Giving Sunday, Easter 4, 2013
Today in the Church’s year we are still basking in the joyful glow of Easter, still rejoicing at Christ’s wonderful victory over fear and death and hell. These weeks between the Sunrise on Easter Day and the explosion of energy and confidence on Pentecost Sunday are essential to our faith because they connect us directly to what happened in that silent graveyard 1,980 years ago.
Which is what this morning’s Gospel reading is all about. It feels a fairly innocuous conversation, on a first glance, Jesus talking about being a shepherd. What could be less threatening than a shepherd, we might think, interested only in his sheep, in guarding and feeding them? And yet there is so much more happening here than we would pick up at a casual glance. For a start, this is all happening in the Temple, the embodiment of Israel’s religion. It is as if Jesus is speaking in the House of Commons, or in the US Senate. And more than that- a century earlier Judas Maccabeus had become ruler of Israel by cleansing the Temple after it had been polluted by the irreligion of the religious and political leaders. If you want to launch a power grab, if you want to start a revolution, this is the place to do it. And the moment to do it, on the anniversary of Judas Maccabeus’ act of devotion and courage. And more than that- the sheep are God’s people and Jesus is saying I am the Good Shepherd of the sheep, which means, of course, and you are not. And then he goes further- he says I and the Father are one, a ridiculous, heretical claim, unless, of course, it happens to be true.
The man who said these things is the man who died in drawn-out agony on the cross on Good Friday, the man who appeared to his disciples and followers in this Easter season and turned their worlds upside down once more, bringing hope where hope had died, restoring purpose where that had seemed smashed, turning a group of terrified individuals cowering away behind locked doors in mortal fear of boots on the stairs into a band of brothers and sisters who changed the face of history, and whose heirs and successors we ourselves are.
Heirs and successors of people like Peter and Dorcas. Peter is surely one of the most human and impressive people we meet in the Bible, so flawed and yet so devoted and so committed and so alive. What he does here is astonishing, but so is much that he does through faith after Jesus, as we heard last Sunday, has restored him to his place by the Sea of Galilee- “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep”. And Dorcas is everything we are called to be “devoted to good works and acts of charity” and her death so shocked and saddened her friends that they sent for Peter in their grief. Quietly, gently, she lived a life of service because of her faith. She put others first. She was there for them. And when she died they were bereft. And all of that because she both believed in the Risen Christ and lived that belief out in her actions and decisions, in her living
In this Easter season we are trained and transformed from being people who dance by the emptied tomb into people who are sent into the world to shine with the love of the Risen Christ, like Peter, like Dorcas. That is our job as individuals and that is our job as God’s Church.
We call this service the Mass, which comes from the Latin Mittere, which means sent, sending out: everything we do in this service, as we meet with God together and are changed, is made complete in the Dismissal when we are driven or sent out into God’s world to live out what we have heard and sung and received. We are fed and loved here, alone and together, so that, alone and together, we might live as God’s precious, redeemed people in the world, like Peter, like Dorcas, like those who have gone before us in faith, who sat where you sit, who stood where I stand, who have sung where you sing, who, in faithfulness and dedication, strove to carry the light of Christ into lives darkened by accident, bereavement, hopelessness, sorrow, pain, despair.
In this Easter season we are gently turned from the empty tomb to see the world around us and to be ready to speak and to show that Good News, that best possible news, in our community.
We are already pretty good at it. Things like the Welcome Club and Prayers and Bears and the baptism visitors and the Full Measure visitors make a real difference in the world. So do the choir and the servers who work with such commitment to help people come close to God through the beauty of holiness. So do individuals who volunteer in other areas of life because of what they learn here. So do individuals who make moral decisions at work and go against the flow because of what they know of God because of what we do together.
Yet we want, we need, to do more. There is so much more we could be doing, and might do. Around us is a world which is genuinely thirsty for meaning and purpose and hope, all of the things which we embody. There is so much more we could be doing.
(and then this is the bit I condensed later on at St Nick’s)
Today is the build-up to Thanksgiving Sunday, which is next week. We need to think about these things together because what we do already costs money and what we want to do in the future will cost money too. I’ve been here for nearly 5 months now and in that time people have asked me about the lighting in church, and about a group for those who have been recently bereaved, and resourcing our children’s work properly, and making visitors more welcome, and telling people that we are open, and redeveloping the website, and, well… the list is a long one, and I know that there are many more ideas out there, and many more which will emerge. What we would like to do will cost money.
You should already have been given, I hope, an envelope with a statement of our financial situation, and with some forms to return, one about finance, and one about whether there is anything you’d like to volunteer for in Church. There are lots of people around who are happy to answer any questions you have about the state of play.
What it comes down to is this. We do not have enough money to keep doing what we are doing already. Last year we were £6,000 short of meeting our obligations. We think that we will be about £13,000 short this year. We can’t, at the moment, pay for what we are already doing, and we know that we would like to be doing more than we are.
So what the PCC and the Full Measure Committee is asking you to do is this. Find time. Pray. Think about the life and mission of St Paul’s. Read the leaflet. Think about the last time you really engaged with this question and looked afresh at the level of your giving. And then respond.
One way of doing it might be to make a list of the main things you choose to spend money on each year, and see where God’s Church, your Church, comes. Write down what you value most on one side of the page, and then what you actually choose to spend you money on on the other side. Do you spend more on your daily paper than you give to Church? Do you spend more on your winter holiday? Do you spend more on a meal out each week, or the gym? Does what you spend your money on properly reflect how you value St Paul’s?
These are exciting times. There is so much that God wants us to do as a Church. We can sort this out, I really believe that- if everyone on the Electoral Roll gave an extra £5 a month then we would break even this year and meet our obligations. And if those who could afford to give more than that did then we would be able to do new things, to do more to reach out and serve the community, to be an even more effective witness in the community.
We can sort it out together, whether we are working or not working, whether we are retired or still at school, whether we have been coming to St Paul’s for a year or since the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the church. This is something for the whole Church to engage with and something we can fix together, to enable us to carry on being a blessing to the community around us into the future, and to do it even more effectively and even more.
The world needs us to get our act together. The world longs for the Good News we have responded to, the News Dorcas was inspired by, the news Peter bore witness to with his life and death, the News we are sent to deliver, News of a dead man so full of God’s love that he did not stay dead, News of a Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, News that death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered. Let us pray:
Risen Lord Jesus, meet with us in the Garden.
Cause us to rejoice by the empty tomb at your conquest of death,
and then inspire us to seek always to carry the light of your Resurrection into every corner of the world. Amen.