When we give of ourselves, we imitate and participate in the nature of God

Liz Stuart and Mary Copping, 13 March 2022

Genesis 15: 1–12, 17–18; Philippians 3: 17–4: 1; Luke 13: 31–35

LS: Well, today is a ‘Stewardship Sunday’, and whenever I hear the word ‘stewardship’ it reminds me of that wonderful scene in The Simpsons when Bart Simpson is saying grace, and he says, ‘Dear Lord, we paid for all this ourselves, so thanks for nothing’.

I always feel embarrassed preaching about stewardship because ultimately stewardship is all about asking people to give more of themselves – more of their time, more of their talents and their money – people who already give generously of their time, money and talents. And we are doing so just as we’re coming out of a pandemic in a context of rising inflation, rising fuel costs and the war in Ukraine. How dare we ask for more really?

But I was recently reading about the psychology of giving. Various scientific studies have been carried out which show that giving, any sort of giving – time, money, talent – has an impact on both our brains and our bodies that makes us happier and healthier. Elderly people who give their time through volunteering are 44% less likely to die over a five-year period than those who do not. 44%! No one is quite sure why this is the case, but theologically it seems pretty obvious to me.

Any sort of giving – time, money, talent – has an impact on both our brains and our bodies that makes us happier and healthier.

Giving causes us joy. It enables us to flourish because we are made in the image and likeness of God and when we give of ourselves, we imitate and participate in the nature of God, because giving is all God is and does. God gives of himself in creation and redemption. In our gospel reading we are reminded that in Christ God gives of himself even to death. Jesus can do nothing but press on towards Jerusalem, which is the place where he will be required to give of himself without remainder, because he is God incarnate and this is all God is and does.

Sin radically disrupts that which we’re created to be – beings who give. It does this by introducing the notion of measure, ‘I’ve done my stint, my bit, my part … I’ve given my fair share’, and also by introducing the fear of giving too much. It convinces us that somehow we will be diminished or made vulnerable by giving, or giving more. It persuades us that we can be exhausted in one way or another, when the gospel teaches us that actually, in fact, we will be replenished and renewed. The economics of God are pretty simple: the more you give away, the more you will receive. But what faith it takes to believe that!

Sin clouds our God-given nature with meanness. It turns us in on ourselves. But there God meets us in his for-giveness and turns us around and turns us out, to remind us that we are made to be people like him – people made to give – and it is only through a life of giving that we will find joy, his joy. So, reflecting on stewardship is a useful opportunity for us to ask ourselves and God whether and where we can give more.

MC: Peter Seal used always to do the stewardship sermons simply because he knew I couldn’t or wouldn’t do them – happy to ask people to give of their time, happy to ask people to give of their talents, but I hate asking people to give money – it’s so embarrassing! So, what has changed for me? Well, firstly Peter’s not here to do it, so it’s down to Liz and me. But secondly, and most importantly, I’ve realised how vital it is.

I love working in the office here at St Paul’s as it enables me to see the people who come in to pray and I can chat to people, pray with them, and there are so many who come in during the week. It also enables me to see the things that go on in here: the coffee mornings, the pre-school events, Western School services, funerals, baptisms, concerts, and lots more community events to come. So much goes on that you only see if you’re here most of the time.

So I was shocked to hear how much our energy bill is for St Matthew’s, St Paul’s, the hall and the rooms – and of course all of us are concerned about our energy bills at this time – but it will be over £2,000 a month. And that is not with heat blasting out, as you can realise – it’s not boiling hot in here today – but a very small amount of underfloor heating in here to enable those who come to feel comfortable, and a bit of heat on Sundays. Along with this there are many other expenses to keep this wonderful church open and available to all, the community hub – God welcoming people to his house, where people find rest and solace and welcome. And this also for St Matthew’s Church, and it’s a time when people need a lot of rest and solace and welcome and peace.

I was told that if the regular givers gave £5 a week more, and we had 50 more new givers, then the financial problems would be solved. And at the PCC meeting we were all challenged to up our regular giving, as it started with us to set an example.

But this is not about Liz and me and the PCC asking you to give more; this is about what God is asking each of us to do to take care of his house and to take care of the people of this community and beyond.

In the book of Kings we are told of Solomon building God’s temple with the best materials and wonderful craftsmanship. When it was finished, God said to Solomon, ‘I have heard your prayer, I have consecrated this house that you have built and put my name there forever, and my eyes and my heart will be there for all time’. These are also God’s words to us for this newly refurbished church and for St Matthew’s Church too – God’s eyes and heart are here and will be here forever – and in these dark times how much more do people need the heart and love of God.

We have each been given a flyer showing the wonderful things that have been happening at both churches and giving details of finances. We have also been given a Christian Aid envelope to give money for the needy people of Ukraine. This latter is an urgent need and we hope people will give generously. But the need for people to find solace and help and peace here in our churches is vital too.

God blesses us in many ways; how do we respond? From the letter to the Corinthians, ‘Each of you must give as you have made up your mind to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’. What is God asking of us at this time?