Evensong 18th August 2019
Generosity and Service
2 Corinthians 8. 1 - 9
‘We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia’ (2 Cor 8.1).
In the short time I’ve been with you I have realized that Hampstead Parish Church is a generous church. You pay more than the parish share. There are rotas of those who clean, serve at the altar, read lessons.
On my first day at a junior church meeting I learnt that there was an abundance of volunteers to teach the children in the Sunday school, and a highly professional children's worker on the paid staff of the church.
The week before last I had the privilege of being part of Holiday in Hampstead – a week of talks on diverse topics, conversation, coffee, lunch and tea for older members of our community – only possible with the dedication of volunteers from among our congregation.
The professional music and professionally led junior choir - intrinsic to the worship of this place, helped greatly by a generous bequest from within the congregation.
Not only all that but Hampstead Parish Church supports the winter night shelter with homeless people having a clean, safe place to sleep in our crypt buildings, and the parish supports a Syrian refugee family.
Of course it helps if you have money when it comes to financial giving. But there are plenty of wealthy people who do not give much away.
There are lots of rival pulls on peoples’ time, not least family and work. In fact pressure on time and how one spends that left over when one is not working can be very great.
Is Hampstead Parish Church simply made up of especially virtuous people?
Can we rest easy and congratulate ourselves at Hampstead Parish Church?
Well, Let’s take a look at 2 Corinthians 8 where Paul is encouraging the Corinthian church to contribute to a fund for the poor church in Jerusalem.
Paul holds up the Macedonian churches as examples of generous giving.
Yet nowhere does Paul refer to money. It’s not a translation issue – it’s not there in the text anywhere. And yet there is otherwise a fair bit in the Bible about money.
Paul’s starting point right there in verse 1 is grace.
‘We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia’
This passage is not principally about financial giving at all but about grace. It is as a response to receiving God’s grace that the Macedonians complete that grace and gave to the fund.
We are talking of the unmerited, free enabling power of God, prompting us and enabling us to act in accordance with God’s own will. It might be seen as a gentle nudge from God.
Paul identifies their generosity as the work of God’s grace because of the unlikely and unpromising circumstances of the Macedonians.
Paul talks of their ‘affliction’ and ‘extreme poverty’, and yet they have ‘abundant joy’ and ‘a wealth of generosity’.
Not only that but it is the Macedonians who beg Paul to accept their help.
Paul was using the Macedonian example to inspire the Corinthians who it seems were comparatively well off compared to the Macedonians.
What might the example of the Macedonians say to us, here in Hampstead?
Many of us are well off compared to many. Some of our number are retired and energetic and have more time now for volunteering. Easy, surely.
We actually live in the world when caring for refugees and homeless people, serving the elderly and the very young, are not presumed.
The news last week was that drug related deaths are at an all time high. This comes on the back of years of austerity, cuts to local authority budgets and with it cuts in drug and rehabilitation services.
Homelessness has increased 165% since 2012 according to government figures.
There will be people in the darker reaches of social media saying it is a very good thing that that more homeless people and drug addicts are dying, that foreigners should be refused NHS treatment if they cannot pay, that it is better to turn away migrant boats even if it means they will sink, because otherwise you will encourage more to come.
We cannot simply presume that human beings are good and caring or that people vote for policies that would sacrifice their own wealth and privileges for the sake of the poor. Sure, we might do pretty well in looking after our own family. But people in Macedonia helping people in Jerusalem in the First Century? Gentiles helping Jews in the First Century Church? The lawyer’s question ‘who is my neighbour?’ keeps on being asked.
But the good news is that even in the most unpromising of circumstances we can be alert to God’s grace – prompting us to align our lives and our actions with those God desires for us.
So we can, little by little, do the apparently impossible, by God’s grace.
And the visible Church of God here at Hampstead can be a beacon for that.
How was it possible for the Macedonians to give generously amidst their own difficulties? I think the key is that before they could give financially to the relief effort ‘they gave themselves first to the Lord’.
And I think this is the point at which we can really give of our money and our time, when we realize that what I have and in goods, money, time and talents I have, all belong to God. It is easy to be resentful if we are asked to part with ‘my time’ with ‘my money’. That makes it hard to be generous.
To give out of our wealth is easy. To give out of our wealth when we get praise and recognition is even easier. To give joyfully needs the grace of God.
And a church, through bad times as well as good to keep on giving time and money for the mission of the church and for the help of those in need, needs the grace of God.
Yes the grace of God is at work here Hampstead Parish Church. Oh most definitely. So let’s not ignore it.
If we feel the nudge of God, if we are granted grace, let’s complete the grace. God gives us grace but we can easily waste it and not respond.
You might have felt a prompting to increase your giving to enable the church to continue and develop the many good works it is already doing.
It might be realising the need of the church in a poorer part of the world, and increase your giving to our mission agencies such as USPG.
Or you may be promoted to give your time in voluntary work.
As we pray this week’s collect, let us each set our hearts on knowing God’s grace, the gifts he has given each one us and how we might use them:
GRANT to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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