Before we get to the blog, look at what a couple of days Saharan heat can do in the UK
In the UK we have our first-ever Red Heat Alert. In the East of England and in cities it’s worst, and at Heathrow this morning the temperature was recorded at over 40degrees. Some of you live in hotter climates than even this, but we’re not used to it, our houses aren’t built for it, our infrastructure quite literally buckles under it, we wilt. As I write this I have a friend in London who is writing her TV series in a room with the curtains drawn, wearing a wet towel around her shoulders, desperately trying to cope. Here in Wales the worst has passed and we’ve just heard a roll of thunder, and a smattering of rain has shimmied by, gone almost as soon as it came, and mercifully – magically- the temperature has dropped to 25.
But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about money. I’m looking around for a church to attend, an active church, out in the community, following the example of Acts with a common purse, showing practical care as encouraged by James, and when I finished my Romans re-read a week or so ago, I went on to 1 Corinthians (where I found that gentle warning about losing my first love yesterday in chapter 13). This morning I typed up my notes and as I was battering the keyboard in my plink-plonk-bash way, I discovered another nugget of gold. Listen, 1 Corinthians 12: verse 7
A spiritual gift is given to each of us so that we can help each other.
The bold font is mine.
I’m not going to make a big distinction between Spiritual gifts and practical gifts, because I’m thinking rather more generally about gifting, and remembering that ‘Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father,‘ James 1:17
Whatever is good. So that we can help each other.
I’ve been given a gift with words and that gift has enabled me to earn a living for nearly 40 years. It’s nothing I’ve created, it’s a gift. It was placed in my hands and head and heart. It’s not the gift of genius, or the gift of amazing ability, or the gift of stardom or great insight and intelligence and talent, and compared to the giants of writing mine is a small gift, but it’s enough. I revel in it and I’m very grateful. It’s enabled me to earn a living, and more than a living. At one stage in my life money rolled in faster than I could roll it out. Sometimes I’ve been unwise – I remember thousands of pounds I sent to a ‘Nigerian schoolgirl’ who claimed to have been orphaned and had a kidney disease and her aged grandmother who was looking after her had heart problems and… and… you can imagine the rest… In the 80’s I sent money to this needy soul for years before I was gently advised that she was probably a bloke of 50 driving a Mercedes and lording it over a call centre.
Just as my writing gift does not take me to the heights of intellectual acclaim, so my wisdom sometimes stalls in base camp. But it was the 80’s, we didn’t know about scams, and we learn as we go along, so I don’t regret that incident, it was a lesson. When, a few years later, I heard about two homeless families in the North East I had the nowse and skill to do some research before contacting them, so that Nigerian experience was good.
If what God gives us is placed in our hands and entrusted to our stewardship, in order that we can help others, isn’t that a fantastic model for growth? If whatever I have been given, over my basic needs, is handed on to others, who in turn hand on any excess to others, what a great and wonderful pyramid system that is! And I believe that there will be excess for most people at some time in their lives because Jesus himself said “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
We read about the widow giving her mite, her little piece of change, all she had. Do we imagine that her life was made miserable because of that? Or did she feel joy? I believe that what she gave in faith and love was returned to her, and that giving is such a rewarding thing to do that she gave that too, and it was returned to her, and she gave that too. I believe that she had the gift of generosity.
Generosity is a gift and it, too, comes down from God. That widow was no better than the wealthy people all around her, but she had the gift of giving in abundance, and they had it in less abundance. She wasn’t better than them, but in the moment of giving all that she had, her action glorified God.
Money is so boring. It is. If you’ve ever daydreamed about winning twenty million pounds or dollars, you haven’t spent much time imagining it sitting in the bank. No, you imagine whose mortgage you could pay off, which family member you could bail out, which friend needs a car, which charity needs a donation. Money – rubbish! But what it can do – priceless!
I’ve never believed that money sitting in a bank account is of any earthly use to anyone. It doesn’t belong there. Money exists for the good of others. Yes, yes, we have to be responsible and maintain enough to keep clogs on our feet and bread on the table, but once that’s achieved – what use is money? It’s a bit like a house. You can live in only one room at a time, sleep in one bed at a time, have a shower in one bathroom at a time. I was reading about Meghan Markle and Harry this morning, their home in America has 16 bathrooms and nine bedrooms. I’m not disapproving, just puzzled – why? Why? I can understand that they require more than a small cottage, they need more than my two bedrooms, they need rooms for visitors, a room for a live-in nanny, but SIXTEEN bathrooms? Nine bedrooms? What earthly use is that to the world? And what use is to them?
Mansions and palaces don’t serve God. Money in the bank doesn’t serve God. In this world there is enough money to keep commerce going, to employ everyone who can work, to create new wealth, to build shelter for the homeless and deliver water to the thirsty, to grow crops for the hungry, and to care for the sick. There is enough already. Enough already. I’m 73. I’ve worked out roughly how much I need for the next few years. Anything above that – not interested! It goes! It goes to where it will do some decent sort of work.
Does that make me poorer? Only on paper. Does it make my life poorer? No. Of course not. It makes the banks poorer. It doesn’t hurt me at all. If I have £500,000 in the bank, what difference does that make to my life? Even my favourite foods are simple (loaded chips! Oh, yes!), I can live in only one room at a time. I have a bed and a duvet. I have water and a roof. What do I need £500,000 for?
James 5 holds a severe warning:
And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment.
All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse.
‘A fatter than usual corpse!’ Well, listen, James, as a fatty that makes me wince. But I know what you mean. The NIV has it ‘You’ve fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.’ That’s such a vivid image, isn’t it?
If all the money in the world was put in a heap and split among the billions, there would be bread for all. And it wouldn’t cost us anything, except money. Dead cold money. Who needs it?
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”