A challenge: to find fun and joy in giving

Jonathan Rowe, 30 April 2023

Acts 2:42–47; John 10:1–10

The book of Acts starts with the fast-paced drama that followed the resurrection, culminating in the report that about 3,000 people welcomed the apostles’ proclamation that Jesus was Lord and Messiah.

In our reading, Luke takes stock, describing the life of the newly baptised: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’. Taken together, these ‘four marks of the early Church’ draw a picture of the life of first followers of Jesus. All of them were – and are – important.

  • If churches fail to be places of teaching and learning about faith, they simply become one more social club.
  • Unless believers share fellowship, they become isolated and the embers of faith grow cold.
  • Without sharing bread and wine, the Church will tend to forget God’s great rescue in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • And when the Church doesn’t pray, it stops being a people where heaven and earth meet.

The four marks of the Church describe a radical life noticed – and commented upon – by others.

One aspect of the fellowship of the early believers is striking even after 2,000 years. ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need’. Some describe this as an original communism.

But this isn’t quite correct, for Luke assumes both that private property existed and that it was sold by choice. What’s happening is that the first believers in the resurrection looked after each other’s needs. In this they were following the practice of the local synagogues, of which they were members.

The thing that strikes me is that they had ‘glad and generous hearts’ – looking after others wasn’t a chore, but a joy. We don’t usually think that Christians are called to hold all things in common. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; I think we can be confident that one of the marks of a faithful church today remains ‘joyful giving’. Joyful giving teaches us so much.

The thing that strikes me is that they had ‘glad and generous hearts’ – looking after others wasn’t a chore, but a joy.

Like the first believers in the resurrected Jesus, we are followers of the way, we are ‘pilgrims on a journey’. As we journey, we catch glimpses of heaven, we experience Jesus’ promise of life in all its fulness and we take steps of faith. Joyful giving helps us catch a glimpse of heaven.

Before studying theology, I read economics which, we learned in our first class, concerns ‘the allocation of scarce resources’. Yet however much the assumption that there isn’t enough of everything shapes society and our own lives, it is simply a powerful myth. For God has created a world of astounding fruitfulness and abundance.

When we give, we notice his gifts to us. We catch a glimpse of the richness of the world – we catch a glimpse of heaven.

Joyful giving is also a way of sharing, of connecting with others. Of course, we can give in order to get something in return or to demonstrate our largesse as a benefactor. That’s one of the reasons why Jesus commends anonymous giving – so it isn’t about the giver but a question of passing on the blessings we have received, of sharing something of life in all its fulness.

Joyful giving is also a way of letting go of what we possess, deciding to depend a little more on God’s provision, taking a step of faith. A step of faith can be difficult, daunting. But Jesus says, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, which many of us know to be true. We know from our own experience that it’s fun to give. It adds interest to life as we wonder how our gift has blessed others. And it enables us to see God at work as we depend upon him rather than ourselves.

Joyful giving is part of being a pilgrim. The leaflets you received when you came into church are a practical help for those who would like to give to this parish. Whether a regular donation, a one-off gift or a legacy, please do speak to Tim Stannard, our Treasurer, or send him a completed form. On behalf of the parish I would like to thank all those whose joyful giving has blessed our churches and the wider community.

One of the four marks of the early church was fellowship, including supporting others. A modern version can be called ‘joyful giving’. I pray that we may all know the joy of joyful giving, and catch a glimpse of heaven. Amen.