What is our response to a generous God?
”Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”Luke 15:11- 32
- As we look at this parable this Sunday I am also going to be talking a bit about stewardship [how we use the resources that God has given us] and update you on some financial information in the life of St. John’s.
- One of the first things that this story reminds us, particularly as we look at stewardship, is what a generous, loving and forgiving God we have but how we can be blind to His generosity. The first son fails to recognise the generosity of the father and instead wastes the money. But the older son also fails to recognise that he shares all that remains. Both sons are blind to the generosity of the father.
- In our culture, it is easy for us to lose sight of God’s generosity to us and see instead that all we have is ours by right I think this story is a wonderful reminder of how gracious and generous our God is.
- The two brothers each end up in fields miles apart but both are places of enslavement. Have you ever wondered why the younger son stays so long in the foreign land, what is it that keeps him there? I guess we can conclude that he has done some serious soul-searching and learnt some valuable lessons, it is his shame, self-loathing and guilt that keep him there. The question of what keeps him in a field of pigs longing to eat their food is a question for us as well when we fail to ask God for forgiveness. What keeps us in our own ‘field’ our own place where can’t move on and make our way home to God – some shame/guilt/self-loathing? God is waiting for us to come home.
- The older brother is out working in the field when the younger brother returns home and it is in this field that he has his own decision to make when he discovers that his brother has returned home. Will he, like his father welcome him home and extend the hand of forgiveness or will he shun his brother? The irony here in the story lies in the fact that the younger sons request is to return home as a servant/slave but is accepted as a son while the older brother has always been in the position as a son but portrays himself as a slave.
- One of the intriguing questions about this story is which son is the lost son. It seems obvious that it is the younger one as he is the one who goes against the rules, but he is also the one who returns home. The older brother is no less lost than the younger – he just maybe hasn’t realised it.
- Whatever our response to the generosity of God is – whether we have forgotten it or never realised it was there, one thing we can be sure of is that God never changes and He is the same forgiving, gracious and generous Father that He always is and all we need to do is to return to Him. And when we realise that all we have comes from God, that what we have is never really ours in the first place, it is easier to hold it lightly to it and reflect the generosity of God.
- As a PCC and a church, my hope is that we can do this collectively – acknowledge that all we have comes from God, be willing to use what He has given us in service of His Kingdom and trust that He will provide for our needs.
- Our biggest outgoing as a church is our parish share, a large proportion of which supports ministry here in our parish – it provides for the stipend that I receive [a cost shared with St. Thomas’ church where I also work part-time.] It also contributes to the cost of housing for serving and retired clergy; university chaplains; curates across the diocese; the costs of training for ministry– which we are benefitting from in Di and Olivia; and it subsidises parishes in poorer areas who struggle to pay share.
- Alongside parish share, the PCC and I agreed to an ambitious, or what I would call faith-building, budget in order that we could do some urgent work on the building – electrical survey, fixing the lights, getting the organ working, fixing the windows – all of which has cost a little over £11000.
- Knowing that we were setting an ambitious budget, we worked hard on some fundraising activities – Open gardens, teas at the children’s treat, sponsored events, coffee mornings, gifts from birthday parties foregone for donations. All of these, as well as generating a significant amount of money have also been great ways for us to get involved in our community and this remains a priority alongside the needs of our building. There has also been hard work put into raising funds from other sources and so Peter Harrison, our treasurer, submitted a VAT reclaim for the work on the windows and a grant application to the All Churches Trust, both of which were successful and helped towards to the costs outlined above and David Ford works hard to reclaim our gift aid, which this year was over £5500.
- Of course, the best way to give is too commit to give regularly either by envelope or, as many do, by direct debit – giving in a planned way enables the PCC to budget more accurately and to identify any shortfalls and be able to plan to meet them. This year, I response to the stewardship campaign at the end of last year, our regular giving increased by about 25%.
- My invitation to each of us this morning is simply to review your giving to Church – if you are a taxpayer, please complete a gift aid form [worth over £5000 a year] and put your name to any donations.
- We have been reminded that we have a generous God who is always willing to forgive and pour out His generosity on His children, as we strive to grow more like Him, may He help us to hold all that He gives us lightly and increasingly learn to trust Him with all our lives.
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