How much is a lot?

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Most of my sermons are on the Beverley Minster website. But occasionally I stick them on here if I fancy getting some e-reaction. Here’s my one about Giving, from this morning.

I heard this week that the BBC is looking for its ‘holy grail’: a recording of George Orwell’s voice. If at all possible they want moving pictures of him as well. It is amazing that the person who gave us the concept of Big Brother, of the surveillance society, of the Ministry of Truth and so much which helps us today to understand the torrent of communication in which we live has left no record of himself beyond his writing and some still photographs. It was Orwell who gave us, in Nineteen Eighty Four, the concept of doublethink, where you can think two contradictory things at the same time and not recognise the conflict.

I reckon that we use a kind of doublethink in relation to money, and it’s because we apply different rules depending on the contexts. How much, for example, is a lot of money? It depends on the context. Five pounds is a lot of money to pay for a packet of Extra Strong Mints, but a small amount of money to pay for a car. I can spend ages agonising over a purchase which might save me just a few pence, but happily sign a cheque for hundreds of pounds for a holiday without worrying about shaving off another fifty pounds here or there. Thinking about money goes way beyond the actual amount involved, and is affected by the values we place upon what that money is going to do. If someone did charge you five pounds for some mints you’d be much more cross that being charged five pounds too much on a thousand pound holiday.

There is every possibility of using doublethink when it comes to the church collection. Let’s take it as read that it is a good thing to support the church you belong to, or come to occasionally. I’ll take it as read that most people think that, when push comes to shove, having the church here is probably something they are pleased about. And I’ll take is as read that committed Christians have a basic belief that at least some of our time, money and possessions should be offered to God in some way or other. So when the collection plate comes round you can pretty much guarantee that most people will feel it’s OK to put something in – when if a perfect stranger came up to them in the street with a plate they would almost certainly not.

But how much is OK for church collection? The latest statistics in the Church of England (for 2010) suggest that the average amount given by members of the electoral roll is around £6 per week. Remember, though, that some electoral roll members don’t actually worship regularly, and don’t give anything at all. The average amount given by people in a planned way is around £10 per week. Perhaps some of you are already working out whether £10 sounds a lot, or a little. It might depend on how much you habitually keep in your wallet or purse – how much you take out of the cashpoint when you go. Remember that £10 is the average for people who decide in advance how much they will give – which will be most of you. Does that sound like a lot of money?

It depends, doesn’t it? It depends on what value you place on the church, your faith, and the other things in your life that your money could be used for. It might depend on whether you trust the Vicar, or the PCC, to spend that money wisely. But it will mainly depend on the standards you apply to the things you give most worth to. If you went for coffee at Nero’s three times in a week, that would be more than the average person gives to the Church of England in a week. So is God worth less than three lattes a week? If you buy a broadsheet newspaper seven days a week, that’s more than the average person gives to the Church of England in a week. So is God worth less than Rupert Murdoch? Membership of Beverley Golf Club or a Hull City Season ticket are about the same as the average person gives to their church per week. So is God worth the same as golf or football?

I’ve had a bit of a dangerous thought. I’d quite like you not to put anything in the collection this week – and if you give by standing order I’d like you to cancel it immediately. I’d like you to stop, and reassess, and have a good think about how much is a lot of money for God, and within that how much is a lot of money for this church. I’d like you to try to avoid doublethink and apply the same standards to that decision as you would to the things you give most worth to in your life. I’d like you to compare what you give to and for God against what is the most precious thing you have. What is the very best thing you can do with your money, and how keen are you to do it?

I’m hoping that, when you do this, you will not weigh God up on the same scale as coffee or sport. I’m hoping that the scale you apply to God, and your faithful following as a disciple of Christ will mean that you do more than calculate how much of your loose change you can afford; do more than calculate how much would look OK if the person next to you happens to glance across when you are putting your cash on the plate. I’m hoping that you will put this calculation onto a completely different scale altogether.

I’m hoping that you will recognise that you can never out-give God, and that God is of such infinite value that all we can do is give the tiniest amount as a sign that we owe God our very being. I’m hoping that you hear that verse in 2 Corinthians about “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” I’m hoping that you remember all those commands about remembering that God gives to us first, and that we give back the first things to show that we know they are not ours. I’m hoping you’ll remember that the Bible talks about giving proportionately, so it’s not about the amount, but the percentage we decide.

I’m hoping that you work out then what you can give as a matter of rejoicing, not guilt. I would much rather that the PCC made use of money given joyfully rather than grudgingly. And I have a hunch that, somehow, a small amount of money given with joy might be more effective than a large amount of money given in a panic or out of guilt. I’m hoping that we reach that ideal place when we give an amount we value, with generosity and joy, and that amount does take account of our needs, so that you do look at our current financial state and see how you can contribute to our growth. The PCC can take joyful decisions about our finances when people give in a planned way, and tell us about it.

I’m hoping, actually, that you do give something today…and that later you also work out whether something has to change in the amount you plan to give. I’m hoping that you don’t put that decision off, but that you do it today, and get the forms back to us this week. But above all I’m hoping that, in deciding what you value, you will recognise the overflowing love of God for you, and let that love tell you how much is a lot of money.

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