Stewardship Renewal Sermons: April 2018
Canon Chris Humphries
St Mary’s, Whitegate and St Peter’s, Little Budworth 22nd April
2. Open hearts and glad response - Christian giving
Bible readings: Luke 19. 1-10 and 2 Corinthians 9. 6-10
“Now, Zaccheus was a very little man, and a very little man was he.
He climbed up into the sycamore tree, for the Saviour he wanted to see.
And as that Saviour passed that way, he looked into the tree,
And said “now Zaccheus, you come down, for i’m coming to your house for tea!”
Ever since I was a child I’ve loved that Sunday School chorus;
Perhaps I knew instinctively that I’d grow up to be vertically challenged!
I’m only 5 foot 4 inches, and of course I don’t agree with the T.V. programme that dared to suggest that shorter people have a lower I.Q. (Intelligence quotient)
This programme also touched on the issue of whether all blondes are really dumb, and whether your I.Q. is higher if you can curl your tongue!
Zaccheus may have been able to curl his tongue; however, as a Jewish man he is very unlikely to have been blonde. The only thing we know for sure is that he was short.
I guess that he had a pretty good I.Q. – he was good with figures, could swing the percentages in his favour, and he was cunning and astute.
Perhaps just the sort of chap to have on board for our Stewardship Renewal. Really ?
Well, as it turns out, yes!
Because, more important than whatever his I.Q. happened to be, he recognised the importance and impact of Jesus in his life.
It all started with the visit Jesus made to Jericho, Zaccheus’ home town. Zaccheus had status in that community – a status grudgingly given. He was the chief tax-collector, and as such was in league with the hated Roman occupying forces; and yet there was something about Jesus that fascinated him, enough to make him act out of character, join the throng, and climb a tree to get a better view.
Jesus noticed the unlikely figure among the branches. He spotted the potential, he understood that within Zaccheus there was a yearning, a discontentment with his life as it was, even a glimmer of faith that could be fanned into flame.
“Zaccheus, hurry down, I must stay at your house today!”
Let’s look now at today’s theme of Christian Giving, and come back to Zaccheus later on...
It’s good for any parish to have a Stewardship Renewal as a regular prompt to review our giving to the church and to this parish of Whitegate/Little Budworth.
As we do this, we remind ourselves of the facts of financial life – our parish share of 45 thousand pounds/ 25 thousand pounds to the Diocese of Chester being the biggest single amount that we have to find each year, in order to pay for full-time ministry in these two parishes. In recent years we have managed to pay this amount in full, through monthly instalments. But, as with so many commitments, it is a real challenge every year, and we are so grateful to our treasurers who keep us grounded, with the facts and figures before us.
The total amount we need to find each year to keep our churches going is just over £80 thousand pounds (St Mary’s), and around £50 thousand pounds (St Peter’s).
Regular planned generous weekly giving is the proven way forward, using Gift Aid and Standing Orders to full effect.
It’s true that fundraising can be great fun, and a great help, but our bread and butter income comes via regular giving from that core of people who attend St Mary’s and St Peter’s, see the need, realise the implications, and give their generous financial gifts to enable our ministry and mission to flourish.
Of course, we always need to emphasize the difference in circumstances that people are in. £5 for one person will be like £50 for another. The only thing I ask, or actually that the Bible asks, is that we see Christian Giving as a key part of our own spiritual commitment; that we work out how much we can give carefully, prayerfully, and above all that we give cheerfully!
How did St Paul put it? “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9.7)
And he goes on to say “God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves, and more than enough for every good cause.”
St Paul puts his finger on how we should give, our attitude and our motive, and then encourages us to look to God, trusting him that our daily needs will be looked after:
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Yes, that’s a good and right prayer. God is concerned that we are properly fed and clothed, valued and loved.
And that is the new way of looking at life that Zaccheus suddenly realised made sense. Wow, what a change, what a turnabout it led to.
We could consider a lot more facts and figures, and we certainly need to sit down and look realistically at our own resources and circumstances. But what we need to do above all in a Stewardship Renewal is to recapture that joy with which Zaccheus responded to Jesus. How he welcomed him into his house, the spirit of openness and generosity that enabled him to get his finances on a proper footing; in his case giving half his goods to the poor, and paying back those he had cheated four times over.
For Zaccheus the key point was that Jesus cared. The local community in Jericho didn’t like him, they despised him. But Jesus sought him out. He spotted him up in the tree. He didn’t condemn him or write him off, but he wanted to come to his home and spend time with him. It was like a miracle.
Jesus spots the potential in you and me.
He spots the goodness in each one of us, just as he did in Zaccheus, and he loves each one of us just as much as the next. In return, he simply longs for us to respond; to be open-handed and joyful in giving of all that we have, of all that we are, so that God’s kingdom of love may go forward.
O God, the source of our being, sustaining us by the breath of your Spirit, we thank you for every blessing we receive from you.
Help us to reflect your generosity, and to respond joyfully by giving of ourselves, of our money, our resources and our time, that the work and mission of St Mary’s Whitegate and St Peter’s, Little Budworth may be strengthened and your kingdom of love increase.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who gave himself that all may find fullness of life.
Read the story of Zaccheus to your children in “The Magpie’s Tale” by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen , published by Candle Books.