17th Sun after Trinity
St Barbara’s 19.10.14
Over the last three Sundays we have been looking at different aspects of giving.
Two Sundays ago, at our Dedication Service, we gave thanks to God for the gift of this church to us, and the gift to us of all those Christians who have gone before in this place.
Last week, for our Harvest Festival, we gave thanks to God for the gifts of harvest and creation, as we sang “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above”, and we thought about how we can give to others in other parts of our world.
Well, today, we continue our giving theme, as we think about how we can give to God’s work in this place, how, in Paul’s phrase, we can be partners in the work of the Gospel, co-workers in mission.
Over the next few weeks in our sermon themes, we will be looking at different ways in which we can give, but today we are thinking in particular about financial giving.
Talking about money is not always the easiest of subjects. It is something that I, for one, can feel quite uneasy about. If someone starts talking about money in a church, inevitably some of us will feel angry “you can’t tell me what to do with my money!”; others of us may feel despairing, “but I already give as much as I can – I can’t give more”, others of us may feel guilty, “I know I could give more, but I would rather not have to think about it”. Maybe, like me, you can identify with all three of those attitudes at the same time.
So before I start talking about our financial giving, its good to see how Paul talked about it when he wrote to the Philippian church.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church, was hugely grateful for their prayers, their loyalty to him, their faithfulness to Christ, their commitment to keeping going in the faith despite persecution and opposition. And at the end of the letter, he also tells them how grateful he is to them for their financial giving. The gift of money they sent with Epaphroditus has been a huge help and encouragement to Paul. It has kept him alive in his prison cell, as he is totally reliant on outside help to buy food. There was no such thing as free food in Roman prisons. Without their gift, Paul tells them, his work in proclaiming the love of God from his prison cell, his work in encouraging and teaching the churches through his letters, would have ceased long ago. Through their giving, they have been co-workers with Paul, partners with God, in his work.
Financial giving, in other words, is Kingdom work. Work that helps us to further the mission of God.
Paul goes on to describe their gifts as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Those words were the words the writers of the Psalms frequently used to describe the offering of sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem. It is an important connection.
Sacrifices were not made as some kind of tax or membership fee. People brought their sacrifices to the temple as an act of worship. For us too, Paul is saying, giving money is first and foremost, an act of worship, a way of expressing our praise and thanksgiving to God. Our giving, whether through our direct debits, our envelopes, or through the collection bowl, is as much our worship, as the singing of hymns or the saying of prayers.
Secondly, sacrifices were costly. The very word “sacrifice” implies there is a cost. Giving is costly. It was not easy for the Philippian church to support Paul – they were facing challenges and difficulties themselves – but they were willing to give generously. Likewise, I know many of you give sacrificially to the work of the church, not just through your time and commitment, but financially too. Its that giving that makes such a difference in the life of our church, so on behalf of everyone in the church, thank you.
And thirdly, for Paul, the Philippians’ giving was like a sacrifice, like an offering, because not only was it an act of worship, not only was it costly, but because the spirit with which the gift is made is more important than the amount of the gift. God then, as now, would rather we gave less, with a joyful heart, than more with a grudging heart. He would rather we take delight in being able to give to his work rather than giving reluctantly out of duty. God delights in a cheerful giver.
So today we are starting something called a Stewardship Campaign, which is an opportunity for all of us to review our financial giving to the life of the church.
We are doing it for three reasons:
As a church, we have not talked about financial giving for quite a few years, and the PCC wanted to give us all the opportunity to reflect prayerfully upon our giving. If Paul is right, then our giving is an important part of our worship, and something that it is good for us to review once in a while. Its an opportunity, not a compulsion. It maybe that as you reflect upon your giving, you may choose to keep it as it is, or possibly, due to changed circumstances, you may choose to reduce it. That is fine. As Paul reminds us, it is the spirit in which we give, not the amount, that is so important. But I hope that for some of you this will come as a welcome opportunity to think about and actually increase what you give to the church too.
The second reason that we are starting this Stewardship Campaign is that there are many exciting opportunities that we would love to develop if we have the money. You will find out more in the letters you will get at the end of the service, but we would love to invest more in our services – getting a better quality data projector and screen, for example, that can be used in our all age services and our Buzz at St B’s service; being able to have specific service sheets more often in church services (like we did last week for harvest) which are just easier to follow and use, especially if you are new to church. We’ve seen some exciting developments in the way we communicate with the wider community through our new-look Parish Newsletter and web-site, and we would love to continue to communicate with people through attractive and eye-catching ways. These are some great opportunities that just with some extra money we could begin to make happen. Our giving can help forward the work of God in this place, just as the giving of the Philippian church did.
And the third reason for the Stewardship Campaign is that we face financial challenges too. For a number of years now, we have been living beyond our financial means. The situation was helped a few years ago by a very generous legacy given to the church, but the majority of this money has now been spent. Imagine if as a household you had been spending more money than was coming in for several years, and your savings have significantly diminshed. You would want to take action. Despite careful budgetting and cost-savings, we have been outspending our income by over £8,000 per year for the last three years. Increasing our giving as a church will not only help us to grasp new opportunities; it will also help us to put the church on a more secure financial footing, one that we can pass on with confidence to future generations. That, as with the Philippian church, may come at a cost, but its one that we know that previous generations have paid for us too.
Over the next few weeks, we would love to offer you this opportunity to prayerfully consider your giving. At the end of the service, you will each receive a letter with further information to help you do this. We hope it will give you information that will be helpful. There are pie charts explaining our current income and expenditure, and standing order forms.
We recognise that there may be many questions too. Please come and talk to me or Andrea or Ian, or if you would prefer, fill in the Question and Comment card in the envelope. We will have a Question and Answer session straight after the morning service in a couple of weeks time where we will try and answer those questions.
And because sometimes we know that without a deadline we can forget to do things, we are encouraging you to have made any commitments you want to make by 16th November, four weeks time.
Paul reminds us that our financial giving is costly, but it is an act of worship we can offer to God, and it is a wonderful way of being part of his work in this world.
Please hear again. There is no compulsion to do this. But just as we want to give you opportunities to worship and serve God in many ways, so we want to give you the opportunity to reflect on this aspect of your worship and service too.
May God guide each of us as we prayerfully consider our giving.