STEWARDSHIP Some people have asked that my sermons about Stewardship be posted here. I hope that they speak for themselves. If you want to respond to any of these, I'd love to hear from you. A copy of our Stewardship Campaign Leaflet can be found in the Stewardship page being the last page in this Church Life Section of the website.
Rev Rachel Wilson
JULY 9TH 2017
Family Service for Sea Sunday
Mission to Seafarers
Today at our Family Service, we learnt about the work of the Mission to Seafarers, who care for those living and working at Sea. We showed a video after the service about their work - we had a few issues with sound - so here it is again.
The value of doubt - and the power of love
Trinity 3 – Patronal Festival – Thomas the Apostle
It is my particular pleasure to be addressing you today on the day when the church remembers, our Patron Saint, Thomas, the Apostle – commonly known of course as Doubting Thomas. Our patronal festival is rightly a reflection on and celebration of, who we are as a church and despite nickname I believe that the example of Thomas and his encounter with the risen Christ has much to teach us about the nature of belief and in turn, about what we are being called to be and how we are called to act as people of faith in this place.
Thomas, in my view, gets a rather bad press, for struggling to believe that his friend and Master was apparently risen from the dead; believing anyone to be risen from the dead, not least someone who you know to be definitely dead, is not an unreasonable stance to take – let’s not forget that Thomas wasn’t actually present when the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples. Secondly, the most significant point about Thomas is not that he doubted – but that his doubt – and crucially, what Christ did in response to it, was actually the vehicle which led to his eventual belief.
We are mistaken I think, if we believe that doubt is necessarily the opposite of faith and therefore a “bad” thing – I think sometimes as Christians we’re frightened of doubt as if it’s a contaminant and as if faith, therefore, is a case of hanging on by our fingertips with every ounce of energy we have, desperately repeating that we believe, when actually, we feel as if we have very little to hold onto at all. I believe the real enemy of faith is indifference-if you don’t care, or are not interested, then nothing anyone says is likely to make an impact on you. Doubt, by contrast can be the beginnings of faith because in order to doubt anything you need to be interested enough, or confused enough, or frustrated enough, or bewildered enough – as Thomas was to at least be questioning – be thinking about - what the truth really is.
What is Jesus’ response to Thomas’ doubt – expressed of course in Christ’s absence? He returns, for Thomas’ benefit. He literally meets Thomas where he is – answers Thomas’s questions by allowing him to satisfy his curiosity (notice how curiosity is a much more acceptable word than doubt?). Jesus, allows Thomas to come to believe by what he does. Imagine, if Christ had either, not returned or rebuked Thomas from the first about his lack of faith. Of course, he does point out to Thomas the virtue of those who are able to believe without needing proof, but only at the point where Thomas has declared Christ to be Lord - having already triumphed over death, Christ resists all temptations to be pious, preachy, or condemnatory and stoops again to meet Thomas at his point of need.
The care which Christ shows for Thomas in this encounter is I think, the model that we, as the people of St Thomas should look to as a model of our own discipling and stewardship. For the vast majority of people, the arrival at a point of faith does not happen either by osmosis, or suddenly. For most people, they are convinced, rather like Thomas, by a combination of what they see, how they see others behave and by authenticity – the feeling that something is “real”. In our increasingly diverse world where matters of faith and spirituality are often of the “pick and mix” variety, people will spot shallowness and superficiality a mile off.
As we work towards opening our church during the week and thinking about stewardship and our gift day today – people will come in here wanting to find something – even if they don’t know what it is. They will be curious as to what it is that draws us in here every Sunday – and we need to be able to answer that curiosity in what they see, both in this church – this beautiful building – which will be a combination of that intangible yet enticing sense of something “other” – which settles in the air here – and us. Does our action, match what we profess – do we speak, simply and clearly – just by our being – of a Christ who loves? Speak loudly enough of that love, to answer the curiosity of others and give rise to further questions in them, which them want to return – or is the way we behave evidence of such a superficial faith that people leave, certain that nothing of spiritual value is to be found here.
A recent survey in the Church Times suggested that for around a third of young adults, a visit to a church building had been instrumental in them coming to faith. In this church, we have a wonderful building which speaks of the love of God – and we need to keep it running – and keep it open. The more we can raise financially and the more people are able to give of their time and talents – the greater our ability to keep it open and the greater the chance of people finding spiritual renewal here. Our greatest asset, which also needs stewardship – is one another. We need to care for one another, just as we seek to care for the material things which God has given us; God has also gifted us one another and in that gifting – we will find him afresh. We are, each of us, uniquely precious to God and made as we are, in the image of God, we should be equally precious to one another. Paul’s letter is a reminder that we are the body of Christ being built into something precious –we are being built into a temple for Christ and we must learn to behave as we recognise that - we encounter Christ in each other as surely as we do at the altar and that should temper our own behaviour and how we treat one another, accordingly.
