What’s God worth?
I’m a Catholic priest from Wales – so like many of you, I’m a Celt from a part of the UK which isn’t England. Both Wales and Scotland have Parliaments with the power to make their own spending decisions, and I heard on the news just a week ago that the health service here in Scotland made a deal with a medicine company… a deal to make available a treatment for Cystic Fibrosis that would normally cost £100,000. That’s good news for the families waiting and hoping that drug would become available.
These are not easy decisions. When the money is limited, a choice to give expensive treatment is a choice not to pay for something else, like employing a couple of people in good work. I’m glad I’m not one of those politicians who have to make difficult decisions about how to use a limited amount of money – asking how much they will or won’t spend to save a human life.
But each of us faces a similar decision every time we come to worship. We’re not asked what another human being is worth to the State. But every time the collection is taken, we are asked to choose what God is worth to us.
You might have heard the story about the aeroplane where all four engines failed, and it was losing height quickly. A Catholic priest was on board, and the stewardess said, “We’re in big trouble – can you do something religious?” So the priest said: “Of course! Please find some baskets – we’re going to take a collection!”
Giving something in the basket is one of the things we’re used to doing when we come to Mass. But let’s stop for a moment and ask, what are we doing, and why?
What we give is a sign of what we believe God is worth. Indeed, our word ‘worship’ comes from the same root as ‘worthy’, and means declaring God to be ‘of worth’. Everything we do when we gather for Holy Mass speaks of our attitude to God. How do we balance the need to welcome friends and strangers with keeping an atmosphere of prayer? Do we take a few moments to think about the things we need to ask God for, or give thanks? And when it comes to the time for the offering, are we digging in our pockets for small change, or are we weighing up what God is worth and giving appropriately?
Jesus knew that the way we treat money shapes our character. Either we possess material things, or they will possess us. If the very thought of giving away money causes you to panic, remember that your Father in Heaven owns all the money in the world. Following Jesus is not a recipe to get rich quick – but the Bible does include a promise that God will not be outdone in generosity, I have found God’s promise to be true – every time in my life when I’ve felt a nudge to give generously, what I have given away more than comes back within a week or two. And there was once a time when I strongly felt God was asking me to donate £500 from my parish funds to help film a Catholic outreach video. To my surprise, the Parish Council agreed we should do this, even though our funds were very limited – and within a fortnight we’d received a totally unexpected grant for £3,000 we hadn’t even applied for! God is faithful! If we prayerfully choose what to give to God, God will honour our decisions!
I’d like to share with you today the 5p plan. The first is prayer – any choice to honour God is something we must pray about. But there are four more ‘p’s and one of them could be the challenge God is offering you today.
First, plan. If you don’t already plan how you are going to give, then consider making a plan. The needs of the poor, and of the church, are too important to be left to an absent-minded search for loose change in your pocket. This isn’t only what you give to your parish – it’s the other charities, whether Catholic or not, that you feel called to support.
Second, prioritise. If you do plan what to give, but God’s work comes at the bottom of the list after all the other bills, ask yourself whether God deserves more than that. This is the scary bit! There are all kinds of logical reasons why we should pay the mortgage, gas bill and credit card bill before we give a penny to the church. But God is King of the Universe, and his resources are infinite. In the Bible – you can look it up in Malachi chapter 3 – God says ‘Test me out on this!’ Give to God’s work as a priority and you will discover that you will not lose out in your personal finances. Humanly speaking , it shouldn’t work – but it does!
Third, percentage. Maybe you already choose to give to charities and to church because it is important to you, as a follower of Jesus, to do this, but you give a fixed amount. But rather than giving £5 a week or £10 a month to a good cause, you could take on the challenge of working out a percentage of the amount. In the days before Jesus, God’s Jewish people practiced tithing – 10% of what they grew was given to God. As Catholics, we’re not obliged to give 10% but I know some who do. It honours the way God blesses us, if we give a percentage of what we have received. And it gives ourselves permission to lower the amount we give if we have a low-income period.
Finally, progression! If you do already give a percentage, is God inviting you to raise it? As our relationship with God deepens, as we discover how to listen to God’s nudges and experience the blessings which come our way when we give generously, God might invite us to take the next step of faith. Maybe even as high as ten percent!
Giving money is only one aspect of our relationship with God, though a key one for knowing our own heart. I’m preaching this message to you who already know God is worthy of your worship and of your wallet. In November I’ll be back with a larger team from Sion Community to spend a whole week with you – a week for deepening your relationship with God, and for inviting other members of the local community to come and start or grow a relationship with God, too. I hope you’ll decide that that’s worthy of your time, and you’ve marked your calendars to keep free 16-24 November.
On your parish website, you declare that in this church you will receive a relevant message ‘that isn’t about rules but is about you and God’. So what I’ve shared with you today is absolutely about you and God. What’s God worth to you? The way you spend your money, on the work of the Church and on other charities, is a strong sign of who God is in your life. If you want a better relationship with God, take one step of faith this week. Plan to give. Prioritise your giving. Give a percentage. Progress that percentage. One of those steps will be a challenge that you can meet, with God’s help!
Acknowledgements: the four point plan for growing in giving is from Rebuilt by Corcoran and White.