Sermon Forty Four The right way to use money

john                                audio clip

Wesley talking about money is like a fisherman talking about herrings. He loves it. He doesn’t love money, he loves talking about it. He loves to extoll the virtues of earning, saving and giving.

Give to your utmost – he says

There is an American writer and pastor who gives 90% of his income away. Now in royalties alone for his books 10% of his money is probably more than 200% of mine. Also because most of his giving is through church, he has probably a nice office with the best chair. His church has the best technology available and he is able to pay for services, so has a big paid staff.

Just this week I had to account for my spending to a government department and I can say the last time I bought clothing was August for my child’s school uniform and before that it was June, a second hand winter coat in the sale in a charity shop for me. My average grocery bill was €28.76 per week and my heating for the next two years has cost €200. Sounds frugal enough? Well the reason I live so frugally in terms of food, clothes and heating is because my other expenses far outway them. My study costs this year have been vast and I can rationalise it by saying I am studying God’s word but I have been extravagant in this area, not in an ostentatious way, I don’t have walls lined with books but I do have an iPad chocablock full of ebooks, many free – I do love a bargain. But some quite expensive pieces too.

I give and I am not going to write here how and why and to whom but I don’t tithe. Sometimes I think I am arrogant in that I give in my own way not to the church and no doubt I will be challenged along the way on this and maybe even coerced or forced into changing my position. I like the word challenged best. I had a discussion on the subject of tithing recently and the person pointed out there would be no buildings, no paid ministers if we didn’t give. Flippantly, I admit, I said there is no harm, we can meet in a field, we can meet in houses. Undeterred they said – what about ministers. Flippantly again, I said there are many unpaid pastors in the world, they don’t stop what they are doing because they aren’t being paid – there is a call on their life. To not pastor would be disobedient to that call from God.

But how many paid officials in any church would continue what they are doing if they were not paid. There is another American pastor who has sold everything they have and moved into one room at the back of the church so the giving could hurt.

Wesley talks about money, don’t love it he says but he implies – love what it can do!

My husband struggles with my giving, but I told him of one gift last night and for the first time he didn’t counter it. He is beginning to accept that I like the second US pastor would give everything away and have a mattress in the back of the van because I truly believe it has to hurt.

Emptying the purse at the beginning of the week and seeing if you can survive on a fiver – YES YOU CAN!

I thank the lovely civil servants who last year for six months made me live on less than twenty euros a week. I rediscovered my ability to forage, to renew, to restore, to make meals out of nothing, to feed my family and be able to give.

Someone said to me when I suggested that a collection in certain churches were not appropriate, that even if you had €20 you could give €2, a 10% tithe. Now if you earn €1000 a week and tithe €200, you can live an expensive lifestyle, eating out, huge mortgage, the best of everything. Ten percent is not appropriate there it should be more like 50%. Having too much money makes a person spend it foolishly. But if you only have twenty, tithing two might mean your kids go to school in holey shoes.

I was at a meeting recently and my boots felt embarrassed for me! They were bought in 2003, they leak at the sides and have a tear down one of them. It is not discrete, it is a big tear. But everytime I go to replace them I cannot find a pair in my price bracket. So I looked at the other people’s shoes with their labels of Caterpillar or Vans and I pondered, I have no idea where I got these boots from, I don’t know if they were made by Chanel or Joe Soap and certainly any evidence has long since gone.

The first time I ever had money in my married life, my husband and I travelled to the nearest city and spent the day doing “BAGS” we shopped all the way down the main street and got oodles of “stuff.” First and last time. I still have some of those clothes, I still wear them. But there was an emptiness to the whole day because we hadn’t saved up, we weren’t buying for the kids, just for us. WE indulged ourselves but it felt wrong somehow.

Whenever I feel like splurging I think back to those feelings and it stops me because there is nothing to be gained but debt.

Maybe in time I will tithe. I have found the church I belong to so maybe it is time to think about it, seriously. I just don’t want people to know. Giving is a private thing. Preferably an anonymous thing but it should always be private. Ostentatious displays in public are not giving the way Jesus prescribed.


Sermon Twenty One On prayer

john                                          audio clip

This part of the Sermon on the Mount can be tricky for people. People do love to give but they want everyone to know about their giving – the ostentatious €50 note on a collection plate, the biggest box at a birthday party. It is part of the rush of giving – the kudos you receive.

Well Jesus didn’t see it like that. He calls us to give, and give generously but to do so quietly, without fuss and fanfare. Back in his day the rich folk would have someone blow a trumpet, according to John Wesley, in order to announce their giving to the poor.

Nowadays we have celebrities being photographed giving to the needy, the photogenic needy. You don’t see them kicking a football on the field in Knocknaheeny but you will see them gently rolling a ball to an angelic child in Cope. The giving of alms on Maundy Thursday buys into this “being seen.” Every year a bin liner of stuff goes from Kerry to Cork, it is full of knitted garments for people without homes, there are various people who put stuff in the bag and it arrives at the Simon Community. They always ask where it came from and I merely say Kerry. I don’t go into any more detail. When one of the people who had contributed heard, they were not pleased, they wanted it to be known where it came from specifically. But that is not Jesus’ way.

Kindness is catching, there is wave of passing it on going through our nation. People want codecils on their giving though. I give you this if you give me that. Personally I love to give, none of it tax deductible, just plain old giving. And I do like to do it secret. And I do like to give to my utmost and I do like to do random acts of kindness. There are people who do all this but give only to people they know, or people they think aren’t looking for an angle or whatever reason, they add codecils. It is not about being Lord and Lady Bountiful, it is giving something from God via us to another human.

The same principle Jesus applies to praying. Pray in a press, don’t be like the Pharisee with the loud prayers. God is interested in relationship, with communication not with how doctrinally sound or theologically correct our prayers are. He doesn’t need our prayers to be full of passages from the bible. He wants us to be honest and sincere, he wants our very hearts.

Prayer is one of those things that as a new Christian you think everyone has been to prayer school, they have words you’ve never heard of before, they talk of sanctification and justification or intercession and extempore. Words that trip off their tongues and tie yours in knots. As a Christian you have yourself as a living proof of his transforming power. So a prayer might begin Dear Lord…and go on to say … thank You ..and end..Amen. When we say thank you to God it encompasses everything we are thankful for in our hearts, it is a prayer of thanksgiving in five words. Like wise – I’m sorry is a prayer of confession. Yes God wants to hear more but he can hear our hearts so if we are saying sorry from the heart he knows. And in time we get our voices so we can pray to God.

I met a woman a few days ago from my neck of the woods and we talked in our dialect for a while and then we prayed and her voice changed into a different pitch but also a different voice. I am left wondering should I change my voice when speaking to God, if I change my voice am I changing something of my story too, do I change my voice when I pray to God. Just questions, no answers yet.

Wesley then comes to the Lord’s Prayer and expounds each phrase in great detail and I have nothing to add, he put it so well. In response to his writing, I see how perfect that prayer is, it covers everything we need in a prayer, we should say it more often, we should mean it more often, we should live it – always!