Keith Underhill: May 2016
Buried Treasure — (from the sermon preached by Keith on Sunday 24th April 2016, that looks at how we should give and use our money).
You will have noticed from the opening image before the service began that the theme for today is Buried Treasurer — re-visited!
That might ring a bell with you, for it was something that way back in 2007 we spent some time looking at together in a morning service.
As a Church Council and as a General Church Meeting it was agreed that we should do the same again and once more get out treasure maps and see if we can do some digging!
For at the heart of buried treasure, the type we are looking at, is the question as Christians, how should we use our money? and are their guidelines as to how we should look at what we give?
"Buried Treasure" is an important part of that debate, which challenges us to look responsibly at how we do indeed give and how our faith affects our attitudes towards money.
For although we might want to busy ourselves with more seemingly 'spiritual' matters, the fact is that how we give is something we need to think about.
Giving is something which is never far from the surface, for as we know, our Church and all Methodist churches stand or fall by the very fact that they have to pay their own way, we do not receive any subsidies or Government handouts — we are self financing and it is purely the generosity of those who attend church that helps us maintain our presence and witness here in Alton and in every other Methodist church in this country and around the world.
Giving is also a reflection of how we value our faith and our relationship with God but more of that later.
In these economically difficult times — just as we all feel the pinch, so too do we here at church and we are estimating that this year we will be around £4,000 short of what we need and next year that figure may well rise to around £6,000.
Whilst we do have some reserves, we cannot simply eat into them as they will soon run out.
The reason for the shortfall, well that's due to a combination of things. A decrease in our weekly offering through deaths and those who have moved away and the loss of two regular church lettings have given us a double whammy.
I do know that we are a generous church — don't forget that our church redevelopment is now all paid for and has been for a number of years and we respond very generously to various appeals and event s that raise money for charities and in response to world events.
But back to the theme of "Buried Treasure". Why that title? Because around 20 years of so ago now, there was a report by that title produced by the Methodist Church. The report stated that it all began with the rumour. "Once upon a time, the halls of Christendom began to thrill to a story that somewhere, buried deep in pockets and bank accounts, lay a vast horde of treasure. So vast was this horde that not only would it fund those parts of the church's work which existing funds cannot resource, but it would also enable the church to initiate new areas of work!"
This is the buried treasure.
All seekers of buried treasure need a map to guide them on their journey to discovery — our map is that of the Bible. And the hope?......
Well to once more quote from the report, "The hope is that the vision revealed in scripture will grip the imagination of Christian people, that it will help them towards a clearer understanding of the theology of giving, and that it will challenge and enable them to work towards a deeper commitment to "give God what belongs to him."
Our starting point of course, is God himself and the recognition that all we have comes from him — we like all of creation are totally dependent on God and his creating, redeeming and sustaining love.
As His people, we respond to Him and the Bible reminds us that this response is made up of three strands
1) Worship — What we do in Church on a Sunday
2) Life style — How we live out our lives Monday to Saturday
3) Financial giving — How we give back to God that which we have received.
I want to say from the outset that you will never hear me, nor the church say today or any day how much people should give per week/per month, that is not for me or the church to say, for that decision rests with you as individuals, taking into consideration your own personal circumstances.
Neither will you hear me talking about tithing — for tithing is but one of the many models of giving mentioned in the Bible.
But Buried treasure is important because it asks us, you and me, to prayerfully and reflectively think about why and how we give. Buried Treasure is about unlocking our resources to the work, the service and glory of God
Buried Treasure speaks of markers, sign posts to help guide us in our thinking as to how we give to God.
There are four markers that help us think about our giving to God that we need to take seriously.
Our giving to God is to be voluntary
Exodus 25 v. 2
"Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give"
There is a difference between paying and giving. Our offering to God is about giving and giving is always voluntary — it is about making that personal choice and deciding that you want to give. No-one is forcing you, no-one is twisting your arm, no-one is standing over you watching — you give, we give because we want to.
There's a great scene in the first Harry Potter book, where Harry for the first time in his life has been given money — he's never had any before. He is on the train to his new school with Ron. Ron has very little money and can't afford to spend what he has on the sweet trolley that comes round to their compartment. Harry on the other hand, buys a lot of sweets and confectionary, not to show off but simply to share and be able to give to someone else. A selfless gesture.
Our offering of money is a sign of our thanksgiving for all that we have received from God. When faced with the reality of all that we have and all that we have been given by God — our natural response is one of thankfulness and of giving something of ourselves in return. The offering of money is a sign of that. Our offering must and always be voluntary and is a response to all that we have been given, of all that God has done for us, from creation to His great saving acts through His son Jesus Christ. For all that he does and continues to do and will do for us.
