Stewardship

Sermon preached by the Reverend Anna Matthews

 

On either side of the main door to St Bene’t’s hang two large boards. Over time, their varnish has darkened such that they are now very hard to read, and I imagine most of us pass under them without giving them a further glance.

They have hung there since 1735, recording benefactions to the parish dating back almost a century earlier. They tell us that:

Mr John Priest gave a silver flagon for the Communion Service, in 1658. This flagon is still in use today, and will be brought up at the offertory, with its matching twin, donated in the same year by the parish congregation.

Mr Tobias Smith gave two Silver Plates for the Communion Service, in 1670. These are still used to take the collection Sunday by Sunday, their inscription still plain to read: ‘to the parish of St Benedict in Cambridge, for the collecting of their communion money.’

Further inscriptions record that in 1669

Dame Dorothy Clarke gave an Annuity of Three Pounds: that is, one pound for a Sermon on the Eve of St Thomas, and the rest to be distributed by the Churchwardens to the Poor.

And that in 1672

Mr John Scott (formerly Alderman of this Town) gave an Annuity of 17 shillings and 4 pence, that is 6 shillings 8 pence for a Sermon on the Sunday before St Michael and 10 shillings and 8 pence to be distributed by the Churchwardens to the Poor.

Joined together in the benefactions recorded are the celebration of Holy Communion, the preaching of the word of God, and giving to the poor. In a manner entirely consistent with the scriptures, what goes on in here is seen as necessarily flowing out from here into the world outside. The life we receive here, from encountering Christ in word and sacrament and being drawn together into one body, is not given for us to keep to ourselves, but to share.

Some of you may remember that at the Annual Meeting back in April I talked about having been on retreat, and praying with the passage from Ezekiel where water flows from the temple. The water is God’s water, and it flows into the temple as a sign of the life and presence of God. And it flows out again, into the streets of the holy city, for healing and refreshment and nourishment. It’s a year since I was on retreat, and came back with the challenge I had felt God pose to me, and to us: how do we deepen our common life by drawing more from God’s living water? And how do we open wide the doors so that the living water flows out from here into the city, as a source of blessing and life for others?

This is what’s at the heart of our plans for the future at St Bene’t’s: a deepening of our common life in prayer and learning and worship, and a deeper engagement with the local community in love and service. This will build on what already goes on, and draw on the gifts of this place and its people. The idea is not that St Bene’t’s becomes something it is not, but becomes more fully the community God is calling it to be. It’s not a perfect church – if you’re looking for that, good luck! – but at our best I see an inclusive and intergenerational community willing to budge up and make room for newcomers that gives me a glimpse of the gloriously diverse kingdom of God. I see a people who want to know God more deeply, whose thirst has blessed me by making me wrestle with, pray with and search the scriptures as never before. I see a community who is able to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, and who in an unfussy way gets on with living out the gospel in all sorts of different ways, whose example encourages and inspires me.

This is worth building up and sharing. To do that will involve us all, offering the differing gifts God has given us. And one of the ways in which it will involve us is through financial giving. We have inherited from our predecessors and from good stewardship over the years a well-cared for building and a fabric fund that frees us to focus on mission and ministry. But a growing church takes growing resources, and we need to raise the money to support this growth.

And that’s down to us. My post going full time means our costs will rise from January, and without an increase in congregational giving we will have to draw down on reserves, which means relying on the generosity of past worshippers. That’s clearly not sustainable, and nor is it wise or generous stewardship.

So I’m asking you to invest in St Bene’t’s, and in the ministry that goes on here. If you don’t give already, please would you start? If you don’t give regularly because no one’s asked you to, or you haven’t quite got round to it, there’s a form in the parish giving packs, and I’ll lend you a pen. If you don’t give, or don’t give much, because you think St Bene’t’s doesn’t need it, I’m telling you that we do. If you’re already giving as much as you can, whether that’s out of abundance or out of the little you have, you are an example to encourage the rest of us to do likewise. Thank you.

And thank you all for all you give, of yourselves, your time, your talents, and your money. It’s you, in your response to God in Christ, who have encouraged in this place a deep engagement with God in prayer and worship and learning and service, and who have made this a community that others want to join. And thank you seems the right place to end a sermon on stewardship, for gratitude to God is the place from which all our giving springs. It’s where our Gospel reading today ends, as Bartimaeus, in gratitude for what Jesus has done for him, leaves everything else behind to follow him on the way.

And it is the encounter with the same Jesus Christ, in word and sacrament, in the community of the Church, that provokes our gratitude. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asks Bartimaeus, and he asks us, as he is already heading towards Jerusalem, where what he will do for us is to suffer death upon the cross so that he might restore us to the life and love of God for which we were made.

This place was built and exists as a sign of that life and love, which we receive anew each time we celebrate the Eucharist, and which sends us out to share what we have received with others.

We are in the process of applying for a faculty to restore the benefactors boards so that they’re legible once more. The second board has space on it for further names to be added. I doubt we’d be allowed to do that, but the empty space should provoke us. John Priest, Tobias Smith, Dorothy Clarke and John Scott are representative of countless nameless others, whose response to God’s generosity has sustained the life of this church down the centuries. Now it’s our turn to carry on the story, to keep living the life, and having met with the love of God, to be the ones through whom God’s living water flows out into the world.