Third Sunday before Lent - Pledge Sunday
Introduction and Call to Worship
In what or whom do you trust? Come and worship and prepare to be surprised by God, the maker of heaven and earth.
First Reading Jeremiah 17:5-10
God says just trust me and you will find that you and your community will flourish.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Paul is passionate in his trust that God raised Christ from the dead because without that trust his whole understanding of what God is doing collapses.
Gospel Luke 6:17-26
Jesus turns everyone’s expectations upside down about where blessing is to be found in life.
HOMILY “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
Fr Damian: Today is Pledge Sunday, with the theme of love and blessing, as we give thanks to God for the many blessings we have already received and pledge ourselves anew to support the life, work, fellowship and growth of our church family and our mission to Thorpe. As Christians with a Gospel to proclaim and God’s love to share, we should always begin by giving thanks to God for the blessings we have received and seeking to find ways to bless others, recognising that everything we have comes from God in the first place: “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14)
The Gospel we have just heard tells us all we need to know about God’s desire to bless. Jesus manages to turn upside-down the thinking of many, and us today, for the people who will find blessing are not the ones already blessed! In other words, those who are rich, who have plenty to eat, who are satisfied with their lot; those with high status and a good reputation – many of us are already blessed. So, we, the people of the Church today, are expected by Jesus to support others. The beatitudes shock us: God’s blessing is for others because most of us are already blessed! Our Lord teaches his audience, and by extension us today, that the ones who are poor, sick, hungry, sad, hated, excluded, marginalised, rejected or who have a bad reputation are the very people that he desires to reach and that his Kingdom is being opened to. The blessing comes, not because they are worthy or righteous, holy or self-justified but because God chooses to bless the unblessed, the unloved and the unlovely. We are expected to open the Kingdom, the Church, to all and offer a welcome second to none! Today we are asked to do just that, to pledge more of our time, our energy in worship and prayer, and our money in the support of our Church and by extension the support of others.
Andrew: And this is a tough ask. This congregation already gives so much in time, talent and money. And yet this very building, the fact that we are all here today, is testament to previous congregations setting and meeting the challenges of their own times. As Chair of the Stewardship Committee I take great comfort from that word: “Stewardship”. We, all of us, are stewards of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth, stewards of this active and welcoming congregation, stewards of this historic building. It has been a real blessing to see more people at regular worship so far this year. Our worship tradition, strong leadership team, spiritual growth and a living, active Christian community attract people to St Mary’s.
There is a lot for us to be proud of and grateful for. We have a fundraising committee whose constant ingenuity not only brings in funds but brings us all together socially. We have pioneered community initiatives like Thorpe Together, Coffee Stop – our community café, Noah’s Ark, Faith & Fun, charity lunches and through the congregation we reach deeply into the village and those that live here. And I hope you’ll agree that we reap the benefits of not only having a full-time priest in Fr Damian but a dedicated curate in Fr Gerard. With so many churches having to share or have part-time clergy, we are truly blessed. Over the last year I’ve learnt more about parish and diocesan finances than I ever wanted to know. We’re on the cusp of a major change and these blessings we’ve come to accept are ones that we now must steward differently.
For many years the Diocese of Guildford financially subsidised St Mary’s with a reduced Parish Share request but that has now stopped. The Parish Share pays for ministry costs (about 55k) and then shared costs are added including support for our Church Schools, vocations, outreach and central administration as well as money for the national Church. The Diocese initially calculated our share at £82k. Thanks to Fr Damian’s dogged negotiations, supported by our PCC, a staggered and lower increase has been agreed. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Fr Damian isn’t Brexit Secretary! Over the next four years we’re going to see our Parish Share, the money we send to the Diocese, increase by 40% from £50k to £70k.
Our giving to meet this challenge must also increase. Therefore, as individuals and families at St Mary’s, we need to be both realistic and generous in our financial giving. This church costs nearly three thousand pounds a week to operate. Apart from the Parish Share, other costs have increased also, like utility bills, insurance, candles and much more. We can’t realistically fundraise this increase in costs, so we need to increase our giving. It would take an additional £5 per week donation from each member of the congregation to meet these higher costs and retain a full-time priest.
About 40 members of the congregation donate through regular Standing Orders which makes such a different because it helps the PCC to budget and spread costs. If you don’t already do so, please consider pledging a regular set amount, per month or per week, rather than just putting what is left over into a gift-aid envelope. This is not just a financial commitment to St Mary’s that really does count but a spiritual discipline for your faith relationship. In return our PCC will work hard to ensure that every penny counts and is valued. A very sincere thank you to those who have already given generously and regularly and are planning to increase that support.
Fr Damian: As the words of the great prophet Jeremiah remind us: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.” (Jeremiah 17: 7, 8) Our church is sending roots out into this community of Thorpe and we need to ensure we are properly resourced for that work of building God’s kingdom in this place, bringing blessing to many beyond the walls of this building. To do this we need to trust in God, not simply in ourselves, and we must faithfully pray about our financial challenges as we seek to grow St Mary’s congregations further and cover all our costs.
In so doing we should be mindful of the beatitudes, that those who have plenty should learn that all things are God’s and are to be shared. Some of us may find Jesus’ teaching hard to accept, after all we live with the human notion of “getting what we deserve”, but with God none of us gets what we think we deserve, and thank goodness for that! Friends in faith, everything we have in Jesus Christ our Lord is both gift and blessing. As St Paul teaches the Christians in Ephesus: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3: 20-21) All things come from God and we should offer generously back to God of his bounty as we seek to reach out in love to all. Amen.
Jesus speaks about God as blessing people who seem to have so little in their lives, because God is known and to be trusted as the one who blesses. We are blessed with so much at St Mary’s Church.
Pledging is not just about money but spiritual discipline.
Regular planned giving helps St Mary’s PCC & leadership budget and plan.
People who know God need to be people who can give and receive within the Church, the local community of Thorpe and the wider world, to experience and demonstrate God’s love and blessing.
Standing orders help our PCC budget our expenditure and plan. Could you commit to regular planned giving in this way?