What do you care about enough to give to?
Sermon 16th Sunday after Trinity by Clare Heard
Words are powerful things….this much is clear from all of today’s readings.
And being British, for many of us, our natural tendency is to be very cautious of direct speaking, to not want to offend anybody, and to tone down difficult messages.
And yet when we read today’s gospel, we do not see Jesus toning down his message. Jesus is quite willing to offend and upset people when it comes to speaking the truth about God.
There are numerous instances of him not only upsetting the Pharisees, but also his friends and family. He doesn’t stick to convention, he interprets Scripture differently from much of the local tradition, and he is willing to call-out anyone who has misunderstood or misapplied God’s word.
And so today, just after Peter has declared him to be the Messiah – the first open recognition of this in Mark’s gospel, he turns to him and calls him Satan! It’s not exactly a gentle rebuke.
As preachers, I think we often forget Jesus’ example. Instead we focus on passages such as those in today’s epistle… “no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. We are worried and concerned about how our sermons will be received, whether we’ll offend anyone, and so we frequently tone down the message, or caveat it, to avoid offence.
And perhaps never more so than when we talk about money. One of the topics that most easily offends. Preachers are reluctant to mention it, and often for good reason.
But today we are in the middle of our Giving with Grace Month, and therefore, I need to mention it.
For after all, if we are asking you to give, or increase your giving, it’s worth thinking about why we should do this, and also, what frequently stops us from giving.
So, why should we give, and why give to our church?
I hope in principle that we believe in equality, actually, I’m sure we all do… that all people are born equal regardless of skin colour, religion, sexuality or wealth. That God loves us all equally, that all people should have the same rights and opportunities, all should have access to the basic necessities of food, homes, heathcare, education and so-on.
And yet, we are all starting in very different places. There are those, like many of us here, who have had very privileged upbringings, who have had opportunities not afforded to others, through excellent education, travel, extra-curricular hobbies, and the overall ability not to just focus on where the next meal is coming from, or how to pay the rent. This in itself is a huge gift.
We know that today the gap between the rich and poor is growing. We know that raising taxes or forcing wealth distribution, does little other than encourage the wealthy to relocate their wealth. We need those who are on the richer side to actively choose to share some of their wealth for equality to really grow.
I was reading Sam Wells book “How then shall we live?” and in the chapter on inequality he quotes Andrew Carnegie’s “The gospel of wealth”.
Carnegie says there are 3 things we can do with our wealth:
leave it to our descendants
bequeath it to the public good
disperse it in our lifetime.
Carnegie suggest that the first two are not a good idea – bequeathing vast wealth to descendants frequently does them more harm than good, and why give to the public good on death when you could have a much more active say about what the wealth goes to during your life?
Carnegie therefore advocates distributing your wealth during your lifetime – giving it to causes that you care about, where you can see the good it does.
Jesus explicitly commands us to love our neighbour and care for the poor and vulnerable. This has to involve financial contribution on our part, especially if we are among the many fortunate people in our city to have comfortable lives with enough disposable income to enjoy our world and all it has to offer.
This isn’t about us giving everything away, nor about not providing for our family. This is about sharing our good fortune with those who are less fortunate.
So the second part of the question is why give to the church? Now I’m not for one moment suggesting that all of our giving should be to the church, but I’d like to suggest that some of it should be. And this is because church is one of the few places where we can bring together rich and poor, build communities and provide places where relationships can be developed outside of our immediate circles of family, work and friends.
As a church here at St George’s, we follow Jesus teaching and give from our resources. We give to local charities, we give to Christian Aid and other charities which support those further afield and we pay our parish share to support poorer churches in our area.
We are trying to share the gospel both within our church community and beyond it. By giving to the church, you play a part in supporting this mission. Our vision at St George’s is to witness to God’s all embracing, generous and compassionate love by serving God and our community and telling the story of Jesus Christ in Holland Park, and by equipping ourselves to welcome the stranger, the seeker, the joyful and the broken so as to be the body of Christ. I hope this is a vision you share and would like to support.
So what is it that usually stops us from giving? Largely, it’s fear – we all want financial security. When we give, we lose control over our money, we have less for ourselves. There is the constant worry that we won’t have enough. But the strange thing is, no matter how much we have, we generally don’t think it’s enough.
How many of us here would describe ourselves as rich? The reality is, that if we have assets worth over $100,000, then we are in the top 10% globally in terms of wealth. If our assets are over $1m, we are in the top 1%. But the strange fact is, we rarely feel it. And even stranger, is a common trend that the wealthier people are the ones who give least (with a few notable exceptions).
But in today’s gospel, Jesus tells us, we need to trust him. He asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. That means we have to trust him with our financial security and our wealth, as well as our overall wellbeing. This means no longer using our money as a means to control things, but to give freely, with no strings attached. And this is very hard to do.
Ultimately this is about relationships. The stronger a relationship we have with God, the better able we will be to trust him and let go of some of our security blankets, including our finances. But also the stronger a relationship with have with the poor and vulnerable, the more we will want to give, in order to help them. It’s so much easier to give to something we really care about, isn’t it?
So today I want to ask you – what do you care about enough to give to? Are you willing to look beyond your immediate needs and security to all those who have less? And are you willing to trust God to provide for you, in order for you to loosen your grip on your security blankets?
What I’m asking is not easy, but it’s what Jesus asks of us. As he says in today’s gospel:
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
He is asking us to let go of all those things we cling to so tightly in order to gain control and security, and to trust him. And the thing is, the more we can do this, and the more we let go, then the more we find real freedom.
We are made in the image of a God who, in his very being, is a loving relationship…and so when relationships become our priority as well, we begin to experience the joy and love that God wants to share with us. And we in turn, are able to share that joy and love with our communities and our world.