4th Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Jer. 28. 5-9; Rms. 6. 12-end; Matt. 10. 40-end.
What and why should I give?
This is a question which can be difficult to raise in a church context for several reasons. Firstly, what we give in the collection or through direct debit is a private matter. Each person should make up their own mind what they are prepared to contribute financially to the church. Moreover, each of us has different financial resources and so talking in absolute amounts makes little sense. Secondly, the history of the church is littered with examples of abusing the generosity of donors. One only needs to think of some of the principal causes of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century to realize that religion and money can be a toxic mixture. Financial abuse by organizations such as churches should be, for all of us, a cause for concern because the scars that this leaves on people can undermine their faith. And that is a terrible thing because it undermines the purpose of the church which is to nurture people’s faith. Thirdly, our ideas of how churches operate can affect what we give. We may be under the impression that all churches are wealthy and so why bother to give to the rich. This is a particular problem in countries such as Germany, for example, where there is an official church tax administered by the state. In countries with such a system, a certain percentage of your income tax is given to the religion to which you belong unless you tell the state that you want to opt out. You can imagine just how much revenue is generated for churches in countries with this type of taxation system.
These three reasons are just some of the causes which can make talking about giving difficult. However, failure to do so can be irresponsible. In fact, it can be disastrous, because good financial management is a necessity for any organization to flourish, whether that be a church, a business or indeed a family. So, it is important to talk about it because prudent and careful management of one’s finances is part and parcel of living responsibly. So, I hope you will not mind if I discuss the context of our own church here at the Costa del Sol West Chaplaincy.
Firstly, the matter of privacy. This is important and in fact, I would say that it is a matter of personal conscience and so should be something about which each person should pray about for themselves. In some churches they tackle this question by the notion of tithing. Rather than set a fixed, absolute amount that each person should give, a percentage is indicated. This can be quite high in some churches and may represent a significant percentage of one’s income. The advantage of this system is that it gives some guidance to our consciences, but it is a percentage and not a fixed sum. A percentage of our wealth is obviously a variable sum dependent upon our personal assets, but it represents a considered judgment about what is reasonable. This might be something for each person to consider: what percentage would be reasonable in my own case?
On the second point of, to put it mildly, the checkered history of the church and finances there is clearly a lot that we can say. Religion, as I am sure you are well aware, can be a very lucrative business. If you believe that you can ‘buy your salvation’, ‘pay your way into heaven’, so to speak, then in periods of history which are culturally religious, such as in the European Middle Ages, for example, considerable finances can be raised from people. Clearly, the sorry episode of the sale of indulgences which triggered the wrath of Martin Luther at the start of the Protestant Reformation, is emblematic of this financial abuse in modern church history.
In our context in the chaplaincy, it is important for us to know that we do not receive finance from a wealthy diocese. The diocese in Europe, to which our chaplaincy belongs, receives a percentage of our income, ‘a parish share’, we do not receive money from the diocese. So, we are in fact, financially independent and hence self-sufficient. This means that all our costs are covered from our giving. We live from the generosity of each and every member of our chaplaincy. What you give is what we have. So, do not think that there is a big organization behind us, which is bloated with funds that supports us. We are on our own. All our costs are covered by chaplaincy funds, and between Brexit, the recent inflationary surge, and the reduction of the numbers of the chaplaincy post-Covid, I am sure that you will realize, from your own experience, that chaplaincy finances are under strain.
Moreover, as you may have seen at the recent annual chaplaincy council meeting, the finances of the chaplaincy are publicly presented to the chaplaincy for all to scrutinize, and to make sure that things are in order, we also have an independent financial auditor, to whom we are very grateful as she gives her services free of charge, as indeed does our own treasurer, Stephen Wall, now based in the UK.
Furthermore, the state does not give us any financial support as a matter of course. There is no tax which we receive a percentage of, as in countries like Germany. As, already mentioned, the diocese in Europe provides no financial support to us. We provide it to them. No, we live from our own giving. So, in our context as a chaplaincy, it is important to consider what and why we give for all the reasons that I have outlined above.
Our scripture readings for today speak of the role of the prophet being to remind the people that, how authentically they live their faith is bound up with how generous they are in the community. The sacred vessels will be brought back from the Babylonian exile when the people return generously to practice their faith again, and in the Gospel for today, we hear that giving even a cup of cold water to those who serve the Lord brings with it great reward. In fact, the question of giving in the Sacred Scriptures is intimately tied up with the mission of the community. The giving of the cold water to the disciples of Jesus is symbolic of the fact that the mission of the church is built upon the generosity of its donors. Without your generosity, the mission of the chaplaincy here on the Costa del Sol West would be impossible. It is good this way because it means that just as the ministry and mission here is dependent on the generosity of your giving, so too your generous giving is symbolic of the generous giving of God who gives us life and all that we possess. Yes, in speaking of giving, we are not simply talking about money, important though that may be, fundamentally what we are talking about is the generosity of God to us all. ‘Freely you have received, freely give’. There is no better reason for us to think about our giving than that by doing so, we are reminded of the One to whom we owe everything that we are and have.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.