Sermon for Epiphany 2 at Colwall

1 Samuel 3: 1-10 God calls Samuel; Rev 5:1-10 The Scroll and the Lamb; John 1: 43 – end Jesus calls Philip & Nathanael

Thank you to Melanie for inviting me and to you all for the warmth of your welcome. Richard Jones (3rd) and I are the Diocesan Parish Giving Advisors and we are travelling around the Diocese supporting parishes in their work promoting Christian Stewardship and Generosity. You are one of the few parishes that gets to see both Richard and myself to speak about Stewardship and Generosity! I commend you for taking up the issue of Stewardship and the Parish Giving Scheme – more about that later. My credentials – I’m also a Self-Supporting Minister in the Bridgnorth Deanery. Nearly 25 years ago I preached my first sermon – which was on giving. I still believe the things I said then. I’ve broadened my understanding about life and money and generosity. But the essence remains.

Today I want to introduce you to the Macedonian virus. Its origins are found in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians Ch 8 and it draws a picture, which could be a vision of our Common Fund. The Macedonians were a poor community of Christians, who had accepted the Good News of Jesus and were so excited about it and so committed, that they didn’t only strive to cover the cost of their own local ministry, they ‘begged for the privilege of sending additional funds to the wider church.’ When was the last time you or I begged for the privilege to send extra money to the Common Fund? I hope you all catch this virus. It’s much better than the flu virus which is going around now. Did you know that giving generously is a gift of the Holy Spirit? It’s a visible sign of God’s Spirit working in us.

Today’s readings are about being called just as Samuel & Philip and Nathanael were. Revelation draws a picture of worship. Worshipping God our Creator and His Son, who became the sacrifice for your sin and mine.

Last week Melanie spoke to you about the gifts brought by the magi, and the gifts that we might offer to Jesus. I’m reminded of the last verse of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter:’

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
But what I have I give him, I give my heart.

Today I want to talk about some aspects of what it might mean to truly say we give our hearts to Jesus. The heart is where we say that we hold things that we treasure. One of those contentious areas in our hearts is our attitude towards money and how we choose to spend it, particularly in regard to how much we give to the Church and God’s work and mission and how much we keep to spend on material things and possessions. There are references to our hearts just under 600 times in the bible. Matthew 6: 19:

Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Rather store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, for where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How much do we value what Christ did on the cross? Is this reflected in our giving to the mission of the church, so that others will hear the good news from and through us? At the end of the service you’ll be receiving forms to join the Parish Giving Scheme. Your PCC have agreed that this is a good and helpful way forward for parish finances and they hope that you will all join in with them. It’s also an opportunity to review how much we are giving. We do this prayerfully, as a conversation with God. We are all created to worship. Everything we do, 7 days a week, is part of our worship, not just for an hour on a Sunday morning. Everything we do and say can be part of our worship. That’s because God asks for 100% of ourselves. We as cannot be a part time worshipper. We can’t be part-time Christians. We give as a reflection and expression of our worship and our love. Our giving enables ministry to happen. Our offering is used to enable others to hear (and experience) the gospel and for the spiritual growth of the whole church. So, one of the hard questions we need to ask ourselves from time to time is: “Are we giving out of our overflowing love, in response to God’s generosity to us, or are we tossing in the loose change that is left in our pockets, after we have spent all that we want on ourselves?

So my challenge to you all today is this. Find a moment during the next week, to sit quietly and ask God to direct your thoughts. Put your bible in front of you. Read 2 Corinthians – Chapters 8 & 9. Write down how much money comes into your household each week or month and how much you give as your offering to God. Thank him for his generous provision in what you have. Then ask him to prompt you as to what you should give as an offering. (1 Cor 16:2:)

‘On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money, in keeping with his income.’

Sit quietly and pray. Ask God what you should do? This is a conversation between you and God. Each of us should give, according to our circumstance, and after prayer and conversation with God. Then we can be content that we have done what is asked of us. But when we pray, we do need to listen to God and act on what he prompts us to do. (And it’s usually way beyond what we had in mind before we started!) When we take things seriously and put these things to God, he answers quite quickly! A figure might come to you in a flash. Possibly what seems a ridiculous and impossible figure. You may (like me) have a bit of a chat about it. In 2005 General Synod recommended that Christians set aside 10% of their income for giving - 5% to the church and & 5% to other causes.

Where our treasure is… there lies our heart! Many years ago, when I felt God was asking me to set aside 10% of my income, my first reaction was: ‘Don’t be silly. How can I possibly do that. There isn’t enough spare, at the end of my budget!’ Herein may lie the problem. Are we giving to God from what we initially receive or are we giving to God from what is left over? We came to a compromise – we worked towards that aim. I thought it was a 5-10 year plan. We managed it within 18 months. When we decide to work to God’s plan, we see and experience amazing things – in our own lives and in the life of the church. So, I encourage you to make time for that conversation with God, listen to what he says and then have the courage to do what you think he’s asking of you.

May the Lord pour out his favour richly upon this church and all of you who worship here. May your faith in him grow and strengthen, as Melanie leads you. May you know his goodness and share the good news of Jesus with everyone you meet. Amen