Twelve months ago, on the festival of St Thomas, I left my previous parish. I left them, telling them that they were loved, by me and by God. Today, my message to you is exactly the same. God loves each of you and wants us to work in his name – if we can show God’s love to others by our actions, and by what they find here, that they might see – and believe –imagine what a difference that would make.
JULY 2ND 2017
JUNE 25TH 2017
The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German priest and theologian executed by the Nazi wrote a book called “The Cost of Discipleship”. He paid for his discipleship with his life – but his basic premise was that the Christian Life, fully realised, is never cost free; that it requires a level of obedience and commitment which is necessarily costly.
Further, he said, in a world where those in secular authority will be all too ready to bend the Gospel to their own ends, it is the church – above all – that must proclaim the truth of the Gospel – determinedly and unashamedly and to live in accordance with the demands which that path makes on each one of us; living as he did in the period before the second world war, he lived in an era when the state were all to ready to declare that the Gospel, conveniently, was entirely in keeping with their own agenda. Incidentally, before we are too ready to condemn this, remember that for years the church used the Gospel to justify slavery and indeed, in the appalling aftermath of the abuse perpetrated by Peter Ball in his time as a Bishop and the church’s collusion in what he did – the church has much of which it needs to repent.
Our readings today paint a clear picture for us about the responsibility of discipleship, sin, and judgement. The cost of discipleship for us is twofold – spiritual and literal. Spiritually, we must remember, says the Gospel, who we are before God – a servant – for that is who we are – is not greater than their master – rather, we are to be like our master. We will, says Matthew, malign the name of the one we serve and be set against one another – but when that happens – we need not fear, for what is whispered in corners, will be brought into the light. So if we are tempted to get a little above ourselves, have a little gossip in the odd comer, or mould the church subtlely to our own ends, we are sorely mistaken, sooner, or later, we will be found out and called to account.
That means of course that we must keep a check on our own behaviour, but just as importantly, can live as disciples with confidence – not fearing those who would malign us – we can live in the light of the truth that God calls us to, whatever others may say.
The power of living in the light of that truth is especially important when it comes to questions of stewardship – how we decide what we give to God’s church in terms of our money and our time and how we account for the use of what is given. I said last week that I would talk about how much St Thomas’s costs to run; just like any household, we need to make sure that what comes in, in terms of income at least matches what goes out – but in truth a break even point will only ensure that we keep our heads above water – it will not enable us to be ready for costly repairs – of which there are many at the moment and most importantly it will not enable usto do any of those wider things in the service of Christ’s church and the Gospel which we must do if we are to grow and thrive as a church. The good news is that, particularly for those of us who already give, we need only make a small weekly or monthly increase in our giving to put ourselves in a more financially stable position – an extra £2.50 a week or £10 a month each would make a significant impact on our target of £10,000. So, if you give already – thank you – would you consider increasing it? If you don’t give regularly, please consider starting – if you value what we have here – as I said last week – it’s worth contributing to – it’s worth giving for. I also imagine that the running costs of St Thomas's are much more than you think - last year it cost us £95,000; money we need to find in order to function, aside from the wider missional things we need to do.
Looking at things in a new light means that it shows us things that we didn’t see before and we are at a time of the life of this church where there are some very real opportunities for growth – but we can’t simply sit and wait for new people to come to us, we need to go out to them and show them that we have something here that’s worth coming to look at – that takes time and money but it is absolutely worth it and it is what we are called to do.
As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, we cannot be children of God and go on sinning – we are changed – but that must also be a deliberate choice on our part and to close ourselves in – and to close ourselves off is as much a sin as any of those bigger, more heinous things we tend to think about – it’s the little, insidious things that do just as much damage. I’m really excited about the prospect of beginning to open our doors during the week. It's a vital step in sharing wopening our doors in the weeks and months ahead – to make it work at its best, we need your money and your time, to be put to good use in this place. Next week will be our patronal festival when we remember Thomas, the one who went from refusing to believe to being able to say – my Lord and my God – I pray that you will find yourself able to give to the gift day that we have next week, so that more people will be able to cross our threshold and make that journey that Thomas made, from refusing to believe to recognising Christ for the person he is. Your commitment to that aim and to this church will make all the difference
June 18th 2017
In the light of recent events .... and the light of the Gospel
Matthew 9:35-10:8, Romans 5:1-8
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.