The Commitments of Faith: Finance

Do you hate it when we get around to the finance topic again in sermons?  The guilt trip?  The justifications?  Or do you anticipate it with great joy because you feel more people should give to God more generously?  Or are you happy with what you give?I could guilt trip a good number of you – after all I can go through the Treasurers Cash books in the office and tell you that over the last 5-10 years very few people have actually increased their giving.  Out of 400 members we have a couple of dozen or so who give by Direct Debit or Standing Order.  A good number have signed Gift Aid forms from which we receive in the region of £6000.  We can give hundreds of pounds never mind thousands of pounds a year to God if we have that kind of money to give.  Yet many Christians don’t because it seems such a lot of money to give to church.  Talking about money is a dirty subject – unless it is moaning about bankers, throwing stones at politicians making sweeping cuts and comprehensive spending reviews or debating our chances of winning the lottery.  Tuition fees, child benefit, free bus passes, winter fuel payments, interest payments, ISAs, accounts, fundraising, OSCR – money is what makes the world go round. And even Jesus knew this.  I could have chosen any number of passages from the Gospels about money and finance.  It was as real a problem in the time of Jesus as it is now.  Strangely enough even similar issues – they had tax collectors – we had bankers and stock traders.  In one passage Jesus is challenged about paying taxes and he says we should give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is Gods.  If you turn back a page from today’s reading to the start of chapter 16 you will find a passage on true wealth.  There Jesus tells a story about a rich man whose manager has been dishonest.  The story is really difficult to understand but we all know how the story ends – “No servant can serve two masters.  The servant will hate one master and love the other, or will follow one master and refuse to follow the other.  You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”This teaching of Jesus is further backed up by the passage we did read – The rich man and Lazarus.  Or what about the story of Ananias and Sapphira?  These passages are far more powerful than anything I can preach.  God knows what we do with our wealth.  He knows where we spend it and how we spend it.  He knows whether we save for a rainy day or live for the moment.  He knows whether we give to charity willingly, grudgingly or not at all.  I am a strong believer in giving 10% of what I earn to God – not all of it but most of it directly supports God’s church.  I was brought up in a house where even when money was tight God still received.  For some the thought of tithing is simply impossible.  And yes we have to live in a world that thrives on money.  God knows that.  <!–[if !supportLists]–>·         <!–[endif]–>In the story of Ananias and Sapphira – it wasn’t the fact they kept some of the money – it was the fact they lied about it.   

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·         <!–[endif]–>In the story of the rich man and Lazarus – it was because the man was rich that he suffered after death, it was because he didn’t care about Lazarus when he was alive.<!–[if !supportLists]–>·         <!–[endif]–>Remember of course the story of the widow’s mite – Jesus praised her – not for the value of her giving but for the sacrifice of her giving.   And what strikes me painfully about the story of the rich man and Lazarus is the closing comment – Abraham says:“If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen to someone who comes back from the dead.”There is a touch of irony there – after all Jesus came back from the dead.  And the further we move away from the time of the resurrection, the less belief we have – in the Western worldDo we as Christians truly believe in the power of God?  Do we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?  Do we believe that God can provide for us?  Do we believe that God deserves a decent tithe from us?  Do we believe that God still gets angry with us for our paltry offerings?  Do we believe God gets mad when he looks at our congregation and knows that will some live in luxury others are struggling to make ends meet?Does God want to shake us when in our pride we refuse to tell anyone including him we are suffering and in need?  I want to show you a wee video just now.  I appreciate it won’t work for everyone but the idea is that we always want more and God has given us everything…<!–[if !supportLists]–>·         <!–[endif]–>Show video As Christians we need to make a commitment of faith when it comes to all things financial.  We need to appreciate the fact that we are an aid-receiving congregation – other congregations pay over £10,000 to keep us open.  Certainly we need to look at what money we give to God and for some it comes through other ways than just the offering plate.   Nevertheless we must reflect on our giving.  Is it worthy of God?  Not just the amount we give but the manner in which we give it.  “I may give all I have but if I have no love, I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Whatever we give to God must be done with generosity and love.  Don’t forget the story of Cain and Abel or Ananias and Sapphira.  I went hunting on the internet and came across this site – there I found stories about people whom God had challenged and they had responded.  Straightaway someone will say but they are American and they do things differently.  Maybe but it is the same God.  This is a whole movement dedicated to helping people understand what it means to give generously.  But we also must reflect on how we give to others.  Don’t forget Jesus said that whatever you do for the least of my brothers you do for me.  Giving to God isn’t just about what you put in the offering plate but what you give him on a day to day basis.  We can’t just pray that people will be lifted out of poverty – we need to find ways to do that.  That is our commitment of faith.  Yes, we will always have the poor with us because this world is unfair.  It is weighted towards the wealthy – those who can buy their way through life.  You only have to look though at the damage done through ridiculous pay packets for footballers or the price for tickets to acts like Madonna, Kylie, Pink or Michael Buble.  And of course anyone who wins the lottery is bound to have a pile of people round their door before the cash has even landed in their bank.  God challenges us all – myself included – to put our worldly riches to good use.  God can use our wealth – however little it might be to sustain us and others because he is generous to a fault.  As you know when you die – you can’t take it with you.  We promise when we become members of the Church of Scotland that we will give of our money to the service of the world wide church.  The church takes on a huge responsibility as to how it uses that money.   

But as Christians we commit the whole of our lives to God and that includes our bank balance, our savings, our assets.  We can’t pick and choose.  <!–[if !supportLists]–>·         <!–[endif]–>We want to – we say family first, God second.  We say work first, God second.  We say money first, God second.  We cannot keep putting God second.  If we want to make a difference in this world – if we want to challenge the world around us with their greed, their selfishness, their destructive ambition we need to lead by example.  <!–[if !supportLists]–>·         <!–[endif]–>And that means God first. The world puts God second – we cannot afford to.  We have for far too long and now we are paying the price.  When you put God first, everything else falls into place.  Yes, life will still have its problems – but surely with God at the helm then the only direction is up. If you commit to God, and commit to the life of faith you need to commit your wealth.  Use it wisely yes – play the world at its own game – but give it to God and he will help you spend it for his benefit.  And God loves you so it will be for your benefit too. Please take time to think about your money – what you do with it?  How you spend it, save it and share it?  The call to responsibility with money comes not just from the offering plate but also how we live our day to day lives.   

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