Of gifts and giving
Assistant Rector's House, January 2000
Aeons and aeons ago the gift of Creation was given. The language of time is meaningless here, and there was no-one to receive the gift - human life being somewhat a late comer on the scene. But God gave because it is in his nature to give, to give with generosity and with no conditions, with no expectation of a response.
2000 years ago or so, God gave to the world the gift of his son. He gave with no strings attached. The world he had created to be good, had failed to be what it was made to be, and was desperately in need of healing and reconciliation. Graciously, lovingly, God gave the gift of himself, revealed in the form of a child in a manger who grew to be an itinerant teacher and healer and then a victim on a cross.
Jesus, both child and man, called out a response of love and generosity from people he encountered, because once human beings recognised the truth of who and what he was, they had no alternative. It wasn’t because God demanded a response. Simply, Jesus’ goodness drew out their own inner goodness - they could not help themselves. At the time of his birth the most unlikely people responded. Poor shepherds brought the gift of their eagerness and trust as they ran to find the child, an over-busy innkeeper gave his gift of compassion (and a stable), and the foreigners from the East gave the infant precious and carefully chosen gifts from the Orient. We hear no more of any of these in the Gospel stories - freely they gave, and did not expect an outcome.
The best gifts - proper gifts - are given freely, with no strings attached. They are given without thought of personal cost or reward on the part of the giver, but such generosity stirs the heart to bring about equally generous responses.
The Jubilee 2000 Campaign to relieve the debts of the worlds poorest countries was started by Christians motivated by Christ-like qualities of mercy, justice and generosity. The Campaign has spread out from its Christian roots and one newspaper headline was able to announce this week: ‘Britain ends Third World Debt’. Those words simplify an extremely complex issue, but demonstrate that there is now a political will to release the neediest nations of the world from their chains of debt. The response from one of them was prompt. A Ugandan spokesman said ‘We will use the money saved to halve the teacher/pupil ratio to 1:50, and to ensure every child has a proper classroom’. The response to generous giving is further generosity to those most in need.
It will be a dominant word in our church life in the next couple of months as we undertake another Funding Campaign in February. This is the fifth such campaign in which we try to plan for our needs for four years ahead. Compared to the sort of giving I have been talking about - gold, frankincense and myrrh to the King of Heaven - billions of pounds and dollars to the impoverished nations - it may seem banal to speak of the day-to-day needs of St Peter’s in the same breath. But similar principles are involved. God has given us in our place and time many gifts - a beautiful and prayerful building, the talents to provide inspiring music in worship, the skills and gifts of a diverse congregation, and the amazing and unique gift of our central position in the midst of the city. As we acknowledge the multitude of these good things we cannot but be stirred to ask how we may respond to these generous gifts of God.
We cannot do it in a niggardly fashion. St Peter’s has served this place for nearly a millennium. It is up to us in our generation to carry forward the work of Christ in the City. And this requires money. Without money we cannot forward many of our hopes and dreams for the future. The giving of money is as important a part of our Christian faith as the giving of our work and talents and time. If ‘to work is to pray’, then also ‘to give is to pray’. We need funds to maintain and care for the building as befits the house of God - and as an essential resource for our ministry to the congregation, the parish and the people of the city. We need funds to pay those who will enable this ministry to flourish and grow - people both lay and ordained. We need funds to give away to those who are poorer than ourselves, for we are called upon to image the generosity of God.
St Peter’s can be justifiably proud of the conscientious and careful way in which it has financed the mission which Christ has entrusted to us over many years. I want to encourage you now to look ahead to the next four years for which we are planning, and consider whether you can be not just dutiful, not just careful in your giving, but to be generous and gracious in your gifts. Do think carefully about the part you may play in the coming campaign, and pray for those members of the congregation who are already planning the details.
I pray that St Peter’s in this 2000th Year of the Lord will pick up the challenge to our generation of Christians, to offer Christ’s love to the world. May this be our prayer for a new millennium, may this be our longing - to bring Christ’s love to the world. And may this be our pledge - to give generously of ourselves and what we have, in the open handed spirit of the shepherds and the wise men, in order to achieve it.