Sunday was our church gift day, when we invited special donations towards some necessary work at the church, and so we took it as an opportunity to think more widely about giving, about how we can all contribute to the life and work of the church and the kingdom. We focused on the answers to three questions - what, why and how should we give?
WHAT SHOULD WE GIVE?
Money I’m starting here not because it is the most important type of giving, but because I have already acknowledged that we are particularly asking for financial gifts this morning, and because I think it is probably the first type of giving we think of. It is undoubtedly important - it costs to have a minister and a building, especially if you want to keep the minister fed and the building warm, and the generosity of this congregation means we are also able to support others, through regular giving to Home Mission and BMS and through fundraising for different charities throughout the year. But at the same time it is really important that we think beyond financial giving this morning, in part because the church and the kingdom are built on more than just money, and in part out of a recognition that not everyone is able to give this way. When Anne from Inclusive Church spoke to us back in January, she talked about a woman who was too afraid to step into her local church because she feared the collection plate. I never want anyone to feel that here. There is no getting away from the fact that we need those who are able to give financially to do so, but it is not a condition of entry, and as we will come to now, there are plenty of other ways to give.
Time How many hours do you think have been given to making the service on Sunday morning happen? People gave time to arranging flowers, and rehearsing music, and preparing communion, and getting ready for tea and coffee, and coming early to make sure there was a friendly face at the door. How many hours do you think are given to the church during the week? People are giving up their Monday mornings to support the wellbeing cafe, and we have a team that puts time into planning and running our Messy events every month, and I know that an astonishing amount of time goes into looking after the hire of the church. I know there is a running joke about churches being like helicopters, because if you get too close you get sucked into the rotas, but the gift of time represented by those rotas is invaluable, because without it very little would happen.
Skills I guess this has a large overlap with time, because the things we give our time to are often the things we are skilled at or passionate about, but I think it’s worth acknowledging separately. Paul famously uses the body as a metaphor for the church, because each one of us has something particular that we can do, and it’s that coming together of so many parts, of so many skills and passions, that makes us able to do so much more than any one part could alone. We need people to offer all sorts of skills and passions - imagination, organisation, hospitality, musicianship...I could go on into infinity. We are blessed that people already do offer so many of their skills and passions, but I wonder if there are things that we have yet to discover amongst us. The church should be a place where we can bring those things that we are most skilled at and passionate about, so that they might flourish and enrich others, and I would love to see that happen more and more.
Prayer There can be a tendency to say that if you can't do then you can always pray. I know I have been guilty of saying that in the past and I nearly said it again this morning. Of course it's true that we can always pray, and those who cannot give practically may choose to focus even more on giving prayerfully, so it isn't entirely foolish and it's certainly well meant, but the danger is that prayer is presented as a second rate form of giving, what you do when you can't do anything else. The truth is that prayer isn't a second rate form of anything. It is absolutely essential to the life and work of the church and kingdom, not because God will ignore or forget us without it, but because it keeps us open to hearing from God, to being inspired by his wisdom and creativity and emboldened by his spirit and power. Some of us may have a special gift or capacity for prayer, and that should be nurtured and encouraged, but we should all be praying.
Ourselves This is the greatest gift we can give, bringing our entire authentic selves to this community. That includes giving of our money and time and skills and passions and prayers, but it also means simply being present, and it means being willing to share our lives with one another. We are not just an event or a charity or a project, we are a family. And so we don’t just show up and do our bit and then go home again, we offer ourselves in relationship. And as we offer ourselves, we receive others, and we practice all of the ‘one another’s that we find in scripture. We love one another, encourage one another, bear with one another, serve one another...that is a gift of wonderful beauty.
WHY SHOULD WE GIVE?
To recognise what we have received We give out of what we have, not out of what we do not, and so giving is an opportunity to recognise and be thankful for what we have already received. Giving will sometimes feel like a chore or an obligation, but what new joy we might find in it if every time we gave, we also gave thanks that we were able to give. "God, I could really do without serving the tea and coffee today, but I am thankful that we have that time of fellowship after the service, and it is good that I am able to help with that." That sort of thing.
To open ourselves to what we will receive We don't - or at least we shouldn’t - give in order to receive, but giving does open up relationships which we will often find to be reciprocal, and I don't think it's cynical or opportunistic to rejoice in that. We give time to help run the wellbeing cafe, and we find ourselves blessed by a new hobby or an enlightening conversation. We use our passion for board gaming to start a new club, and we make friends we might not have otherwise met, and a year down the road we have the joy of watching one of them be baptised. Giving opens up possibilities, not just for us as individuals, but for us as a church and as those who are seeking to build the kingdom. Which brings us neatly to the next two points, which I will take together...
To grow the church / To build the kingdom I said that it costs to keep a building and a minister, and that not much would happen without people giving their time and their talents, but we don't keep a building and a minister just for the sake of tradition, and we don't do things just to occupy our time. In all that we do, we hope to grow the church and build the kingdom. We want to see others join our fellowship because we believe this is a good place to worship God and live in community, and we want to see the world become more and more as God envisions and calls it to be. It can be really easy to become so focused on the details of what we are doing that we forget that bigger picture, but we need to look up from time to time, to remember what it is we are really doing, why it is that we are really giving. Because at the end of the day all of this is...
To honour God The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the chief end of all people is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”. Our giving glorifies God by making manifest his love and his generosity, and by creating spaces into which people can be invited to meet with him, and so we should give with a sense of praise and honour in our hearts.
HOW SHOULD WE GIVE?
Willingly 2 Corinthians 8:12 says“if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” It is not about how much we give, but the spirit in which we give, and in the first place we should give willingly, or we might say more broadly that we should give for the right reasons. God does not want to exact service from us a payment or a punishment, and he certainly doesn’t want us to give to win spiritual brownie points. He wants us to want to give, because he wants us to recognise what we have and how it can be used.
Generously Deuteronomy 15:10 says “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him.” This comes in the context of laws about the forgiving of debts and the importance of being openhanded towards the poor, laws which aimed to create a generous society, because only a generous society will safeguard the vulnerable. Generosity will look different for each of us because each of us will find ourselves in different circumstances. The point is not to give more than anyone else, but to give as freely as we are able, even to push ourselves to give a little more than may be expected or comfortable.
Lovingly 1 John 3:17-18 says “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Giving should be an act of love, and I think that means our focus should be less on what we are giving and more on where that gift is going. We should always be thinking about the work that will be done and the people that will be blessed by our money or our time or whatever else it is we are giving.
Joyfully 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that “God loves a cheerful giver”. This goes back in part to what I said about giving willingly, but it also goes back to what I said about recognising what we have already received. If we give thanks with a grateful heart, knowing the good our giving will do, why would we not be cheerful about it?
Worshipfully 1 Chronicles 16:29 says “ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him; worship the Lord in holy array”. If giving should be an act of love towards others, it should also be an act of worship towards God, done with an awareness that all we give is in his service, to honour him and to build his kingdom.
So what might you give? I invite you to spend some time reflecting on what you might give to grow the church and build the kingdom and honour God, and how you might do so with a joyful and generous and willing spirit.