Every year, farmers have a decision to make: how much of their precious seed will they sow. This is an extremely important decision, one that the farmer will ponder and spend time making. It is a decision that will have implications for the harvest that will follow. It may be wise to store some seed to ensure against future disasters but farmers know that if they sow sparingly, they can expect a sparse harvest. How liberal they are with their seed will be determined by how much they want a bountiful harvest.
The question which our readings pose us this morning is what sort of harvest do we want? Are we happy with a sparse one or do we want a bountiful one? Our answer to this question will help determine how generous we will be with what we sow.
Paul is writing to the Corinthians about a collection that is being made for Christians in Jerusalem. When they first heard about this collection, the Christians in Corinth were enthusiastic about having an opportunity to help other believers but Paul is concerned that their enthusiasm has waned. He fears that when it comes to it, they are going to give grudgingly because they have lost sight of why they wanted to give in the first place. They have forgotten what the money is for. And so Paul reminds them of the truths of the well-known proverb that you reap what you sow and does so using the farming image which would have been so familiar to many of his original audience.
Before we go any further we need to be really clear about what we are not doing when we give to the church or when we donate our money, things or talents to good causes. We are not buying favours with God. We are not buying our way into heaven. However much we gave, we would not be able to do it. Salvation cannot be bought. Eternal life is not for sale. We cannot earn our place in heaven by what we do or what we give. Forgiveness is a free gift. We can only be children of God because of what Jesus did. The price has been paid by him on the cross and he paid it in full. All we need to do is to accept the gift Jesus offers and turn to him.
What we are doing when we give to the church, when we use our money, things or talents is responding to what God has done for us. We are responding to the overwhelming generosity of God. In his generosity, God has given us the privilege of being his workers here on earth. We are his hands and feet. We are invited to are help others to draw near to God and come to know Jesus. So when we give we are playing our part in his mission. We are doing our bit as labourers for the harvest. The harvest that we are working for is people coming to know Jesus and to love him. The harvest we are working for is people having their lives transformed by Christ. So the question we are asked is do we want a bountiful harvest? Do we want lots of people to have the hope and joy and peace that comes with knowing Jesus? Or are we happy with just a few. Are we content with just sowing a little so that a few people come to know Jesus. Or are we going to sow bountifully so that we might reap a bountiful harvest.
Paul reminds us that it is God that gives us both the seed and the bread. He gives us the bread to provide for our daily needs. He gives us the seed to invest in future harvests. When we choose to give generously, we are not only acknowledging that ‘all things come from you and of your own do we give you’ but we are also demonstrating in practical ways that we trust God. Often the biggest obstacle to our giving generously is our worry that we then won’t have enough. We decide not to risk what we have but the farmer knows that if they refuse to risk their seeds, there will be no harvest next year. My experience is that God is faithful. If we give generously, he will provide all we need. Note, he will not necessarily provide all we want, but he will provide us with all we need so that we have enough of everything.
When Paul writes to the Corinthians that God loves a cheerful giver he is not only reminding them and us that we need to give willingly, but he is also reminding us of the joy in giving. There is joy in responding faithfully to what God has done for us. There is joy in showing that our faith means something and we trust God in deed as well as in words. There is joy in seeing the needs of others met through our generosity. There is joy in hearing them thank God for what he has done for them.
I remember many years ago when my finances were incredibly tight that my car broke down unexpectedly. I had no idea how I was going to find the money to pay for the essential repairs. I cried out to God and when I got home that evening, I found an envelope with money in it had been posted through my letterbox. When I spoke to the garage the next morning, it turned out that the sum in the envelope was exactly what it would cost for my car to be repaired. I had not told anyone about the predicament I was in but someone had responded generously to God’s promptings. I never did find out who it was but I was full of thanks to God for answering my prayer and for the person who was God’s means of meeting my need. One of the ways in which ‘we will be enriched in every way for your great generosity’ is through the ‘thanksgiving to God’ which will be produced through our actions. The thanksgiving to God which comes in response to our generosity is one of the ways in which our giving brings glory to God.
