumps morality. This is just wrong and we must be brave enough to speak up and say that it is wrong. To put it bluntly, it comes down to the value that we place on human life; the lives of those in Grenfell House were just as precious to God as our own. In fact, if I remember rightly, the Gospel I read teaches me that Jesus had a particular concern for the poor.
I truly believe that if we give first out of gratitude to God – then we will be able to put our own house in order – both physically and spiritually and have enough resources to do what we must in the service of the Gospel – and speak up for those who have no voice. Sure, we cannot fix everything – but that does not mean that we should refuse to fix anything that is not of immediate interest to us – it means the very opposite. The fact that we can insulate ourselves against this horror is the very reason why we should stop doing it and think about money differently
The workers are indeed few – but the few that we are can do great things. We need to learn to be a people who think and act differently because of what we believe and to act in a way that makes people notice – and be interested in what it is that drives us to act as we do. We can and must make a difference, if we are committed to making money work first in the service of a moral cause – in the service of the church – in the service of the Gospel - for the love of God.