Charitable Giving

Sunday 18th August 2019
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
Isaiah 28.9-22
1 Corinthians 8.1-9

All my professional life I worked for charities; and in all that time I led from the front in fund raising so that morale would remain high, jumping out of a plane in a sky dive, trekking across Iceland, being covered in gloop by my staff, running round a track covered in luminous paint, attending gala dinners and receptions with toffs who favoured me with condescension, shaking hands with people I couldn't stand, and all the time saying how much I loved fund raising more than anything else when I actually hated it. I was always fine on the theory but I forced myself to undertake the practice, smiling all the while. As it is, I don't mind selling the odd book of raffle tickets but I have boundless admiration for the people who knock on doors collecting Christian Aid envelopes, or shake tins at railway stations, or beg traders for raffle prizes.

I suspect that Saint Paul was much the same. Always in a state of tension with the conservative hierarchy, the "Pillars", in Jerusalem, outlined in Galatians and much more stressful than the account in Acts, Paul nonetheless undertook a collection from his Gentile converts for the impoverished leadership in Jerusalem. For two or three years - we do not know precisely how long - he spent his credibility capital in order to collect funds and then he took the collection, meekly, to Jerusalem where we have every reason to believe that he got his customary kicking. It doesn't matter how good the cause may be, asking for money is tough stuff.

Today, I think there are five particular reasons why fund raising is difficult:

That is a formidable list of disincentives to giving but they must be overcome both because we have more than we need and because the needs are still great. If we look at the grounds for discontent I have just mentioned:

But what we can learn from Paul  that towers over our concerns is the fact that he raised funds, at great personal cost, for a group of people whose default position was to question both his motives and his conduct; he was, to use the contemporary terms, confronted by a clique of passive-aggressive recipients who were more ready to suspect him than to thank him for, not  only did they have to recognise their dependency on him - the familiar resentment of the recipient - they no doubt knew that although they had actually lived alongside Jesus, they were the past and his Gentile Mission was the future.

The transaction, then, was difficult for both parties; it was, unusually, as difficult for those who received as it was for those who had taken the collection; and so, often, will it before us. From our standpoint we only see the difficulty of giving but that is because we have not been in the position where we have suffered the difficulty of taking.

Paul, it seems to me, was a rather nervy, thin skinned man who has come in for a good deal of criticism, not least from me, but his great virtue is that he never ducked out of doing the difficult thing: he put his credibility on the line for a cause which he knew would bring him nothing but grief from those he had to acknowledge as his leaders; his task was worse than thankless. And yet the evidence from his letters shows how hard he worked for the cause without any of his usual complaining. We should think of him next time we are asked to give, even more when we are asked to collect.