Welcome to part time priest. Bits of life come together - priesthood, part time worker, mum, wife, person. Not really part time ontologically, obviously, but I do have other things to do, quite apart from being...and one of them is enjoying sharing ministry experiences and reflections with you.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Building bridges

Newly opened Whitchurch Bridge, pristine and ready for crossing.

We finally have a re-opened bridge in our village, all brand spanking new and beautiful, and I've been thinking about the significance of bridges all week.

For those familiar with the social media site, Twitter, one of the most followed accounts is @Pontifex which is the official Twitter account of Pope Francis, with 4.5 million followers. 

What do these two seemingly random facts - a strengthened bridge and the tweeting Bishop of Rome - have in common?

The etymology of 'pontifex' is pons (Latin for bridge) and facere (to do, to make), so a 'pontifex' or 'pontiff' is actually a bridge builder. It refers to any Bishop. I like to think it refers to any Christian.

Building bridges came to mind too because of the Scottish referendum on Independence. For all sorts of reasons (mostly inchoate, to do with having had a beloved Scottish grandfather) I was in the 'No Thanks' camp (not that I had a vote...) In the same way, I'm against us leaving the European Union. In the words of some mobile telephone company or other, 'We're better together'. Though I am well aware that 'together' needs to mean 'on equal terms' for it to be meaningful at all, and that it doesn't feel like that to a lot of Scots...

This week there was a social media conversation about the BBC TV Sunday programme, Songs of Praise. Some vicars apparently think it's outmoded and twee, containing nothing remotely like what real faith is like in the 21st Century. I admit I'm a bit allergic to soft focus photography, but I caught an episode this afternoon where the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool and the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool (both new in post) joined together in a prayer for peace on this 'World Peace  Day' and stories were told of Christians who were building bridges to their neighbours, resulting in the gospel bringing new life, new hope and freedom from addictions for some of those society had forgotten. Faith in Christ was certainly very real for those people who shared their own stories.

I remember a defining moment during Holy Communion in my local church many years ago. All the usual people were there, no change; all going up to receive the bread and the wine...then we were joined at the altar rail by someone new, someone seeking, someone from my generation (shock, horror). I was so excited I remember a spontaneous prayer rose up and took me by surprise. I was thinking about Ordination at the time and wondering if it really was for me. I found myself saying to God (and I hope it came from him because it was quite a grumpy prayer) 'if the kingdom doesn't look like this, like new people coming in as a matter of normality, I don't want to be part of it.' In other words, if there's nothing new, no new life, no new hope, no breaking through of the Spirit into lives where previously Christ was absent, I'd rather just be a humanist.

I still feel like that. Where is the wind of the Spirit blowing today? Where is the hunger for sharing the Good News? Because it's all about bridges. Can I be a bridge over which someone else can walk to faith? And will it be a bridge that is suitably fortified, welcoming and ready for just such an occasion?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The dreaded 'Giving' sermon


2 Corinthians 9:1-9, Luke 6:32-38


'The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver'.



This week we delivered our stewardship

campaign leaflet to every home in the village.


September seems a good time to take a fresh look at our 

giving, as part of our stewardship of the resources 

entrusted to us by God. New academic year, new start.


In all our thoughts about money, though, especially when 

there doesn't seem to be enough, we mustn't forget 

to ask the question: where is God in all this?

The worst thing we could do as a church was to leave God 

out of the equation!


So, keeping this in mind, here's another question for us to 

consider today:


What is the number one problem facing the church today?

Various answers have been suggested: apathy; inability to 

keep up with pace of change; youth exodus; reduction of 

Christian input in schools; not enough volunteers; a multi 

faith society; all too busy; no perceived need for God any 

more etc...


I wonder what answer you would come up with if you eves-

dropped some PCC meetings around the country…


I suspect you might be tempted to think, from endless 

conversations and doleful shaking of heads, that the 

number one problem facing the Church today is lack of 

money.


So I was interested to read quite a different take on the 

problem, quoted by Martyn Percy in a recent 

Cuddesdon newsletter.


The biggest problem facing the Church, according to Hardy and Ford, who wrote the 1984 book, Jubilate: Theology in Praise, is 'coping with the overwhelming abundance of God'.

    Because God is into abundance. When you begin to think about all the ways in which we already live in blessing, it can become overwhelming.


Why not carry out your own 'blessing audit'?

