14th Sunday after Trinity, 17th September 2017
YouTube is a remarkable thing, a constantly growing collection of films on everything from mixing a gin sling to managing your aphids. There are clips of Charlie Chaplin, demented cats, and a whole genre of films in which events in say a zoo or a school sports day take an unexpected turn, usually entitled ‘What happens next’. One I found had been viewed 15 million times.
What happens next in a gospel story? Sometimes we’d love to know, and the gospels are silent. What happens when the wise men go home? TS Eliot wrote a poem about it but Matthew’s gospel is silent. What happens next to the centurion who sees Jesus die? A pious tradition says he becomes a Christian martyr; but the gospels say nothing, just as they say nothing about most of the people Jesus heals. But not today.
Jesus heals ten men who have leprosy. What happens next? Nine go off and disappear but one comes back, joyfully praising God, and thanks Jesus. And Jesus says, ‘Your faith has made you well.’ This is odd. All ten are made well, surely? The leprosy leaves all of them; and, though this man shows his faith by saying thank you, he only says thank you once the leprosy has gone. So how has his faith made him well?
The Greek word Luke uses (sōzo) has a double meaning. It means ‘to bring health’ but also to bring ‘salvation’. So, if this man’s faith has made him well, real well-being is not just - and not always - about being cured; it is also about saying thank you. A healthy life is one lived (as the tagline puts it) with an attitude of gratitude.
In my 22 months here I have found this to be a place of gratitude, as some of you have told me what you have found here: somewhere you feel you belong, a place that fits when others didn’t; an open, generous style of Christianity that came as a breath of fresh air; sublime music that lifts up your heart; people who have become friends. You can add to that count of blessings, with whatever it is that brings you joy here; if that’s what you feel.
True joy leads to thankfulness and genuine thankfulness spills over into generosity. ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have,’ says your neighbour when you give her a bunch of flowers for helping you out. Nonsense, it’s the least you can do. That’s what Paul tells his church in the first reading. God in Christ has brought them joy, so the least they can do is give their money, so that others can know that joy too.
Today at this eucharist (a churchy word that means ‘thank you’) we are thinking aloud with God about what you and I might give back to God in thanks. We don’t just give money here, of course - there’s the time and talent and energy of our astonishing army of volunteers - and we shouldn’t just give to the church, but to the different things that God cares about. Today, however, I’m just going to talk about the church - because, among the many things God cares about, God does care about this and us; and I’m going to talk about money - because that is where our big challenge lies.
We have over 600 volunteers; we have nearly 600 on our congregational roll; on an average Sunday (if there ever is one) about 430 people worship across our four services, of whom I guess about 300 are regulars. The number in our planned giving scheme: 168.
I think we can do better than that. And we need to, because by promising to give a certain amount each week you enable the Cathedral to plan for the future and help us to help others even when you’re not here to put money in the collection plate. ‘Gift Aid’ it, and you help make the Chancellor of the Exchequer truly our Right Honourable Friend, and the biggest donor we have.
Why is all this important? The money we get from our visitors and refectory and shop cover most of our core costs, so that you can come in to a cathedral that’s dry, lit and heated (though not until October), but we think we are called to more than that. We think that God wants us to be more ambitious for the gospel. Our Strategic Plan and conversations about our new Dean all express a desire to be more outward-looking, so we have taken a little leap of faith and committed extra money: more money to improve provision for our choirs and music, but also more money to extend our outreach work, things like our work with schools, with Erlestoke Prison and Dementia Awareness Week. To meet that we need an extra £13,000 from our congregational giving before next April.
Now, if every regular worshipper here today who isn’t in the planned giving scheme pledges just £2 a week (and some of us can afford a lot more than that) and if everyone already in the scheme pledges just £1 extra each week (and some of us can afford a lot more than that) we’ll sail past that total and be on the way to funding other objectives, like engaging in a creative way - through volunteers and paid ministry - with the many young people who are drawn (for various reasons) to the Cathedral Close.
The Planned Giving Scheme helps us take calculated risks for God. This leaflet tells you more. Please read it and consider what response you might make. You may, though, think there are reasons for making no response. Here are some.
- The Church of England has pots of money. I’ve been ordained for thirty-two years, and I’m still looking for those pots. We have huge assets but enormous liabilities.
- I worship here but I also worship somewhere else. Fine, split your giving between here and there. And of course…
- I realise this is all true and important but I just never get round to it. This is an excellent reason, because it is my reason. I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, that, since joining the Cathedral I still have not got round to joining the planned giving scheme. But not today. Today is my day of repentance. Here is my filled-in planned giving form, and my Gift Aid declaration. Please don’t let this be the only one.
Just as important, don’t let this sermon become a guilt trip. ‘God loves a cheerful giver,’ says St Paul. We each need to ask, ‘Who is my money good news for?’ and money grudgingly given is not good news for anyone. So if Salisbury Cathedral has not yet unlocked your joy, hang on to your dosh and pray - ask God to shock you with gladness. But if something about our life here is setting your joy free, if it’s helping you see God, the least you or any of us can do is give of our money, so that others can know this too. If we give generously, the way you want to be generous to someone you’re really grateful to, then there will be enough and to spare. That’s Paul’s message this morning.
It depends, though, on what happens next.