God’s generosity and our response

Peter Seal, 12 February 2017

1 John 4: 9–16; Matthew 6: 1–13

Stewardship Sunday is really important. It’s also a challenge for the preacher. I’m grateful to those who have gently advised me that what I’ve said on similar Sundays in years past needed refreshing. It’s been good for me to rethink today; but perhaps I should warn you, my rethinking, and discussions at PCC, bring new challenge.

Today’s stewardship booklet has been very carefully prepared. Please make sure you’ve got yours before you leave church.

As we set out on today’s theme, the most important word – actually two words – for me to use are ‘thank you’. As your parish priest it’s hard for me to express adequately my personal thanks to each of you for all you contribute to the life of this flourishing parish. I hope my personal addressing and signing of your individual stewardship booklet (420 of them in total!) goes just a little way towards expressing this.

Your stewardship contribution comes in three identifiable ways: the gift of your time; your skills; and your money.

You only have to read our weekly welcome sheet or monthly parish magazine, or go on our website, to appreciate the huge range of really important things we are committed to. The effect for good that they have on our lives as a church congregation, and beyond ourselves in the community and further afield, cannot be calculated.

Listed in the stewardship booklet are our most pressing volunteer needs. Volunteering is essential in any charitable organisation, and we are no exception. You probably know that it’s proven that volunteering keeps us healthy, and, of course, it keeps our church healthy too.

As part of your own stewardship renewal today please take time to ask, ‘Over the past year, what have I been involved in offering?’ and then, ‘For the future, what might I be able and willing to contribute?’ As I articulate these questions for us all, please be clear: my aim today is absolutely not to make anyone feel guilty. Guilt is rarely a helpful emotion.

Let’s turn to our first reading, which directly connects with our stewardship theme, ‘God’s generosity and our response’. We heard some of the most precious words our Bible contains: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.’ ‘God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.’

As a Christian I stake my life on that conviction.

Long before any of us had any glimmer of awareness that God might mean anything to us at all, long before our birth, we were a twinkle in God’s eye; he continues to know us by name. He loves us into existence every day.

Sometimes we may say something like: ‘I’m finding it hard to hold onto my faith’, or ‘I’m barely hanging on by my fingertips’, or some other way of expressing a sense that life is just too demanding, or that our awareness of God’s loving presence is fading or even in danger of disappearing.

As we cherish in our hearts and minds the truth that God loved us long before we had the capacity to love him, we can find calm for our fears; we can become aware again that God goes on holding, and holding on, to us, at every moment of our lives.

As we cherish in our hearts and minds the truth that God loved us long before we had the capacity to love him, we can … become aware again that God goes on holding, and holding on, to us, at every moment of our lives.

And if we believe this is true, as I do, then, as well as feeling secure and protected, we will also feel challenged; challenged to ask again, ‘How in my life – that is, the whole of my life – am I responding to God’s astounding, amazing commitment to me?’ And then to ask, ‘Within the expression of my Christian commitment, what does this look like in terms of the way I use my time, skills and money?’

God, I believe, gives me everything I have and all that I am. That goes, I believe, for every one of us – unique and infinitely precious as we all are. So the reason for this Stewardship Sunday is not, primarily, about what’s needed. No, it’s about each of us recognising God’s extreme goodness and generosity to us, and therefore our response.

In choosing today’s second reading I was wanting to acknowledge that our individual personal stewardship is a private matter. That’s right and proper. It’s something we need to work out, on our knees, in prayer, openly and honestly.

As I move now to the financial part of what I want to say, can I remind you: though I know who our weekly and monthly regular givers are, I do not know how much any individual gives … apart from myself!

I want now to be a bit personal, and this is where today’s challenge comes. Something was missing from my upbringing as Christian. What I can’t ever remember hearing, let alone taking on board, is the biblical teaching of tithing: that is, giving away 10% of income (after tax and national insurance). The Church of England has long suggested that Christians might give 5% of their income to the church and 5% as other charitable giving.

I know, from what they have said to me, that there are a few people in our congregations committed to this biblical guideline. What I want to do today is to commend this biblical guideline to you all. I commend it to you as a target figure. I feel that I can do this with personal integrity … I confess that it’s taken me very many years; but I have now reached this target. As the saying goes, practise what you preach!

Please do the 5% calculation and see what monthly figure you come up with, and then compare it with what you already give. If you’re not already a regular giver please can I urge you to become one, and to join the 150 or so folk who give in this way? The parish income from this giving covers approximately 75% of our outgoings.

I’ve been bold today. I hope and trust you receive what I’ve said in the spirit in which it’s offered. I know that each of our financial circumstances are different. Every amount that is given is welcome. The giving of modest sums may represent considerable personal sacrifice. The parable from Luke chapter 21, of the poor widow who put two small coins into the treasury, reminds us of this; and as Jesus spotted, her gift involved personal sacrifice.

I think we will find that, as we go deeper into God’s purposes for each of us, we will be challenged anew to consider the place of sacrifice in our discipleship.

All that I’ve said comes from my heart, and does so in love for the people of this parish community. Generosity of spirit is a beautiful thing, and that’s one of God’s gifts to us, when we ask him for it.

I leave you with words from St Luke, chapter 6: ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’