Here's mine:


A typical day:

·      I wake up

·      I have slept

·      I have slept safely

·      I can know that breakfast awaits

·      I can wash in clean water

·      I can stand under a hot shower

·      I have purposeful work

·      I can meet with others to pray without fear

·      I spend my days in a very nice house

·      I have a loving family

·      I live in a beautiful and peaceful place

·      God has taken care of my children as they grow up

·      They are developing their own lives

·      God has worked in my life and I can look back and see many blessings

·      God knew me before I was born

·      Many of the things we enjoy today – including the blessings of stability, love, a good example to follow, all blessings passed on to us from other generations that we can only begin to imagine

·      We know the Christian gospel – somehow, centuries ago, the saints brought it to us and we have the blessings of that still today

·      We know the forgiveness freely available in Christ

·      We have the Scriptures

·   We have a culture of free speech and freedom of worship

·     The sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous alike

·      When we celebrate harvest in a few weeks time, it will be a harvest enjoyed by all, whatever their beliefs

·      We can take holidays

·      We can turn to free health care when we need it

·      Our politicians are largely accountable


When you stop to think about it, God’s blessing is utterly 

abundant.

     

And, if you’re like me, it’s easy to miss it.


It’s easy to feel there’s not enough.


BUT we must resist the discourse of scarcity


We can remind ourselves of the scriptural truth about 

blessing:


In our reading Paul writes to the Corinthians who have 

previously promised a financial gift to the Macedonians, 

who were in severe need.


You can almost hear Paul’s anxiety as he reminds them of 

their decision to give in this way:

   

  'So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.'


Even Paul is tempted to doubt the generosity of the 

Corinthians. I love the mixture of the free choice behind 

their generous gift but being reminded of the necessity 

of following through with it it as well!


In verse 7 Paul details the best way to give: 


'each of you must give as you have made up your mind, 

not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a 

cheerful giver'. 


I love that: everyone is free to make up his/her mind about

what they will give. Imagine churches paying their 

Diocesan Share cheerfully (that would definitely be a sign 

of the Holy Spirit...)


And note this: the law of sowing and reaping will 

always apply.


In other words, what you reap, you sow.

    
   What we reap, we sow.


If we give sparingly we will reap sparingly.


The message is the same in our gospel:


'...give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’


Think about the coca cola can you shake up for fun, then open it - it bursts out everywhere. That's the image of blessing - pouring out in abundance.

That’s why we began by thinking about blessing – when we can truly say ‘I’m overwhelmed with the generosity of God’, that’s when we can be cheerful givers.

So is it sensible that we decide in advance that a percentage of our income will be given to God?

God’s people down the years have sometimes done so and sometimes not...

In some churches, tithing is considered normal: i.e. giving a tenth of one’s income to the church.
·  
   And giving to charities (I believe) is on top if that.
·  
   That’s a sizeable amount, when you think about it…
·  
  Someone has calculated that US Christians give on average 2.5% of their income to the Church (let's talk about them, because it's easier to do than talk about us...)

    If they were to tithe, this is what might happen:
  • $25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in five years.
  • $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years. 
  • $15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day. 
  • $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.
  • $100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion. 
Those are some amazing numbers.


Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/what-would-happen-if-church-tithed#p7FFUdHgkMLjRmfO.9

I believe the C of E current advice is that we consider giving 5% of our income to the Church.

I suspect this actually means to the local church.

Now a lot of people feel giving to the wider church or to Christian charities (or other charities) counts…I don’t know if this is what the C of E has in mind but…

I once sat down and calculated how much this 5% to the local church would represent to me and my family

Let’s just say that our giving to the local church would have to treble just to keep up.

It’s an awkward but perhaps important thing to do, because it helps us to refocus the debate from ‘there’s not enough money’ and ‘the Share is too big’ to ‘we respond generously to God because he is generous to us.’

Imagine if all our giving trebled…

Now I know that percentages have their disadvantages: if you are wealthy, 10% can represent a too easy easy sum.

If you are poor, 10% is a lot to find.

But proportional giving was the way the OT people of God lived all the time and it was considered perfectly normal.

But I don't want to get into the area of ‘you must do this/you must do that’.

Remember: ‘The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver'.

And the promise from God’s angle is this: 

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

The discourse here is not that the church is lacking – far from it, the church (i.e. the people of God) aware as they are of their abundant blessings, are giving back to God, giving to others and receiving yet more blessing form God.

That’s the virtuous circle (as opposed to the vicious circle).
So what can we do practically?

 

1. Live in the blessing of God (count them each day; dwell in them)

2. Consider your response and be generous

3. Consider your response to giving afresh each year

4. If you’re in a position to revisit your giving, to calculate a percentage even; do so!


For giving is a not primarily a matter of money; 

it’s a matter of the heart.

 

Amen.