Summary: Wouldn't it be nice if all the money the church gave went to me, the vicar.....? Oh, have I misunderstood what giving is about?
Years ago, it was the custom for people to bring their gifts to the front of the church. A well known preacher was making an appeal to the people to give to a good cause. Many came to present their offerings of love. Among them was a young girl who marched right along at the end of the line. She pull a ring from her finger that had been given her by her grandmother. She placed it on the table and made her way back up the aisle.
After the service, an usher was sent to bring her to the preacher’s study.
The preacher said, "Honey, I saw what you did. It was beautiful. But the rest of the offering was so generous that we have enough to take care of the need. We don’t feel right about keeping your treasured ring, so we have decided to give it back to you."
To his surprise, the little girl vigorously shook her head in refusal. "You do not understand," she said. "I did not give my ring to you, I gave it to God!
[from sermon on this site by Jeff strite]
I think some people out there have the misconception that giving to the church is giving to the vicar. There was a character on Eastenders this week [an English TV soap opera] who made precisely that allegation. Well, actually, I quite like that idea. This is a very generous congregation, so if the more you gave, the bigger salary I got, I’d be happy. But of course that isn’t how it works. I get the same salary whether you give nothing or a million pounds. It is not about giving to me, or giving to the church wardens or giving to any other human being. As the little girl in the story understood, the giving is giving to God - saying thank you to God and enabling God’s work to take place in this place.
Generally speaking Christians take that on board. Survey after survey has shown that Church Goers are incredibly generous. For example - Research done earlier this year by the Market Research organisation Mckonkey Johnson showed that the average church goer gave three times as much away (whether through their church or other charities) than the average non-churchgoer. Other research showed that for Christians in churches that take the bible seriously, the average giver gives away a total of 11.5 % of their income.
2 Cor. 9:7 tells us "God loves a cheerful giver.” - and it’s clear that with levels of giving so high amongst church goers, that we must be talking about cheerful givers - People don’t give that generously because they are having their arm twisted or been lectured at, but because their faith in Jesus motivates them to do so.
That’s what we heard about in our reading from Acts. When in the earliest days of the church people gave their lives to Jesus, they encountered a radical community it was not just “easy” miracles like people being healed and prayers being answered. For a far greater and more difficult miracle took place: “there was not a needy person amongst them .... it was distributed to each as any had need” It was that Spirit of generosity that made the early church unusual. Of course it was not the only thing that converted people to following Jesus - the message and the miracles must have helped! But finding a fellowship of love where the needs of all were met, where everybody looked after one another and where “there was not a needy person amongst them” - well that was attractive to them - would it not be attractive to you?
No wonder that people like Barnabas responded so generously, selling his inheritance and donating the entire proceeds to the Christian project - a generous community is an attractive community. Generosity inspires other generosity - as people look after us, we in turn become more generous - we become the “cheerful givers” that God so loves. And of course, it is not only human generosity - it is God’s generosity - his giving of his very self to us, born for us a baby in Bethlehem, dying for us on the cross.
We at the moment are in the middle of a national - indeed international Financial crisis- a recession. Here’s a question for you. Is it easier to preach on giving in times of plenty or times of poverty? Of course, whether it’s difficult or easy, I have to tackle this topic. It is in the bible. Not only that, but the Church of England requests each parish preach on giving at least once or twice every year. So in obedience to our bishops, and in faithfulness to the scriptures, I have to tackle this topic. But - Is it easier to preach on giving in times of plenty or times of poverty?