God our Father – may we have ears to hear your word in each of our lives – and may you give us the strength and courage to be driven to action by that word – in Jesus name we pray. Amen.
This Sunday we planned to keep as Generosity Sunday. The point in the year when firstly we thank everyone who makes up this community of faith for all they give to enable the life of the church. Usually I would talk about talents and gifts – because it is important that we give these.I would then move on to talk about what the church does teach about giving money – namely, that all traditions within the church, though some more effectively than others, have always taught tithing. That we give 10% of what we have – 5% to church, 5% to other charities – as part of the practical outliving of our faith. Nobody is going to make you do that – but that is inescapably the teaching of the church.
So having made this hint at how much people might give – I would move on to some more well crafted phrases about how often we might give – reminding everyone that the family household that is the church here needs regular and reliable income to meet its obligations – to pay bills, function normally and fund mission. I would find time to mention that the money St Peter’s pays to the Diocese of Leeds each year doesn’t even cover the cost of having one full time member of the clergy, nevermind two, nevermind the other benefits being just one church within a wider church family brings us. And I would end with an exhortation to review what you give to the church and please increase it just a little. To commit to give regularly by standing order if you can. To think of those who have less in this cost of living crisis and give confident that we are committed to helping those people through our ministry here. So far so reasonable. We would have talked about money without making anyone feel bad – which is the important thing, right?
But then I heard the mini-budget on the news.
And then I read the words from Paul’s letter to Timothy and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke’s Gospel.
And I thought – just how? how do I preach? How do I preach and not simply rage against the injustice, the heartlessness, the moral bankruptcy of our leaders?
How to preach in a room where some will already have been able to calculate the significant financial benefits to them of what has just been announced? And how to preach in a room where others will already fearfully be counting the cost?
And the answer to my questions – and I hope to yours this morning – lies, of course, in the scriptures themselves. This isn’t just a parable about what happens when we die – this is a parable about what Jesus is calling us to do in the land of the living – “the age to come must be anticipated in the present”.
And it’s not complicated. Love of money will lead us to destruction – will literally blind us to our calling and fullness of life. Love of money will make us deaf to all we have been shown in the law and the prophets. Love of money will see us constantly making excuses as to why we spend on this, or that or the other, while people go hungry. Love of money will see us not noticing that Jesus is risen from the dead, that we are resurrection people baptised into a commitment to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.
Even in hell the rich man is still so blind to what he has done wrong that he’s still asking that Lazarus serve his needs, that Abraham instructs Lazarus to do the things he should have done in life. Even under torture he is not so humble as to think he should be acting himself – but that Abraham will instruct Lazarus to act for him. And Abraham says no. You were given everything you needed in life to get it right – and still you chose wrongly. At some point the rich man must take responsibility for his own choices, and so must we.
We have all the law and the prophets and someone has risen from the dead out of love for us. Are we still unable to hear what God is asking of us, expecting of us as those who profess the name of Jesus Christ? Jesus death and resurrection have opened “the door to God’s new age in which all wrongs will be put right.” And ours are the hands and feet to work for that kingdom. All that God has given us, the skills and gifts that this world rewards more or less with financial gain, the ability to graft and work hard if we have it – all is given from God – not to privilege those who this world values economically, but to benefit all God’s children.
So I’m not reasonably asking you to review your giving and tweak it just a little bit.
This year – I’m begging you. I’m literally begging you – like a man who lies at the gate longing for the crumbs from the rich mans table. If this budget has seen you unexpectedly better off – can you please pass on that benefit to your neighbour in this life? If your life – if the skills and gifts God gave you have seen you able to earn well in this human economy – can you use that money as the God who made you calls you to use it?
You can give to the church, yes. We have good governance and will spend it well in your name.
You can even give to the church and earmark your giving – just say when you give “this is for the church to spend on those who are truly in need”. People sometimes leave us legacies insisting that they are spent on the building – which is great – I know folks think that guarantees the continuity of the church. But if the church isn’t funding the Gospel – then the building is just a big, hard empty box. Can we use our money to keep the church’s heart beating with the passion and fire of the Gospel? How my heart would sing to welcome donations and legacies that people insisted were spent on giving drink to the thirsty, feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger, and teaching the generations yet to come to do the same.
Please give. Please give whatever you can. But please do not be blind to see what God is showing you or deaf to hear what you already know from the law and the prophets and the life death and resurrection of Christ. If you’ve profited by hundreds, by thousands because of the tax changes, please give more than an extra tin of beans to the harvest festival next week. Give it to us if you want and we can give in turn to the key charities our PCC support. Or give it direct to The Mission, The Welcome Centre, Christians Against Poverty, to any charity who are making a difference to real human beings in our communities – to those who Jesus tells us are our neighbours. Just please, I beg you – hear the Gospel today and give with a generous heart.
Let us not be haughty, or set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches. Let us be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.
 Luke for Everyone, Tom Wright, SPCK, 2001, p201
 Ibid. p202.
 1 Tim 6.17-18