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 Three Light and money

john                                      audio clip

Wesley spends only a few paragraphs on light, although this is key to the rest. If we are light in the dark then we are no longer part of the world. So the things of the world like gaining wealth, ambition, opulence are no longer part of us.

He flew at the wealthy like a banshee in the night. His boy must have shook with emotion as he roared these words at the people in the congregation who pursued wealth at all cost.

We cannot help if we are born into a wealthy family or an academic family or a family living in a tent at the side of the road. But once we have matured into grown ups we can change our circumstances dramatically. Reg Dwight was born into a council house in Pinner and grew up listening to Bill Hailey and the Comets. At some point in the ‘90’s he danced with royalty to “Rock around the clock.” Now money was not the motivator in his life, fame and musical accolades were his thing but he became extremely wealthy. He gives money away but also leads an opulent lifestyle and gives excessive gifts to his friends. His upbringing and background possibly make him the way he is today.

Equally John Wesley’s thoughts on money must surely have come from his upbringing and background. His dad did time for debt. Wesley’s job as a minister in the C of E changed because of his views (can a vicar be sacked?) and he was attacked on all fronts. Many  people with power and wealth were against him and wrote and preached against his teachings. So this sermon can be seen as a rebuttal to their charges.

Part of the reason I stopped my career were my concerns of how my family were coming to use money. There was no saving, just ever more opulent spending that caused an enormous amount of debt. I believe in living simply but had somehow not managed to convey this in family life. In taking our family down from 80k to 20k in one month we learned lots of things about each other. We were able to pinpoint the places where money was leaking and we made attempts to shore up the damage.

I would never, in all honesty, be able to preach on money in the way John Wesley did without pricking my own conscience as he has done whilst I read it. Yes I live simply on a day to day basis but so I can technological advances regularly. I am a technophile and have inherited from my father the need to have the latest and best. I am working on it, there is less stuff. But it is a work in progress that backslides with each new lens for my camera and app purchased.

I have heard the defence of riches on earth within the Christian community, I suppose churches need rich people in them to maintain them. Our treasurer (the moneychanger I like to call him) and I have discussions on tithing, appropriate tithing, the need or not for tithing among other things. There’s a pastor in America who tithes 90% of his income, but if that was a million there would still be a hundred thou to live on so I don’t think that is a reality for most.

“How do people live like that,” a wealthy friend said of someone in a one bedroomed house “I need my things,” and on another occasion, “how poor is he, he is always well groomed, is he really poor?”

Holding onto our riches, whatever they are, is a barrier to the love of God, without a shadow of a doubt. So very slowly I am freeing myself of my worldly possessions, piece by piece I am giving away “my stuff” and I pray that I will healed of it so much I don’t fill the space with more “my stuff”

A friend told me that her pastor spoke about having a spring clean, physically and spiritually and that by decluttering their space they decluttered their minds and hearts too. So they banded together and decluttered each others homes and recluttered from the “stuff” of others. There was positive things in the process although the end was not what was asked. Fellowship among the congregation increased and people felt they had new stuff without buying it.

Money is a contentious issue in the world right now so it is bound to be contentious in church. We are all works in progress and help is needed.