In July 2009, General Synod enthusiastically commended the ‘Giving for Life’ report. This was the first time it has held a significant debate on issues of giving and generosity since 2000. General Synod’s resolution:
Donating through Gift Aid means charities and community amateur sports clubs (CASCs) can claim an extra 25p for every £1 you give. It won’t cost you any extra.
The minimum you need to do is make a Gift Aid declaration for the charity to claim. You usually do this by filling in a form.
More information at: https://www.gov.uk/donating-to-charity/gift-aid
5 Steps in Giving
1. Give something- Give something and give what you think it is worth. When we go to a restaurant we pay for the meal and tip the staff. Ask yourself whether what you are giving is reasonable, considering what it might cost to run the church, both buildings and people. If you think the service is lousy, don’t give anything – but make sure to tell the management so that they know you’re not happy. And remember – in these days of plastic it is too easy not to have any cash when the plate come round.
2. Give regularly – if you’ve decided that church is a good thing, which benefits you and others and you want to support it, then set up a standing order for whatever amount you think you can afford. That means the church gets the money, even if you don’t make it along this month. Makes it much easier for everyone.
3. Give significantly – if you’ve come to feel that church isn’t just a good thing but a vital part of your life, then, as an act of commitment, increase your giving. Ask the question: ‘what percentage of my income am I giving to the church and how does that reflect how important my faith is to me’. Think of all the good things that could be done with extra funding and of all the people who will benefit.
4. Give without counting the cost – if you’ve come to understand your life as being a follower of Jesus and that Jesus gave his life, on the cross, for you, then join in his sacrificial love by giving 5-10% of your income, without even thinking about it. Give first and adjust your life around that fact. This is the path of the disciple.
5. Give abundantly – God’s loving gift of life is absurd in its generosity. Jesus calls us to share in that abundant generosity. He doesn’t want you just to be his follower. He wants you to be the same as him, to become Christ-like. You tithe your income, as an act of faith? Don’t let that be the end of your giving. To really give without counting the cost, all it takes is to know, in yourself, that everything belongs to God. It is not my money but God’s. It is not my life but God’s . This is the path of Christ.
 CofE recommends 5% to take account of taxes and other charitable giving.
I give my time and skills to the church rather than money. Is that ok?
Thank you – the church is blessed by you and probably couldn’t function without you. But it also can’t function without cash. Many people give their time and skills and also contribute financially as well. It is a matter for your own conscience but Jesus is Lord of every part of our life – and that includes our wallets.
But I’m already struggling to make ends meet?
There are two families. One has £100 a week to live on and they give £10, so they only have £90 left to live on. The other earns £1000 a week and they give £100, so they still have £900 to live on. The gift of the first family is far more costly to their life than the gift of the second even though the proportion is the same. Please only give what you can afford – God’s gift of grace is free, regardless of what we give (just the church heating isn’t!)
FIRST FRUITS (a harvest sermon)
Anyone who has the privilege of being a gardener will know the delights of that day when you taste the first raspberry of the season, or the first tomato or apple. Although it is often only one fruit that is ripe, that first fruit is delicious and it contains all the promise of the harvest to come.
The Israelites thought the first fruits were so important, they dedicated an entire religious festival to it. It is thought that the passage at the start of Deuteronomy 26 comes from that festival. The Israelite farmer goes up to the Temple and offers the first fruits to God, to provide for the Levites, aliens, orphans and widows and says: “I bring the first fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me’. The key point about this ritual is that the first fruits belong to God. They are given to God.
It all belongs to God. This is something I am very aware of as a gardener. Of course a lot of it is down to my hard work: digging, sowing, tending, coping with the weather. But all that labour can trick me into thinking, “this is mine, it exists because of me”. Yet that is such an incomplete truth because, when I stop to wonder about it, to wonder at the mystery of the seed in my hand, about where life comes from, and how everything I do depends on rain, sun, wind and bees, I realise that my part, though important, is very small.
Likewise I remember thinking, years back, when it was announced that Lands End in Cornwall was going to be sold into private ownership, “how can you own Lands End? How can you own the cliffs and mountains; the rivers and the ocean depths”? As most indigenous peoples understand, we’re just overnight guests on earth. The mountains will still be there, long after the current ‘owner’ is dust and ashes.
Grasping this truth is essential to developing a right spiritual knowledge of myself and of my place in the scheme of things. It is fundamental to comprehending what can be known of God. To paraphrase God’s answer to Job: “were you there when I caused the stars to burst into life? Were you there when I caused the mountains to rise from the sea”?
The Israelites understood that the earth and all it produces actually belongs to God. As it says at the start of Psalm 24: “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein”. This understanding was enshrined in Israel’s ideal law code, the Torah [the first five books of the bible]. Because the land belonged to God, land was to be redistributed every 50 years by drawing lots!
