Today I want to talk about money; your money to be precise! Money is a gift and can also seem a curse. Too much of it and we worry about keeping hold of it; about the value of assets rising and falling. The financial press is full of exchange rates, credit levels and the drivers of industry and commerce. Too little money and we worry about coping, having sufficient to make ends meet. It is estimated that two million people are addicted to gambling, not least online gambling, and much of this will be driven by debt and wanting to win enough to make ends meet. Money is a tricky subject for a variety of reasons. Few feel they have just enough and how we see that varies enormously. The more we have the more we see is possible to have.
The principle of Christian giving is that everything is gift and so we give out of the rich bounty that we receive, whatever level that might be. It is not supposed to be from the loose change at the end, but a proportional gift out of the good gift that sustains us; an offering of thankfulness. It is difficult to be precise about how much each person should give, but there are a number of ways of thinking about it.
One way is to impose a subscription: it costs £x to belong to this club. The rates are set to match the costs. There is a national average level of giving. The latest figures available are for 2014, when the average overall across the country was £9 p/w. For those who give under Gift Aid – where we can claim back the tax – the average was a bit higher at £12 p/w. Being average figures, some clearly give substantially more and some give less. We don’t charge a subscription, deliberately so, not least because we don’t think about members, but all are welcome. The ‘sign-up’ comes through baptism when we give the whole of our life to Christ and in Confirmation affirm this for ourselves if it was said a long time before. So a subscription does not work for us and goes against who we are and the whole notion of giving in thankfulness for what we have received.
The Bible gives a different model. It talks about tithing, which it defines as 10% of the produce. It always strikes me that 10% of modest or seriously low income represents a much higher cost to the giver than 10% of significant riches does. However the principle is that everyone can afford something and should do so. Here we give according to our means.
To do that, we need to look at the necessities of life, the bare necessities – what I call the Jungle Book Model. Looking at our bank statements and our outgoings, what does our giving match? Some big-ticket items are probably spoken for before we get anywhere: rent, mortgage, food, fuel… but then life gets more discretionary. A daily paper, coffee at a café, that bottle of wine, eating out… comparing these to our level of giving can be telling about where our giving rests in our priorities.
Looking at giving can also help us to reassess how we live. Go back to Baloo and his song to Mowgli – I know you’ve all been singing it since I mentioned it – the bare necessities. What is basic, what is simple? The call and virtue of living simply is a spiritual discipline for life. It displays our dependency on God and not material possessions and comforts. We are encouraged to live sustainably, concerned for the fairness of the trading and therefore purchasing. This is based on the wisdom of the ages that comforts and possessions can deaden the senses to our mortality – all that worry and strife. The more we amass the more we can sit in denial of that reality. Living simply is about letting go of everything, even ourselves, for here we have no abiding city, but our true goal lies elsewhere.
This fits with our readings. The Epistle (Romans 12:9-21) was packed with advice for hospitable, gracious, generous living in peace and harmony with one another and the world. It even included a reference to contributing to the needs of the saints. And the Gospel (Matthew 16:21-28) was a reminder to live sacrificially, to take up our cross and follow; for self-giving love to be the character we live by. Sacrificial giving, an offering of ourselves that is costly, is in the title deeds of Christian stewardship and that includes giving.
Over the next few weeks, we are asking everyone to take away a pack – there should be one for everyone, if not please say and we will make sure you are not missed out. Inside this you will find three documents.
There is a letter from me, personally addressed and signed. As I wrote each one I thought and prayed about each person receiving it as I wrote your names. It was a spiritual exercise for me, to think and pray for you, but this is a spiritual exercise that we are asking you to do, so it is right that it has prayer at the heart of it.
The second sheet sets out the church’s finances. There is no getting away from it and you need to know where they stand. Costs go up – the parish share has risen substantially over the last few years as the diocese has changed the basis on which it assesses this, wages rise as the National Minimum rises, buildings and insurance costs, heating and lighting are all very difficult to reduce. And our income needs to match these costs. We have a gap, £298 per week, and we need to plug it. That sounds scary for one person, but not so scary when spread among many people and each do their bit.
Giving is our primary source of income, but we also charge for events and fees. There is some investment income, though that is reduced at the moment too. We have a group looking at events and how we can generate more income. But the task for you is to look at your giving, pray about it, think about what is an appropriate level for you – taking into account the bare necessities – and then please note it on the third sheet – the Response Form.
It helps us budget if we know how much we can expect. If you are able to sign the Gift Aid form for us to claim the tax back on your gift then it is important that only one person signs the form. Since the 1990s tax has been individual and couples are treated separately, so a separate form for each giver please.
This Response Form includes a bank standing order mandate. This makes giving simple and straight from your bank account on payday. That’s what I do. The diocese administers this and claims the tax back if applicable and we receive the whole amount without any deductions – that is a service they offer which is covered by the Parish Share we pay.
So read, pray, think about Jungle Book and the bare necessities, and make your response. Please seal it in the envelope provided and place it in the box in the church. They remain confidential to a small group who administer this and no one else knows. All of the responses will be offered as part of our Harvest Festival Service, our offering of our gifts with thanksgiving for all God gives to us.
Sermon preached at Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 3rd September 2017