We all face a choice: do we hold tight to what we have and use it for our own benefit or do we recognise that God has given us all we have and invest it in his kingdom. The Rich Man and Lazarus faced this choice. The rich man clearly decided that all he had was for his enjoyment. He wore fine clothes. He feasted every day. He ignored the poor man at his gate. He chose to neither love God nor his neighbour. He did not acknowledge that all that he had came from God. He did not acknowledge the responsibilities that came with his good fortune. He did not choose to sow bountifully.
The rich man had the opportunity of being the means of providing all that Lazarus needed. In his generosity, God has given us the privilege of being the means by which he meets the needs of many other people. Each time we give to the foodbank or cook a meal for the Night Shelter, we are being the means by which God meets the needs of those who depend on these charities to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Likewise, each time we give to the church, we are being the means by which God meets the needs of those in our community.
We are very fortunate that few people in our community have pressing material needs. This is not true of many communities in Hampshire and further afield. However, the good folk of the Itchen Valley do have a pressing need to know God. Whether they recognise it yet or not, they have a deep spiritual hunger which God alone can satisfy. As St Augustine famously said: ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.’ We all have a deep need to know God and become more like him. We may try to fill that God-shaped hole with people and work and things but only Jesus can satisfy that deep hunger within. That is the harvest we are called to work for. That is the harvest in which we are called to invest.
In our leaflet on giving, we say that ‘our aim in the Itchen Valley is to be a welcoming church at the heart of our community. We want to make Christ known and build up our community through mission and discipleship. This is the sort of community that brings glory to God.’ We then list some of the things we spend money on to achieve this harvest:
- Our Church buildings
- Little Rainbows and UTX for our children and young people
- pastoral eg Free to Be
- parish share through which we contribute to the diocese and national church
If we are to see a rich harvest, for example in many of our children and young people coming to know Christ and growing as disciples, we need to invest in them. We need to invest our time and we need to invest our money. Many of you tell me how much you love seeing our children and young people growing as Christians. It is a wonderful thing and certainly brings joy to my heart. This is a precious harvest but there is a cost. It costs money to buy resources for The Ark; it costs money to run UTX. Whilst we have a duty to be responsible and to keep costs as low as possible, it is not possible to do these or many of our other ministries without money. That is what your giving goes to. When you give to the church, you are not just giving to bricks and mortar though of course we need to conserve and heat our buildings, you are giving to the ministry of the church. When you are giving to the church you are not just sending money to a faceless diocese but paying for the wise professionals who are there to support us like Andy Saunders, the diocesan Children and Family’s adviser who came and ran some training for us yesterday without charging us a fee. When you are giving to the church, you are enabling the work of God’s church here in the Itchen Valley. If we wish to reap bountifully, we need to sow bountifully too.
Just as the farmer makes a deliberate choice about how much seed to sow, we need to make a prayerful decision about how much money we give to the church. We are called to be wise stewards of what God has entrusted to us. We should prayerfully consider what we are being called to give and make a proper decision which we then regularly review. The farmer does not just decide how much seed to sow one year and sow the same quantity for the next 10 years or more. Each year they ponder and each year they make a decision and act accordingly. They then sow wisely, to make the best use of their seed. In this parish we recommend that the best way of giving to the ministry of the Itchen Valley is through the Parish Giving Scheme. There are packs for this at the back of each of the churches or you can contact the Parish Hub who will be happy to give you one. Very few of us have transferred our giving to the scheme so far and we would like to encourage you to do so. It is a much more efficient way of running our regular giving and not only is it free to us, but it actually saves us money as we do not need to pay someone to recover our gift aid.
So today I ask you, what sort of harvest do you want? If you want to see a bountiful harvest, we need to give generously to the church. We can do so confident in the knowledge that we cannot out give God. We can do so confident in the knowledge that God will provide us with every blessing in abundance (9.8). We can do so confident in the knowledge that we and others will be blessed by our generosity for we are promised that we ‘will be enriched in every way for our great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us’ (9.11).
‘The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully’ (9.6) Amen.
Revd Rebecca Fardell
If you would like to speak to someone about the Parish Giving Scheme or any other aspect of giving 6o the Parish of the Itchen Valley, please contact one of the following people who would be delighted to help you:
David Anderson (Treasurer) 07748 776433 firstname.lastname@example.org
Madeline Quest-Ritson (Bookkeeper) email@example.com