Our giving to God is to be cheerful
2 Corinthians 9 v. 7
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver"
There is nothing worse than a grudging giver — for it defeats the purpose of giving, which must always be voluntary and if it is voluntary, it must also follow that it is done cheerfully.
When we think back on those early Christians, they were mostly all Jews. They already had their duties of citizenship to meet, these did not change just because of their new found faith — yet they still had to fund this new work they were involved in, the spreading and the sharing of the good news — and they raised this money cheerfully.
You may recall that one of the things that the prophets were continually saying to the children of Israel was that it was no good going through the actions and making the obligatory sacrifices and offerings as part of their worship if it didn't mean anything and it was just a gesture and tokenism. God wanted them to make these sacrifices because they wanted to and because they actually meant something — for they were a symbolic act that represented their commitment and what they felt inside.
Likewise, our offering to God must be cheerful and willingly made.
Our giving to God is to be regular
1 Corinthians 16 v. 2
"On the first day of every week, each of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with the his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made"
Paul is writing to the churches in order to make a collection for the church in Jerusalem which had fallen on hard times. So he is asking those early Christians in their different and various churches to help out and gives them this pattern for putting money aside on a regular basis so that when he visits, it will all be there ready for him.
Our offering in worship is a symbolic act that links our worship on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, with Christ's self sacrifice on the cross (shown supremely in Communion) and our response, the offering of our lives and our money in His service.
Which is why I always have the offering towards the end of the service — not only to show that it is not an entrance fee — but to provide an opportunity to show our thanks to God for all that he has done, and for all that he has shown us in general and for what he has done for us in the particular act of worship.
4th and last marker
Our giving to God is to be in proportion to our means
Deuteronomy 16 v. 17
"Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you."
This is why it is wrong to say how much people should give, for everyone's means are different. Everyone's circumstances are different. What Buried Treasure is saying is that our giving should reflect what we have. The amount given by the widow in the passage from Luke's Gospel is important because she gave in proportion to her means — embarrassed by the little she had, she sneaked in wanting to be unobserved and rushed out again — but she had indeed given generously, for she had given not out of her wealth, but out of all she had to live on.
As a church we always respond magnificently to the challenges that come our way — trying to reverse our shortfall is just the latest and I know that we will respond and that the idea of Buried Treasure gives us some clues as to how we can do just that
Sometimes when we are faced with a challenge it makes it easier and more manageable to break it down into smaller pieces that are more manageable and achievable thereby making it less frightening.
So, our Church Membership is around 150 — if everyone gave an extra pound per week that would be £7,800.
But I do not want us to go there, for as I have already said, it is not to us to say how much people should give and in the financial climate in which we live, an additional £1 a week would be impossible for some, whilst others may well be able to afford more.
If we look at our average weekly attendance across all three services the figure is around 90 adults.
What I have done is looked at some ordinary everyday things that we might buy or do, and see how that might help us in our thinking and planning.
If half of our adult worshipping community on a Sunday — were able to increase their weekly offering by the cost of a Tuesday Coffee morning cup of coffee at 50p that would raise £1,170.
If the other half were able to increase their weekly offering by the cost of a cappuccino from Costa (£2.25) that would raise £5,265 — giving a total of both together of £6,435
But say you don't like coffee but you do like reading a newspaper. If half of that number 90 — were able to increase their weekly offering by the cost of a Alton Herald at 50p that would raise £1,170
If the other half were able to increase their weekly offering by the cost of a the Times ultimate pack giving you the Times and Sunday times plus on-line etc that would raise £6,247 — giving a total of both together of £7,417
Say you don't read a paper or drink coffee but you do like to go to the cinema once a month. If half of that 90 were able to give an extra £5.25 per month (the cost of going to the cinema in Alton) that would raise an additional £2,835
If the other half were able to give an extra £12.79 per month (the cost of going to the cinema at Vue in Basingstoke for an adult in the evening — V.I.P. seats) that would raise £6,906.60 — giving a total of £9,741.60
In bite size pieces the challenge of turning our deficit around does not seem so frightening!
There are ways in which we can help this along — we can join the envelope scheme, for regular giving or if we wanted, to set up a direct payment. If we gift aid our weekly offering, or indeed a one off gift, then the church can claim back the tax on this and make the money go even further. All of this is of course done incomplete confidence and if you would like to know more then do have a word either with me, or Graham Titterington our treasurer.
Buried Treasure challenges us once more to look at how we give in response to the overwhelming generosity, love and grace that he has showered and poured upon us and continues to do so, day after day.
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