Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Lenten Disciplines - Almsgiving (1)

 Give Alms!
(A Lengthy Preamble)

The three disciplines which the church enjoins for Lent are Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. The latter two are those in many regards most counter to the Western culture of which I am part. But while fasting is Obviously Hard for us - [who has not read about fasting and also read a note to go and talk to your Doctor first before doing it?] - Almsgiving seems very straightforward. Indeed given that it requires no time of us, or very little, it may well be thought to be the simplest.

(You may like to ask yourself at this point 
whether Almsgiving feels the easiest of the disciplines to you)

Such thinking about Simplicity betrays us immediately, for where the disciplines are concerned, nothing is simple, and it is no less so with regard to Money (at least for us). It was plain enough for Jesus, but not in a way we might perhaps ascribe to. We talk too glibly of 'money management'. We feel we are Experts perhaps, in personal finance, or conversely, we know we are incapable of keeping track of Money - but the very fact we even think that we ought to be able to 'manage money', shows how far we are from knowing Jesus' counsel in our hearts which, after all, is where it matters.

A few years ago I attended a three day conference on "Christians in the Work Place". As such major conferences often are nowadays, the evening session was 'something different' by way of relaxation from the arduous seminar attending, book buying, 'Worship', and Networking that took place.
            This 'something different' was an interview with someone who had got into trouble with money, so much so, that he had been imprisoned. The person, a well known 'famous TV evangelist', had been convicted of fraud, (which is of course nowadays always a matter of Money - we can be fraudulent in many areas of life, but only fraudulence regarding Money seems to warrant a gaol term), and he was now recounting his story as I suppose a salutary warning. (The more I think about that evening the more I question what was really going on . . .).
           But he said one thing which completely blew my fuses, something I just couldn't believe. He said that prison had given him a Long Time to think, and that he had committed himself to reading the Gospels afresh, and what struck him was 'how much Jesus talks about Money! I had never noticed it!'.

(I was and indeed am tempted to say 'Wise up! It's as plain on the nose on your face!!', but the fact that this man who in all probability had read the Scriptures more than I could miss Jesus' teaching, ought to suggest a degree of humility in this area in myself. After what is the difference between someone who is confident in handling Money, and someone who thinks he has a handle on Jesus' teaching about Money . . . and thus is 'safe to handle Money'??)

The song says, "Money makes the world go round" - we say we don't believe it, but we deceive ourselves, or rather we are deceived by Money. If someone who had no prior knowledge of Money was to examine us individually or indeed as a global entity, and I think say without a shadow of doubt that Money is a Dominant power. And this is as true of the Church as it is of the World.

Recently a former Diocese of my acquaintance passed a lengthy response to a discussion on its boundaries. Hidden away in the amendments was a phrase that caught my eye

'[Synod] requests the Preparation Group to prepare fully costed proposals about how the Area system proposed will benefit mission' 

Costed? Mission? Why? What does the (presumably financial) cost have to do with Mission?? Why can't we think about Mission without thinking about Money? (And Yes, the fact that I automatically read 'costed' in terms of Money Does reveal how much I too am prey to this :) )

All of the Disciplines unmask us - if we think that they are simple and straightforward we are either Saints - or we are deceiving ourselves, or rather in this case we are deceived (just like my fellow struggler with Money, the TV evangelist)

In the next three days we will take time to consider Jesus brief teaching about 'Giving Alms' - about how it is utterly radical and goes against most if not all our embedded ways of managing money - and about how the Church itself has fallen prey to 'the deceitfulness of wealth'

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