Sermon on giving 27th September 2009
This is not going to be a sermon about finance. I am not going to tell you about the church’s financial situation, or why you should give more money, or how much more you should give. I am not going to tell you why we should pay the Parish Share, or how to gift-aid your money, or whether it is your gross or your net income that you should tithe.
In fact I am not going to tell you that you should do anything. Contrary to what many people will tell you, Christianity is not about shoulds. God has done all this for you, so you should do this in return for God, and if you don’t you should be feeling guilty about it. Christianity is not about feeling guilty: it is about liberating us from guilt. If we give because otherwise we would feel guilty, that isn’t real giving, and it certainly isn’t Christian giving.
Christian giving doesn’t start from what we should do because God demands it, or from what God has done for us, but from what God is like. And, amongst many other things, what the God and Father of Jesus Christ is like is incredibly, wonderfully, overflowingly, unboundedly generous. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall be poured into your lap. Not because you’re a good boy or a dutiful girl or a pious Christian or a fine upstanding member of society, but just because that is what God is like. God gives because God is God. As St John might have said, God is generous, and in God there is no meanness at all.
We see this again and again in the gospel accounts. At Cana, does Jesus provide just enough wine for everyone to have a pleasant evening without actually getting drunk? No, he gives them 150 gallons of the stuff, far more than they could possibly need, far more than any sensible person could have suggested. At Bethsaida, does he send out for 5,000 neatly wrapped sandwiches, just enough to stave off the pangs till everyone gets home? No, he produces so much food that the bread left over is littering the whole area.
And, when it comes to showing God’s love through his actual life, is he restrained and sensible and balanced about it? When things get hard, does he say (as so many around him wanted to say, as most of us would probably say), “Well, I’ve done as much as anyone could have expected, in fact a good deal more: but enough’s enough, I’ll have a break now and live an ordinary life for a change, and not go over the top with all this unnecessary crucifixion stuff”? No, he goes right through to the end, giving his whole life, his whole self for the world with a love that knew absolutely no bounds, because his love was the love of our impossibly generous God. And it continues every week, as he pours out his life for us here at the Mass.
And when it came to the Day of Pentecost, and those twelve people were waiting anxiously in an upper room to see what on earth was coming next, did God send an angel with a nice little parcel for each of them, containing just what they needed to carry on the work of Jesus, and no more? No, God sent a rushing mighty wind, and cascading tongues of fire, filling the whole house and driving them out into the market-place and to the furthest corners of the world.
I could go on and on, with examples from scripture and Christian tradition, the lives of the saints and the story of the church, and the nature of the world. God never does things by halves. God pours out good things with constant, abundant generosity, flinging galaxies into space, multiplying species with bewildering complexity, diversifying even our little human race with a dazzling variety of gifts that the most intelligent designer imaginable could never have thought up. God is not moderate or sensible or reasonable, not at all: God is wildly, astonishingly, crazily generous, without limits and without any common sense at all.
So. It doesn’t start with finance, but with giving: and not with our giving but with God’s giving, which is where Christian giving begins and ends. And the vital question is not “How much should I give?”, but “Will I allow this wildly generous God to take possession of me, will I dare to receive the abundance of good things God wants to shower upon me?” Because, if the answer is yes, it will be simply impossible to hold back our gifts, to bury our talent in the ground, to be mean and stiff and starchy in our living, in our praying, in our loving, or in our giving. Because one of God’s principal gifts is generosity itself.
So it really doesn’t matter if we give a mite or a million, 5% or 95%: all that matters is that we give in the Spirit of Christ, in the Spirit of our impossibly generous God. I will finish with something I once heard Brother Roger say at Taize. A woman said to him “Tell all these young people that God is not asking too much of them”. To which he replied, “Il ne demande pas trop, mais il demande tout”: he doesn’t ask too much, but he does ask for everything.