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Stewardship… and how to talk dirty in Church

January 26, 2014

When I was preparing to speak to you today I came a cross the following quote, “We don’t like talking about money in this church. And we really don’t like it when the Vicar does it!” I can understand that. I hate it too. Perhaps I am too English, but talking about money just seems course and uncouth. It feels like swearing, like talking dirty in Church. Even if I was comfortable talking about money I also know that the quote I began with is so true. People don’t like their priest talking to them about money. They feel uncomfortable and often resentful. I then feel guilty for upsetting everyone.

It can feel a bit like being an evil father raiding his children’s piggy bank. I see the picture in my mind: Crying little children (creased faces, sobs and tears running down little faces), a much loved piggy bank in pieces on the hearth and me scrabbling around grabbing all the coins I can get another drink.

But you are not children, and I am not here to steal anything. I am simply a Christian minister speaking contrary to our consumer taboo about money. I also know that I am likely to be largely preaching to the converted. I suspect that if you are reading this you are generous and use the resources given to you by God wisely. But even so, I need from time to time to remind myself that the way of Christ that I have started along requires all of me, and my money is part of that. Even so it is hard, so I will address this message to me, and if any of it fits for you please accept it for yourself.

Jesus summarised the Law and the prophets in this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40) This is where my money rightly fits, it fits in the wider context of Stewardship; Where Stewardship is using all that I am and have for good. Stewardship is using all that I have for this way of love, loving God with all of my heart, all of my mind and all of my soul. Stewardship is about me loving my neighbour as myself.

My Stewardship starts with that question from Jesus to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel (16.15): “Who do you say that I am.” That question was asked of me when I first became a Christian and Jesus asks it every day of my life. Each morning Jesus says to me, “Nigel, who do you say that I am?” And each time I respond with Peter’s reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Each time I do that I am drawn a little bit further into the love of God. Each time I reply it is more my own answer. Each time I am a little more able to love God with heart, soul, mind and everything else that makes me me. Each time I respond I learn to love my neighbour a little bit more. Then each time I am enfolded a little more in God’s love, I am able to be a little more generous with all that I have been given.

Each time I grow a little in Christ, I trust him a little more and so don’t need to hold quite so tightly to things; possessions (car, motor bike, computer), my time, and my money. Sometimes, there are rare moments when I know for certain that none of it is mine anyway. In those moments the ‘my’ can be dropped and all seen as they are, gifts from God’s grace. This is so liberating when it happens, giving or not giving, time, possessions, money, are all released from my care into the control of God… Then I’m back to normal again, lacking in love, and fearful of what might happen if I give too much!

I am messed up about giving, and generosity and love. Just like most of us. But what I do know is that as I learn to love more, the worry and fear are a little less powerful. As I pray, and read my Bible, and worship with my brothers and sisters, I learn to be a little more forgetful about love: I find that I am more able to love without realising it; the Love in me becomes unconscious love that comes from deep inside me, and is not forced.

So what I have found is that Stewardship is something that grows naturally out of my faith. My ability to be generous is greatest when my faith is strong and I am least generous, grasping even, when my faith is weak. Generosity is a fruit of faith, a fruit of the Spirit and Stewardship is just considering how best to be generous.

This world and all in it are so much less without generosity. This town that I live in and the villages around it are diminished without generosity. Without generosity there is no care and compassion. So when I encourage Stewardship among God’s people I am encouraging a practice of health and love. When I encourage people outside of Church to be generous, I seek to do the same. I aim to give people the opportunity to be generous, with time, talents or money. Of course, I would like this Church to be on the receiving end of at least some of that generosity, but if not, I will be content to see an increase in generosity and love, wherever it is directed.

So please don’t be embarrassed about Stewardship. Without it everyone is the poorer, Christians and non-Christians alike. But for us Christians it all starts with Jesus looking into our eyes, saying our name, and asking, “Who do you say that I am?”

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