Proportion and Priority from a sermon by Canon David Nye
Words from Luke’s gospel we have just read.
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6.24-26).
For me at least, that’s all a bit scary. Compared to most of the world, I am rich. I don’t go hungry. I am generally very content with life and find something to laugh at most days. Perhaps some of you will have the same feelings. And now I’m here to say something about stewardship and money: it’s all a bit of a challenge.
We live in a funny old world, don’t we? Daily, we are assailed with bad stuff that happens. Earthquakes, storms, civil wars, poverty, human trafficking, violence and so on. We sit comfortably at home feeling sorry for the millions who are suffering and perhaps feeling a bit guilty that we really aren’t doing very much to help. I think for most of us, most of the time, we live pretty contented lives. What are we doing about it?
Well, we have done something about it: we have come here this morning and in our own way, each of us is here to give thanks to God and to pray for others. That’s a really good start.
And we all know of wonderful things done for others in the name of love. There are good news stories if we look for them. For example, parents do astonishing things for their children. Like letting them come back home when they had apparently left for good. Like giving them some of their hard earned savings so that they could buy their own home. Others sometimes go to great lengths when it comes to helping those closest to them.
It is often hard to understand how, but God loves us infinitely more than we love those closest to us. Infinitely. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son to give us a message of love and forgiveness and even to die on the cross to save us. God has given us all of that and so many other blessings. So, so much.
How do we respond? By calling ourselves Christians, by loving God and by caring for our neighbour, by witnessing to his love and mercy through living out our lives as he would want us to. But this isn’t always easy: there are challenges. One of the challenges of being a Christian is to offer back to God, part of what he has generously and freely given us. Being a good steward of what God has given us, means using part of our time, our talents and our money for his glory. They’re all important, they’re all part of what it is to be a Christian, just like coming to church and reading our bible and saying our prayers and being nice to people. Using some of our time and our talents and our money is all part of our DNA as a follower of Christ.
So a few words about how and what we should give in terms of our money: time and talents will come another day.
It’s a fact, that it is you and I who pay for parish ministry. No one else. But let’s not think just in terms of those who come to this church: the Church of England is the church for all people, that’s everyone who lives in the parish of Redbourn and beyond: we and they are all God’s people. How many of them know the gospel of Jesus Christ? With more money and more resources, think how much more God, working through others, could do. Through your giving, your PCC is able to give substantial amounts outside the parish for charitable and missionary work. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give more away to others who are desperately in need, when we have so much?
St Paul calls us to be generous. God’s generosity knows no bounds and we don’t even deserve it. Our generosity to God should reflect that and it will be different for each of us. The widow at the temple who gave two small coins was giving a huge amount for her; she had been far more generous than someone whose giving was out of their loose change. Do you think God would see us as being generous?
Second, God loves a cheerful giver. Giving for God’s work is certainly a duty but it ought to be joy as well: we should be pleased that with what we give, the gospel of our Lord and saviour can be proclaimed to others, so that more people will become Christians – isn’t that what we all want, to see a growing church?
Third, St Paul tells us to give proportionately. God doesn’t expect us to give what we don’t have. Absolutely not. But he does expect us to give in proportion to our income. That’s exactly what they did in the days of the early church. In one sense the woman at the temple who gave her two coins got it out of proportion – she was over generous. But there were many who were offering gifts out of proportion the other way- they were mean- and I’m not sure that much has changed. Churchgoers generally don’t seem to take this proportion idea very seriously and I’m not sure why. For those of you who like statistics, the church members in this diocese give comparatively small amounts compared with income. We really ought to do better.
Some years ago, the General Synod (that’s the church’s parliament) suggested that we should aim to give 5% of net income to the church. So if your net weekly income is say £500, a proportion of 5% means £25 each and every week. Some of you may think this is too much. When you get home, work out the proportion that you do give. The important point is to think in terms of proportionate giving even though initially it may be fairly modest: that’s a great start. And if you are able, set yourself a target of gradually giving a greater proportion over the next year or two. There are churches where the level of giving is about 5% so it can be done. And they are not always wealthy congregations. So let’s try to get our giving in proportion, in proportion to the amount we have and in proportion to the amount we spend on ourselves.
Last, our giving needs to be a priority. Yes, we have to feed and clothe ourselves and our families, we have to pay for the roof over our heads and we have to pay the mortgage. But at that point, I suggest we work out what we should be giving to God. We should work out our proportion and set that aside before deciding what we spend on holidays or the theatre or when to replace the car. Unless we budget for our giving in this way, we will be giving from what’s left over at the end of the month, we’ll be treating God as an afterthought. That‘s not being faithful to our generous God.
To summarise. When we give, we should give generously, cheerfully, proportionately and as a priority. And we also need to pray about it – that’s absolutely vital. If we do that, we will be faithful to God, we will know even more blessings and we will feel strengthened and uplifted. And we will enable the good news of God’s love and forgiveness to be made known to more and more people – won’t that be wonderful!
The words of Luke’s gospel I quoted at the beginning are a challenge to us today, to use wisely what we have, to share what God has given us with others, to follow Christ in all that we do, so that more and more may enjoy the riches and the fullness of God’s kingdom.
Canon David Nye