1 Timothy 6:6-10 & Matthew 6:19-24

Money, money, money.

What do you earn? How much money do you have? What do you spend it on? These are questions that aren’t heard much in polite conversation in this country. We tend to be quite uncomfortable talking about money. Which is a bit odd, since it is such an important part of our lives, or maybe the fact that it’s so important explains why we’re not so keen on talking about it. Jesus talked a lot about money. In fact, it seems to be one of the subjects that he talked about more than almost any other. I think that this is because he knows how big a part it plays in our lives, and he is interested in everything that is important to us. He’s not just interested in what we get up to for an hour on Sundays, or the theory of religion or faith, he’s interested in what we actually do, in the shape of our whole lives.

And I want to say sorry because I don’t think I’ve talked enough about money since I got here, and that, potentially gives us a bit of a problem this morning. That’s because it means that we might end up confusing two things that are actually different things.

The first thing is what I want to say and teach about the importance of the spiritual discipline of giving, and the blessing that can bring to us, and the pain that it causes if we don’t embrace it. I want to talk about this, because it’s what Jesus taught, it’s how God wants us to live, and it’s an important element of our discipleship, of faithfully following Jesus.

The second thing is that, as a church, we are we are running a budget deficit at the moment, and if we want to be able to do all that God is calling us to do, and to reach towards the vision that God is giving us for our ministry and worship here, some of the money that is currently in our individual bank accounts has to move into our corporate bank account.

What I would hate to happen is for the reality of the second thing to stop us hearing the first thing. Believe me when I say that I am not primarily teaching about the importance of this stuff to try and plug the budget gap. I am teaching about the first thing because it is critical for our spiritual health as individuals and as a church. The second thing might be an opportunity for us to apply what God is saying to us about our money, but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is that we get our relationship with and attitude to money on the right footing.

That is why we’ve had the readings that we have had this morning. This all starts with our attitude to money, treasure, wealth. It all starts with our hearts, our service, our love.

Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I wonder what it is you treasure. Maybe a child or a grandchild. Maybe an antique left to you by one of your parents. Maybe your educational achievements. Maybe your job. You know what your treasure is because it’s what makes your heart swell with joy and pride. It’s what you want to expend energy and time to preserve and to look after. It is what would break your heart if it were lost or stolen. This is not about making wise provision for later life by saving some of what God is giving you now. This is about what fills our hearts. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these other things being precious to us, they are good things that God has given to us. The problem is when they take the place of God in our hearts, when they become more important to us than God.

Jesus goes on to say, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of working for two line managers. It can be very difficult, particularly when they have completely different agendas and priorities for what you should be doing and how you should be spending your time. One of them gives you this to do, and then the other comes along and gives you something else to do, and you can’t get both done and they both get angry if you mention work that the other one has given you to do. It’s a nightmare. As followers of Jesus we are called to serve God and not money. God might call us to be business owners, entrepreneurs who are good at making money. That is great, but if so then we do that in the service of God, and our decisions and investments are made under God’s direction, and not under the direction of money.

What we are aiming for is what Paul describes to Timothy as godliness with contentment, for that is great gain. We need to be in a place where our hearts and service are directed towards God, where we are grateful and content with what God has given us. In which we avoid the traps and temptations of running after more than we need, of pursuing wealth for its own sake. Paul does not write that money is evil. Money itself isn’t evil. It is given to us by God, to meet our needs, and actually to allow us to enjoy life. God isn’t a bread and water God, God is a generous God. What is at the root of all kinds of evil is the love of money. We’re back to the heart. What is it that we treasure, that we serve, that we love. Is it God or money?

How can we tell? There are very few areas of Christian discipleship that can actually be measured. This can be quite frustrating. If you want to lose weight you can measure your progress with weighing scales. If you want to get physically fitter you can measure how quickly you can run or how heavy a weight you can lift. If you want to learn a language you can keep track of how many words and elements of grammar you know. If you want to become more like Christ it is quite difficult to measure. Except for one thing. How much of our money we give away.

Now hear me clearly on this. I am not saying that those who give a lot are better Christians, Jesus had some harsh words to say to people who thought like that. Neither am I saying that those who are not able to give a lot do not love Jesus. The widow who gave two copper coins gave more than the rich people who gave bags of gold.

What I am saying is this. If a stranger was to read our monthly bank statement, what priority would they think that giving our money away has to us? Is it more or less than we spend on our broadband, our phone contract, our holidays, our clothes, our car? Would they be able to see that we spend less on some things than other people who earn a similar amount because we give more? Where would they see our treasure to be? Where would they think our heart lies?

At some times and in some places the church as an organisation has fallen into the traps that Paul describes. Some church leaders have been and still are falling into these traps. This has led the church to have a bad reputation where money is concerned. We are perceived as rich, sitting on a lot of money as an organisation, and we are perceived as only being interested in people’s money.

A desire to overcome these perceptions shapes what we do or don’t do here at All Saints in a variety of ways.

Firstly, we model generosity in the way that we use our money as a church. We give away 10% of our income to mission organisations and projects. When we developed the parish hall, we gave 10% of the money that had been given for the project to build health facilities in rural Kenya. When we receive bequests we give away 10% of what we are left to other organisations. In previous years, when we have had a budget surplus, we have given that away, most recently to support another local church that was struggling financially.

Secondly, we do not spend time and energy fund raising for the ongoing ministry of the church and we don’t pass a collection plate during services. This means that when people visit this church or come to one of our events there is very little risk of them getting the idea that we are after their money.

Thirdly, we are transparent in our planning and budgeting and very confidential with people’s details. So, for instance, we had a consultation process as to what to do with the bequest that Betty Shakeshaft made to the church, and this will be discussed openly at PCC. On the other side, the only person who knows how much or how frequently people give to the work of the church is the Treasurer. Because of this, nobody has undue influence on decision making because of the size of their financial contributions to the church.

Those are some examples of how we allow a Godly attitude to money to shape our handling of it as a church community, but what about how we might apply this as individuals?

If you are facing financial difficulties or debt, and need to reduce your giving for a season, do that. If you need help, we’ve got pooled resources here and at CAP, so get some support.

If you’ve kept meaning to fill in a planned giving form and haven’t quite got round to it, to quote Lindsey from last week, stop faffing around and get on with it.

If you could increase your contribution to our common pot, then please do that. Overall, in order to keep doing what we believe God is calling us to do, we need to see about a 10% increase in planned giving.

Do you know what, when I began to think about this I thought that I wanted to see an increase of giving to the church. But that’s not what I want. I do want more money flowing into the church bank account. But we are the church. When we bring our bit to the common pot we are not giving it an organisation over there somewhere. We are pooling our financial resources so that, together, under God, we can do more than we could do apart.

Our heart here at All Saints is to come closer to Christ and to go to be closer to others. We have a vision of a church that is open to all the treasure that God has to pour in so that we can pour out to others. We have a vision of a community caught up in worship, friendship and service of Jesus. We have a vision of being a church that is a strong plant that can send out runners of fruitfulness into our community and town. It is that vision, that heart, that we pursue and that I pray will drive the decisions that we make about money.

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