Monday, 12 May 2014

Giving for the gospel




I apologise in advance. I’m going to speak specifically about money and giving. It is not something that we usually do. But for this week and next I would like to talk about giving. 

I'd planned this some time ago, but it has worked out to be a very good time to do so. 

The bishop and archdeacon have indicated that they would be willing to seriously consider a request from the parish to appoint a second full time stipendiary minister to the parish. I’m not talking here about another curate to replace Matthew – that may well happen anyway. Rather we are talking about appointing someone who could serve as an associate vicar who would have specific responsibility for St Peter’s and who would be here longer than a curate. We would still be one parish, and I would remain as parish vicar, but it would mean that I would be able to focus my time on Sunday mornings at St Mary’s at the 9:30 and 11am services, and another vicar would be able to focus on the service at St Peter’s – and all the research seems to show that churches grow faster when they have their own allotted minister.

However the diocese would only be willing to support a request for a second post if we were fully able to fund the post – which effectively means that we need to initially increase our regular giving to the church by at least £24k per annum (that is not the cost to us, but it is the bare minimum that our income would need to increase if we are able to do this). So I will be asking you in these two talks to consider what you are giving to the church and what you could be giving to the church.

Paul has an absolute commitment to the gospel.

Gospel is another word for good news. The message of the good news is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3: ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.’

It is the message that Jesus Christ, who is the eternal Son of God, came and lived among us as a human person. He died on the cross for our forgiveness and rose from the dead. He is alive, He is Lord and by coming to him and putting our faith in Him, we can have a relationship with God as our heavenly Father, power to change and live life God’s way and the solid certain hope of eternal life.

Paul is committed to this message.

He is convinced of its truth. He has seen the risen Jesus (he says that in v1)

He knows he has been called to proclaim this message

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul states that – for the sake of this message –

• He is willing to give up his right to receive any payment for preaching the message.

In 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul affirms the right of people who preach the gospel to receive a living from the gospel. He argues that it is a basic principle – that you should be allowed to benefit from the work that you do. It applies to farmers, donkeys and vicars. And he goes on to say that even Jesus commanded ‘those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel’. But having affirmed that right, he goes on in the next few verses to say that he has given up that right: ‘But I have not used any of these rights’ (v15). And he continues (v18), ‘What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not misuse my rights as a preacher of the gospel’.

The reality was that as someone speaking of Jesus in areas where Jesus was not known, there were no Christians there already who could support him financially. So he worked part time to earn his keep and he worked full time preaching the good news

• He is willing to give up his freedom. 

He will become a servant to all people doing what is necessary not to offend them unnecessarily so that there is no obstacle to them hearing the message. He says, in effect, when I am in Rome – even though I don’t need to, because I am free – I will do what the Romans do. When I am among Jews – even though I don’t need to, because I am free – I will do what Jews do. ‘I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some’.

And look at the life of Paul.

For the sake of this message about Jesus Christ he was willing to give up everything – a home, the possibility of family life, stability, security and comfort. He was never able to settle anywhere. Because of the message he was beaten, stoned, arrested, imprisoned (on several occasions) and eventually executed.

Paul gave up everything for the sake of this message.

My brothers and sisters I have a very simple question today.

How precious is Jesus to you and how precious is the message of Jesus to you?

It is the message which brings people face to face with God
It is the message which is the key to the Kingdom of heaven.
It is described like a precious jewel, which is beyond value
This message gives life to people who are lost and spiritually dead
This message makes our enemies into our friends in Christ
This message can transform societies and communities. It can make places of bitterness and criticism places of joy and praise. It can turn communities lusting for revenge into communities which offer costly forgiveness. It can transform self-centred self-seeking communities into models of generousity. 

This message is the power of God to bring his salvation to a lost and broken world, to people who are living for shallow, hopeless dreams.

Paul writes elsewhere: 'I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation for all who believe'

How important is it to you?

There is a very simple way of telling.

How much money do we give specifically so that this message can be proclaimed? How much money do we give to this church for the work of sharing the good news? How much money do we give so that the good news is proclaimed elsewhere in this country and overseas?

The problem is that many of us have lost confidence in the message of Jesus Christ.

