A local charity had never received a donation from the town’s banker, so the director made a phone call.
“Our records show you make half a million pounds a year, yet you haven’t given a penny to charity,” the director began. “Wouldn’t you like to help the community?”
The banker replied, “Did your research show that my mother is in a nursing home, with extremely expensive bills?”
“Um, no,” mumbled the director.
“Or that my brother is blind and unemployed? Or that my sister’s husband died, leaving her broke with four kids?”
“I … I … I had no idea,” stammers the director embarrassed beyond words.
“So,” said the banker, “if I don’t give them any money, why would I give any to you?”
Money is the great taboo, especially in this country. I borrowed that joke from America – it would never happen in this country. We are so private about our income, that i suspect even our spouses often don’t know what we make.
Our gospel reading today is about money, and specifically about some very dishonest use of money. In fact, the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 16 is such a shocking story that Luke is the only gospel writer to record it. Recall the details with me:
An accountant has been dishonest, and his boss is onto him and about to give him the sack. So he calls up all his boss’s debtors, and slices off about half of their debt, just like that. He does it, not to get them to pay up, not even to get them to think well of his boss. He does it just to buy favour with them, so that when he is unemployed, they will owe him a favour. It’s a story of cheating; it’s a story of buying friends with somebody else’s money; there is nothing in the accountant’s behaviour that seems worthy of praise. Yet at the end, Jesus says: you can learn something from this cheat. But what?
What are you meant to learn?
I think the message is quite clear: you don’t own what you think you own, so use money to win friends and influence people. Your money isn’t your money.
Religious people, good people, tend to be careful people. We have this idea that God has given us money, skills, qualities and time and we should use those things conscientiously for his glory. Most of us, manage our money well. We try to give some to church and some to other charities. We take modest holidays. We buy fairly basic clothes and not flashy cars. Our lives would probably be best described as sober, measured and sensible. And underlying it all is this idea that we have earned our money, we owe some to God and good causes, but most of it we intend to use ourselves or pass onto our kids.
But Jesus has a radically different perspective, and that’s why he tells this shocking story and commends the swindler at the centre. Jesus’ perspective seems to be: you don’t own money; it’s not yours; in fact, if you think you own it, it probably owns you; you didn’t earn it, it is just lent to you to manage for a few years; you may have a lot or a little, but you brought none of it into the world and you’ll take none out, so you should use whatever comes into your hands on to make friends, to advance the Kingdom of God and change lives.
If you doubt that this was Jesus’ perspective then remember these things: he spends the first few years of his life as a refugee; he and his disciples have a common pot – they share all their money; when Peter needs to pay a tax, Jesus sends him to pull a fish out of the sea with a coin in its mouth; when 5000 people need feeding, he just sets out to do it with almost nothing in his hands; when a woman pours her whole life’s savings over his head in costly oil, he simply accepts it as a gift and praises her actions; when he sees rich people putting lots in the collection box, he says that a poor woman’s two pence is worth more than all their bags of money; when he dies, he is naked and penniless, but by his poverty, we have all become rich – loved, forgiven and free. Jesus lives quite independent of money or status. He seems quite content when he is living in the desert on nothing, or when thousands of pounds are being lavished upon him.
He simply cares less about money. He cares instead about God – the money changers get tipped out of the temple – and he cares about people. People always get the best of Jesus: the best of his time, the best of his teaching, the best of his energy. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.
So this parable challenges us pretty deeply: do you think of your money as owned or lent? Do you use every penny for God or just a small amount? Is your heart in heaven or in the bank?
I know that that sounds all very extreme, and you might even be thinking: I don’t like the sound of all this! Is he going to ask for all my money next?
So let’s be clear: I don’t want your money. The church doesn’t want your money. This is not a give us your money sermon. Nowhere does Jesus say “Give your money to the church or temple”. Yes, the bible talks about giving money to the poor, and tithing to God.
The Jewish law in the Old testament required most Jews to give quite a lot to the temple in money or gifts of animals. The 11 tribes were meant to support the whole of the tribe of Levi from their offerings. Observant Jews probably gave between 10 and 30% of their income to synagogue or temple or relief of the poor.
But Jesus and the other New testament writers never tell people to give 5% or 10% or 25% to God or the church. Instead they tell people to give 100% to God, to give all they are, all they possess, their whole life to God. Or to give it Jesus’ perspective: to recognise that all you have and are is on loan from God.
My own perspective is that you should give as little to church as you can and as much to people in need as you can. That’s why I say: I don’t want your money. The church doesn’t want your money. God doesn’t need your money – he owns everything. What he wants is for you to use the money he has loaned you to make the biggest difference for good: to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the refugee, to get those who have come out of prison back on their feet. This is what money is for. Your question shouldn’t be: how much money shall I give away, but how much should I keep for myself?
And the church should have the same attitude: how much do we need for ourself? Well that depends.
As a church we decide how much we need to keep, and we should delight to give the rest away. You have decided to have a vicar, like me. You don’t have to have a vicar – you could separate from the Church of England, meet in the Memorial Hall and not have a vicar. That would save you about £43,000 a year.
As I say, you could move out of this church, and hire a hall. That would save you shed loads: building maintenance, insurance, heat and light. If you only use this building for an hour a week, it is a terrible waste of money. God is not bothered about what building you use to meet in: he can be worshipped at home or in the open air. The church is you – the people of God, not a building.
But you have chosen to employ me, and to own this building, and St Luke’s and St Peter’s and the hall next door. Why? Maybe you’ve never thought about it. Maybe you love this building, and you think that it is better to have the devil you know, than the one you don’t. and so before you know it we have overheads that amount to about £80,000 a year. And that is spread between about 90 people who worship here at least once a month. We have an income from letting out the hall of about 9,000, and income from weddings and funerals of about 16, 000, some bank interest, but it still leaves about £50,000 that needs to come from people’s giving.
Of that £50,000 we give away a certain amount. We give £1,000 to support David and Amy, who are our CMS Partners. We give about £2,500 to other charities in one way or another. So our overheads just to do church the way we do are £46,500. Split between about 90 people who worship here or at St Luke’s at least once a month that’s just over £500 per head per year, about £10 a week each.
We cover most of that cost by people’s regular giving. But there are a couple of extra costs coming up that I’d like you to consider giving some money towards next Sunday, when we have our gift day for harvest: we’ve decided to buy some chairs so that we can sit in more comfort and be more flexible – we don’t need those chairs – you could sit on the floor or stick with the pews, but we believe chairs will help those who move the pews for Messy Church and we’d like to do Cafe Church too soon; we’d also like to put some money into employing an administrator across the 3 parishes, which we have no budget for; and if neither of those appeal we’d invite you to give to David and Amy.
So this is a church gift day alongside our Harvest offering next Sunday. But please hear me: we don’t want your money. You must decide where God wants you to use the money that he has loaned you. We want to keep our church costs as low as possible, so that you can give as much away as possible.
If you feel that you want to contribute regularly to our church overheads, then sign up for the Parish Giving Scheme. If you want to gift aid your gift, please put it in an envelope. If you want to give to another charity, but make your gift part of your harvest offering next week, why not write that on a piece of paper?
Remember the words of St Paul: Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”[