Giving: Ten Pounds or Ten Minutes?
When time is more precious and costly than money
Morning Service, led by our Minister
This sermon is taken from Luke 8, verses 40-56
Holy Habits: Giving. Ten Pounds or Ten Minutes?
You do not get a crisis situation much more desperate than a race to save a child’s life, do you? Suppose you were asked to do something within your power that could save a sick child, would not you be racing off to this urgent need? Of course, you would.
But then you are interrupted. You are held back because someone else needs your attention! Another person is demanding something from you. Would not you be tempted to beg them, “just wait there and I shall get back you as soon as I can?” Or “please go to someone else because I am on an emergency call?” Of course, you would. Anyone would. Except, apparently, Jesus, who had presumably never heard of the triage system……
And in this story, it looks as though Jesus did not really need to stop anyway. The woman was healed, was not she? Simply by touching the hem of his cloak her problem was sorted. She could have gone home, and Jesus could have moved on. Why stop?
The woman’s situation was more complicated than it sounds. Having been in a state of perpetual menstrual bleeding for 12 years, she was not only physically drained. The religious and hygiene laws of her society rendered her ritually unclean, which meant that no-one could touch her or touch anything she had touched. So, for 12 years she had lived in physical isolation. No-one could give her a hug, no-one could hold her hand, no-one could sit down to a meal with her and any kind of sexual activity was out of the question. The psychological effects must have been as devastating as the physical. And now this woman had dared to touch the clothes of a holy man which meant that, strictly speaking she had rendered him unclean. If this woman were to be truly healed, she needed Jesus’ reassurance that it was OK. She needed mental, emotional and spiritual healing. Or the physical healing would have done her no good. That was why Jesus stopped to give her his blessing. But he was still taking a risk with the sick child…..
Years ago, a colleague of mine spoke on this story,pointing out that even as Jesus was being pulled in two directions at once, both desperately urgent, sufficient time and strength were still given. So, may we, he suggested, also trust God to give us time and strength when we are confronted with one too many crisis situations?
I have lost count of the number of times I have proved my colleague right. I have been working flat out to meet a deadline which, if I miss it, will let other people down as well as myself and then a desperate pastoral need has presented itself and I have had to leave the one situation to attend to the other with no time even to pray anything more than “God, my friend had better be right about this;” and he has been. Miraculously the time and strength are given. And I am not the only one. I have also lost count of the number of people who have also told of how they have been given the strength and the guidance to cope with unexpected cries for help arising in their already hectic lives.
This is a very powerful story of Jesus being enabled to give generously to those who desperately needed him because he trusted that he would receive all he needed to do so. And he was to tell his followers, “Freely you have received. Now, freely give.”
But it was the Cub leader in my very first church, thirty- three years ago, who told me that when it came to getting help from the boys’ parents, she found it far easier to get £10 than 10 minutes. People were so busy and their time was in shorter supply than their money. That was thirty-three years ago. Things are much worse now. Life for most people in the UK has steadily become more and more pressurised. Ask any of our uniformed groups, of our church run activities and you will hear the same story-that people simply do not have the time they once had to give.
This is why I wanted-during our exploring of the Holy habit of Giving, to look at the giving of time as well as money. When the Guides were preparing our Harvest Festival Service, they used the phrase “sharing is caring,” wanting to point out that this it did not only apply to money. In giving time to share our stories with one another, we are also giving care. The woman in the story needed those precious moments of Jesus’ time to reassure her as much as she needed his healing power. We have known that a gift of time when you are in a bad place is easily as precious as money. People who listen to you, talk with you, make a space for you to come into, can do you as much good as anti-biotics and tranquillizers. They can even do you as much good as a shopping trip to Bluewater….
We would agree, wouldn’t we, that giving time to the work of God in creating worship, in developing faith, in offering pastoral care, in providing opportunities for personal and community growth through Toddlers, Babies, Friendship Club, Men of Leisure, Scouting and Guiding Groups is easily as important as the money we give to our church. Hopefully you have noticed that now, as our Offering of money is being taken up during a service, there are slides on the screens suggesting ways in which we might give time.
Yet, despite what my colleague said about time and strength being given as we need, it is not always so straightforward. Responding to a short-term, immediate crisis is one thing. Responding to long-term need is another. Our time and strength are not limitless.
Look at the news headlines of tragic mistakes made in hospitals because the staff and the resources are simply overstretched. Look at the stories of vulnerable children being abused by their families because Social Workers, despite being aware of dangerous situations, did not have enough staff to cope with the workload. Men and women in every profession, including Christian ministry, are warned of the dangers of “burnout,” where you are pushed or push yourself too hard and end up unable to do your job at all.
The Gospel story made it clear that even Jesus knew what it was to feel drained of strength. He knew that some of his healing power had gone from him when that woman touched him. He was not firing on all cylinders twenty-four hours per day.
And Moses, as we heard earlier, despite being totally committed to the work to which God had called him, was clearly suffering from burnout. He simply could not keep up with the needs and the demands of his people.