We are prepared to give to the hospice – because we can see the great work that it does; to children’s and animal charities; to environmental agencies; to cancer research; to charities that work with the most deprived. I’m not saying that that is wrong. Jesus specifically challenges us that we cannot say to someone in need 'God loves you', and then do nothing practical.

Or we give to the church because we love the buildings or we think that the church is a good social organisation that ought to be kept going. 

But surely as those who have put our trust in Jesus we have to believe that the deepest, most fundamental need of our society is for people to come face to face with God, so that they begin to see this world and other people through his eyes, and so that self-centred people begin to change and become God-centred and other people-centred? And for that to happen we need people who will preach the good news of Jesus Christ - people who are set apart for that work, who are paid to do that work. 'How can people believe in Jesus' says Paul, 'if they have not heard the message about Jesus. And how can they hear the message, if nobody tells them?'

And yet many of God's people are not giving to the work of the gospel.

In the Church of England in Suffolk there are currently 118 full time paid ministers. But in order to pay 118 full time ministers, we have to sell off three vicarages each year to cover the shortfall between what we give and what that costs. So that figure of 118 ministers needs to be reduced to 100 – so the very fact that the bishop and archdeacon are prepared to even consider a second post here is near miraculous. But you also see why they need us to be able to pay for it.

Now I am aware that it is possible to give in many ways, and many do give sacrificially of their time and money.

Some of you are like Paul. You work virtually full time – whether you have a title or not - for the Church, whether here at St Mary’s and St Peter’s or wider, in the work of enabling this message to be proclaimed, without receiving any salary. That may be as preachers and ministers and town pastors and ..; it may be as trustees or wardens or treasurers or musicians or workers with children and young people .. the list is endless. 

But I would also ask each of us to consider what we are giving financially to the church each week or each month or each year – and to ask, ‘Does what I give reflect how precious Jesus is to me?’ ‘Does what I give reflect how important the message of Jesus is for me?'

In the end we spend our money on what is important for us. 

We spend our money on what we love. 

We hear of multi-millionaires who spend hundreds of millions buying football clubs - not to make money but because they love the club. So when some of you become multi-millionaires listen to what I am about to say. I long for God to raise up one or two multi-millionaires who get grabbed by Jesus and who give significantly to the work of the church - so that the message of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed. 

We give to what we love. And you don't have to be a multi-millionaire before we can begin to give. This is not about the amount given but the cost to us of whatever it is that we give. On one occasion Jesus was in the temple when the rich came in and put large sums into the glass box of the temple. And then a widow came and put in a few coins. Jesus said, 'That woman gave more than all of the others. They gave out of their wealth and still had much left over. She gave everything she had'.

One lady told me this week that when I was last speaking on giving I had said that what we give is one of the indicators of how much we love Jesus. She said when she heard that, she was convicted. She said 'You could have knocked me down with a feather’. And she added, ‘People need to hear that’.

There is a clear case, as Paul sets out here in 1 Corinthians 9, for paying people so that they are set free to proclaim the message about Jesus. And with the size of congregations that we have, we should at the very minimum be able to support two permanent paid ministers.

And having an extra full time minister will make a tremendous difference to our congregation here (for a start it will mean that I won’t need to dash off after the service), it will make a big difference to both St Mary’s and St Peter’s and it will make a big difference to how we share the message of Jesus in this town.

But I do appreciate that this is a big ask.

I’m not asking for a one off contribution for something specific. That might be easier. But one of the amazing things that I have seen happen time and time again is that whenever we have had a big need (roof, organ, the heating at St Peter’s), God seems to have known in advance and provided in astonishing ways. 

I’m also not asking for you to put your hand in your pocket and put the extra £1 into the basket at the back of church today. 

Instead I am asking each of us to consider increasing what we regularly give – whether that is each week, month, year.

I do not know how much any individual gives, unless that person tells me. You know and God knows, and possibly our gift aid secretary knows. And that is all that matters. But in the light of this opportunity that we have I am asking you to prayerfully review your regular giving to the church – and ask yourself whether what you give reflects what Jesus means to you, and how important the gospel is for you. 

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