More practical, perhaps, were the laws about the first fruits. The first of everything, the first tenth, was given to God, to acknowledge that, in reality, all of it belongs to God. This is why the Deuteronomy passage goes on to talk about the tithe. It was a way of saying, “thank you, God, for this extraordinary gift of life and for letting me have use of it. I offer you the first tenth of everything, in gratitude that I get to enjoy the rest”.
I won’t bore you with the mystery of why it is a tenth, rather than sixth or an eighth, just to say that in Jewish mystical teaching there is a strong connection made between one and ten, that they somehow contain each other, as the seed contains the plant to come or the first-fruits anticipates the harvest.
What I do want to emphasise is that this practice of the first-fruits, or tithing, is important because of the attitude it promotes: a non-possessive, non-greedy, generous and grateful attitude towards life.
Globally promoting this attitude is vital right now because as the IPCC warns us, we have to change our entire way of life if the planet is to remain habitable for humans.
But even on an individual level, the practice of tithing should be understood as a spiritual practice to help foster that attitude.
This is how it works. You just decide to set aside the first 10% of your wealth and your time for God: time through prayer, worship, learning and service and wealth through — yes, 10% of your income. You don’t even think about it, you just do it, and let everything else adjust itself accordingly. You don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing, no analysis, no ‘but what ifs’. Nor do you say to yourself, that’s all my giving done then. Tithing and other acts of giving are two different things.
How is this even possible? Yet people who do tithe find it transformative, in a spiritual sense. And they do give generously and abundantly on top of that as well. This church, for example, is very dependant on a few people who give a significant proportion of their income. But for them, I assume, it is about being a disciple, about responding to God’s love.
As I say, it is a spiritual discipline, like meditation, or acts of loving kindness to neighbours and those in need. Just as practicing loving kindness enables us to share in God’s nature, so does generous giving. It helps me become more Christ-like. But the real secret is this – people who tithe realise what a bargain they are getting!
There are two ways of thinking of this.
First, think of our gospel story, the rich young man. My heart goes out to him because he is trying so hard to do the right thing with his life but he knows, deep within, something is missing. He just can’t quite put his finger on it. There is a real need in his voice: “Good Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life”. Jesus’ first answer throws him into doubt – keep the Ten Commandments. I already do that, he says, and still I feel empty.
Jesus, who understands human psychology better than anyone, knows that, when you are wealthy, it is easy to tick the superficial boxes of piety. God isn’t really interested in whether we’ve done the minimum necessary. What God wants is all of me, for my heart to be given to him, holding nothing back. God measures my spirit of generosity and love and what I value as of first importance. Hence the bible puts the poor person who gives a £5 over the rich person who gives £100, because, relative to their total wealth, the poor person is the more generous.
So Jesus intensifies the demand. OK, you do what is asked of you, but I want all of you, everything, not just 10% but 100%! Liquidate all your wealth, give it away, be my disciple: not because you can do something for God but because you see, for your own self, that everything is God’s in the first place and the only answer to that enormous gift is a grateful heart praising God.
The second way is this. Watching one of the Alpha videos last Tuesday, I was reminded of the story of Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man who, with nine others, was randomly selected for execution in Auschwitz and who cried out, as they led him away: “my wife, my children’! Another prisoner, a stranger, Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest, stepped forward and offered to take his place. Kolbe died, Franciszek survived.
What would you do if your life was given back to you, freely and without expectation? Would it change the way you live and your priorities in life? I hope so – I imagine you would spend the rest of your life wondering what you could do to honour that sacrifice. I imagine you would spend the rest of your life telling the world the story of what a stranger did, which is exactly what Franciszek did.
Compared to what God has done for me, compared to the love shown in Jesus, who died for me, giving back 10% seems way too little. But only the eyes of faith can see this.
And that is why people who tithe believe they are getting a bargain. If your whole life belongs to God in Jesus, then 10% just seems crazy. In fact the CofE has redefined 10% as 5% – because so much of the support of the elderly, children and refugees is provided by the state through our taxes. However, the churches are increasingly picking up the work as the state cuts back. For Christians it should be an honour and a joy to give money for the relief of poverty, for education, for health care and for promoting community and the spiritual life.
So, whether it is 5% or 10%, it is so little, compared to what God has done for us. But as with the first raspberry it is what it represents that counts.
Jesus is God’s first fruit offering to us – the first of the new humanity, the firstborn from the dead. In him all the sweetness and goodness to come is already present. Likewise, when I give my first fruits to God, I become part of God’s first fruits to the world. My life becomes a place of hope and promise that offers to all around me, a taste of the sweetness of the harvest to come.
So, whether I understand it in terms of God’s gift of life in creation, or in terms of Jesus’ giving his life for mine (and actually they are one and the same thing) the question is: how will I respond? What will I give in exchange for my life? Not just the life that passes from birth to death but the mysterious, hidden and eternal life in Christ. Why would I not give everything, all that I am, all that I have, in gratitude for that love?
Jim B October 2018