Monday, 21 October 2019

Lottery. Good or bad?

The following is a sermon I gave in response to some concerns raised about our application for a Lottery Grant to renovate our church and church hall. It was preached on 20th October 2019.

Before Chris speaks I want to address a question that is bothering some members of the congregation. They are concerned that we are using lottery funding and wondering if it is right that we, as a Church, should have money from that source. Isn’t  it money from gambling? Isn’t it a lack of faith in God who, in the Bible and in various instances in Church history, has promised (and delivered on his promise), to “supply all our needs according to his riches in Christ
Jesus” to quote St. Paul to Philippians 4:19?

Can I say two things to begin.

First, I am encouraged that people are thinking about this. We should always scrutinise what we do and hold it up to the Light to see whether it is right or wrong, God’s will or not. If the church did this more often it would not be in the mess it is right now and the greater mess it is heading towards.

Secondly, I fully understand peoples scruples. In my first full living as a Vicar in Hirwaun I followed a man who was being praised throughout the Church in Wales for taking a little valleys church, which was in steep decline and turning it into something vibrant with youth, and growing numbers.

Before taking the job he was explaining to me the need to have Pastoral Assistants to help share the burden of visiting, leading groups etc.. We were talking about how these were funded and the church sustained, as the congregation were, on the whole, not well off. He explained it was a combination of grant finding, the weekly giving of supportive members of the congregation, and raffles!

As a young Christian I was mortified. I had been taught that such things were wrong, along with smoking and drinking. And yet here I was with the vicar of a growing Church, a man who prayed 3 hours every day, and who not only enjoyed a whiskey or two but approved of raffles as a legitimate source of funding!  And yet God was suing him so powerfully.

But to him raffles was just another way of God providing for his people. Some bought tickets to win the prize but others did it as a fun way of raising money. He was not the least perturbed by it.  If God didn’t approve then he was
keeping it very quiet.

When you look at the Bible it has very little to say about how money is raised but everything to say about how it is used. Paul writes to Timothy and tells him that it is the love of money that is the root of all evil, not money itself. In other words money itself is neutral. And in fact, like everything else, it belongs to God. And if it is being used for wrong purposes—arms, fraud, pornography, drugs—then that is when it becomes something we must roundly condemn.

Some would argue that such money is tainted. And yet there are examples in the Bible where previously ‘tainted’ objects or money has been used for Kingdom purposes.

The gold that was used to build the Ark of the Covenant—the most sacred of all objects in the Old Testament which caused the death of Uzzah when he touched it inappropriately—was made out of objects and jewellery taken from pagan Egyptian captors when the Israelites fled from Egypt.

Paul himself had no issue with eating meat that had previously been offered to idols. His response to people’s concerns?

….for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came” (1 Corinthians 8:5) 

The source of funding for Jesus’ own ministry from the likes of Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna may well have included money from wrong sources. Mary Magdalene’s previous prostitution, Joanna’s from Herod’s treasury, no doubt some of which were from bribery.

And the money in our own pockets and bank accounts. Who knows what tainted hands or funds it has been through on the way.  Investment returns, arms investments and so on. No money is ever completely ‘clean’ in that sense, but it can be ‘made clean’ or redeemed, by using it for the kingdom.

In the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16  Jesus commends the sacked steward not for his actions, but for his shrewdness with using money. Jesus concluded the parable saying:

“I tell you use worldly wealth to gain friends, for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

In other words money is one of those temporal things that we can’t take with us but we can use, while we are here, for good things, kingdom things. For helping our neighbours, the community or those who, coming to church, should be welcomed and warm.

I remember Mother Theresa being criticized for taking donations for her work amongst the poor in Calcutta from dubious sources, some from dictators! She replied something along the lines of taking money back from the devil and using it for God which is, when you think of it, good theology.

I don’t want to say much more except this. Some of us have been praying for St. James for years and asking God to help us make this a better place of warmth, welcome and comfort. Whatever we think about buildings—and there are times when I think they are like an albatross around our necks—we need them as somewhere to worship God. So for the glory of God we want them to be the very best they can be, and to use them for His kingdom purposes. This project—Chris, the project committee, all the people involved—could very well be the answers to those prayers. In which case who are we to turn down the opportunity presented to us.

Let me end with a story:

A man was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, "Jump in, I can save you."
The stranded man shouted back, "No, it's OK, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me."
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. "The fellow in the motorboat shouted, "Jump in, I can save you."
To this the stranded man said, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, "Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety."
To this the stranded man again replied, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, "I had faith in you but you didn't save me, you let me drown. I don't understand why!"
To this God replied, "I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?" 

I believe God is answering our prayers and we should take the opportunity we have been given in whatever form He sends it to us.

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