So when it comes to giving our time, can God supply us with the strength we need, not only for immediate crises but through years and years of hectic, pressurised living?
The Bible makes it clear that life is a gift of God to us; that time is a gift of God to us; that our abilities are gifts of God to us. It also makes it clear that at the end of the day we are accountable to God for the way we have used his gifts. You may feel that the lurid descriptions of the Last Judgement and the hurling of wrongdoers into burning pits are somewhat overdrawn and unhelpful but even leaving these aside, if there is a God who is worthy to be called God then this God must surely be the giver of life. And if this God is as passionately involved with the human race as the Bible says He is, then what he wants for us must be the very best for us. So what God will want to know is whether the way we have used our time and strength is the way that has made us happier and better people and the world a happier and better place.
Remember Jesus’ story about the talents? The three servants, who were each trusted with different amounts of money to use whilst their Master was away? (Bit like a Biblical version of The Apprentice). Each servant started from a different place but was expected to find a personal vision of what they were to do with what they had been given. The man who was given the smallest amount of money hid it in the ground and made no attempt to use it because he had no faith in his master’s good judgement and no faith in himself. And yes, like Alan Sugar, the Master said, in effect, “You’re fired!” But it is a sad story rather than a threatening one.
Jesus did appear to have a limitless supply of power and patience but if you look at the way he lived his life from day to day, he was not involved 24/7 in sorting out other people’s physical, mental and spiritual needs. He would regularly take himself off to a quiet place for prayer and silence. He would spend time relaxing over a meal with his friends. I could not believe what I was hearing last May at the URC Minister’s Conference when Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, published poet, acclaimed academic, author of innumerable books, when speaking of the pressures of Christian ministry, advised us to “take some time simply to sit on the sofa watching a box set on the television.” I cannot imagine how Rowan Williams even finds time to eat and sleep let alone watch television, but this was what he said, and he is not the kind of man who will expect you to do as he says rather than as he does.
Is this then just about “me time” and how to gain more of it? No, there is a lot more to time that. Simply thinking “Me time,” can make us feel sorry for ourselves because our lives are so hectic and resentful of all these people who keep demanding something from us which is why we have to grab back “me time.” Personally, I do not find either self-pity or resentment constructive emotions.
What we learn from Jesus is what a life totally committed to God looks like. And it does not mean spending all your time in church, nor does it mean spending all your time looking after other people. What it means is dedicating your diary to God; asking for guidance in your long-term planning and your over-all priorities; looking to God to show you (a) why you are here and (b) how you can so order your life that you fulfil the reason for your existence. Jesus was here to reconcile people to God, put them in touch with God and his time for prayer and stillness; his time spent relaxing with friends; his time spent learning carpentry from his father, talking about sheep with local shepherds, about the market with travelling merchants were all activities that combined to make his ministry more effective and so his life more fulfilled.
If we are to be given the time and power we need to live out our lives to the full, then we need to start with the conviction that our life, our time and our strength are gifts of God and that it is to God we must look, hour by hour, day by day, to set our priorities. We need to trust that, if we are where God intends us to be, we shall be given strength, time and direction as we need it. For faith in God gives us faith in ourselves. Faith in God gives us faith in life. Jesus told us to look first for the kingdom of God-the world as God wants it to be; and for God’s righteousness-ourselves as God wants us to be; and everything else will fall into place.
It may not always feel as though it is, but it will.
Being asked to give our lives totally over to God sounds like a tall order and we might wonder whether it will all be worth it in the end?
I would like to leave you with the thought of two huge blessings that come to us as we give our time to God.
First, the blessing of community. Moses was reminded that he did not need to fulfil his ministry for God all alone. There were others called and equipped by God to support him if he would but see this. It is interesting to note that the story of Jesus hurrying to meet the desperate needs of both the sick child and the sick woman is followed in chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel by his sending out of his disciples to preach and teach and heal. God calls his people to work in community so that they are saved from burn out and also from the dangers of arrogance- I am the only person who can do this and there is my way of doing it and the wrong way. We are not called to be the last person left in The Apprentice, the great Winner but to discover the support, inspiration, the blessed comradeship of serving with others.
And second, in A.J.Cronin’s book “The Citadel” Andrew Manson is working as a newly qualified Doctor. After his high ideals at college he becomes depressed and frustrated with the more mundane routine; the continual giving out of repeat medicines and certificates for being off work; the petty concerns of hypochondriacs; the living conditions that cause sickness but no-one seems able or willing to change them. He is exhausted and fed up. Then one night he is called to a woman who is about to give birth to the child she has waited for, for more than twenty years. It is a long, gruelling night and it looks as though the child is born dead. But Manson manages to save both child and mother. As he staggers home at dawn, the one exultant thought in his mind is “thank God. I’ve done something real at last.” All the years of study and the dreary routine work have brought him to the place where he can save life.
I guess that, at the end of the day, this is what God will hope to hear from us- that no matter what our profession, what our family situation, what our bank balance, what our gifts and what our weaknesses, we can look at him and say, “Thank you for a life in which You have enabled me to do something real.”