We’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth

Peter Seal, 9 February 2020

1 Corinthians 2: 1–12; Matthew 5: 13–20

My Bible text comes from St Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verse 13. The version known as The Message reads: ‘Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth.’

Today is what we call Stewardship Sunday, and that is my theme: the gift and use of our time, skills and money.

We’re living in the middle of a miracle. What might have seemed out of reach, even quite impossible, is taking place. I refer of course to our Building for Life project at St Paul’s. It’s so good to have the slide show on the screen after the service at Western School each week, and photos in the magazine, to help keep us all in the picture.

I really look forward to each of you actually being able to see, for real, what’s being achieved. Members of the PCC who have been able to go into St Paul’s recently will testify to how wonderful it’s all beginning to look. This week we’ve been able to go up onto the new balcony – to look down over the nave and go into the new meeting space. You feel quite high up. You’re close to the beautiful stone arches and ceiling timbers. The builders are ahead of time and we’ll definitely be back during the summer.

The miracle is that we, the people of God in this part of the world, who belong to the church community of this parish, are bringing a dream to reality.

In her Christmas message our Queen, by way of encouragement to her people, said, ‘Giant leaps start with small steps; small steps taken in faith and hope can make a world of difference, which bring about lasting change’.

It is your financial support and generosity, along with a huge amount of enduring volunteer hard work by gifted, dedicated and prayerful folk, which is making all this possible. As I’ve often said: we’re making our splendid church building fit for purpose; we’re boldly looking ahead; we’re providing for the future. The other week when I was in St Paul’s I had an almost overwhelming sense that we are doing the right thing.

The monies raised for Building for Life have been kept quite separate from our normal, what you might call ‘housekeeping’, account. This time last year your PCC knew that our main financial focus had to be on Building for Life. We consciously didn’t invite folk to increase their regular giving. We realised we were heading for a housekeeping deficit by the end of 2019.

Since early autumn there have deliberately been no further financial requests to support Building for Life. A few generous gifts continue to come in, which is wonderful. We’re working to a tightly controlled budget. We’re doing only the building work that we know we can afford. There are still important things we hope to be able to add in.

This year, 2020, we need, please, to turn our financial focus back to day-to-day costs. Again we’ve had to budget for a deficit. The aim, in the coming months, is to increase regular giving to meet this gap.

On Thursday I had the privilege of topping and tailing a total of 188 letters. The vast majority, that is 156, are to our current regular givers, most of whom have monthly standing orders. On behalf of your PCC, thank you very much for this enduring commitment, which is an absolutely core component of our income. The remaining 32 letters are to folk who I really hope will become regular givers.

By way of a reminder: the Church of England has long suggested that Christians give 5% of their income, after tax and national insurance have been deducted, to the church, and 5% as other charitable giving. I know, from what some of you have said to me, that there are a few people in our congregations committed to this biblical guideline, often known as tithing. What I want to do again today is to commend this biblical guideline to you all. I commend it to you as a target figure, as something to aspire to. I invite you, please, in the coming weeks, to prayerfully calculate your current percentage giving and ask for God’s guidance. I feel that I can do this with personal integrity … I confess that it took me very many years, but I reached this target, in my church giving, three years ago.

Money is easy to quantify; time and skill much harder. But these three go together, they belong to one another. They balance one another. They are, as it were, a fascinating three-way shape or drawing. They’re almost a Trinity of mutuality and interdependence. Time, skills, money are distinct, but they belong together. Together, and shot through with prayer, they encapsulate Christian commitment. They define what it means for us to call ourselves Christian.

Together, and shot through with prayer, time, skills and money encapsulate Christian commitment.

With you today I thank God for the gift of so much time and skill so generously given. Again, as down the ages Jesus says to us, ‘Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth.’

We live at a time in history, especially in what we call the West, when statistically, many churches are declining, both in attendance and significance. Wonderfully over the past few decades we together, as a church community, have been able to remain strong, yes, and even to grow.

The line Building for Life means much, much more than the bricks and mortar, stone and glass of buildings. It refers to the life of the church in everything it seeks to do and be; yes, in the full breadth of its mission. Let me remind you of what are known as the Five Marks of Mission:

  • To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

This is a concise expression of the Church of England’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic and integral mission. In other words, all that we seek to do and be falls under the heading of mission. Day by day it is enabled by us. We are God’s hands and feet and eyes and ears here on earth.

To put it another way, thanks to Jesus, ‘We’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth.’ The God-flavours on earth … let’s hang on to those words, and savour them!