Stuart's Thought for the Day Video

Pause for Thought

I’m just looking at my email inbox - today I can see I’ve received 52 messages (so far). 33 of those I’ve binned, a mixture of bizarre financial or medical offers, incitements to spend money on stuff I don’t need or gambling. Just 13 are personally important! The rest are either online petitions or requests for charitable donations. It feels like I receive more emails a day now than I used to receive in a month! Some days I struggle to keep up, so if you’re wondering why I haven’t responded to yours, it’s probably drowned in the virtual tsunami. Information overload is a direct consequence of the IT revolution, often leaving us vexed and perplexed about what to believe, how to process what we’ve taken in, and how to respond. On a very warm evening like this, pour a very cold drink with me, light your candle, and allow God’s Spirit to refresh and renew those aching brain cells and weary limbs as we reflect together.

Generosity and Sacrifice

Jesus said, ”Don’t be a Holy Joe! You may impress some people, but you won’t impress God. Whenever you give money to a good cause, don’t advertise the fact. And don’t be like those phonies who make sure everyone notices how much they’ve put into the collection plate or online donation button. I tell you now, they’ll get the pat on the back from others that they’re looking for. Keep your generosity a private matter between yourself and the Loving God, who’ll see what you do and reward you with much more…. If you go without something for God’s sake, don’t copy the people who show what a hard time they’re giving themselves by the pained look on their faces. They enjoy being miserable! Instead take a shower and freshen up your appearance – that will please God far more than wearing a frown. (Matthew 6:1-6/16-18)

It might be an occupational hazard but over the past 34 years barely a week has passed without me receiving several charity ‘begging letters’. In the heyday of snail mail, I remember that brief surge of excitement as a weighty wadge of post landed on the front doormat, held together with a thick rubber band. Remember those days? The excitement soon wore off as envelope after envelope gave up its persistent request for more money. I’d look at a description of genuine, terrible need, and for a moment think, “Yes, that cause needs my support,” but then a bill had to be paid or the car needed filling up, so the original good thought evanesced into the air around. Paperwork has been replaced largely by emails or texts, many apparently designed to make me feel morally substandard if I fail to make a donation. But if I choose to offer financial support, I receive an effusive response, with a weekly follow-up, an entry into a prize draw, and a request for more money. Most causes are worthy and commendable, and I feel bad about ignoring so many  – but no way I can afford to support more than a handful.

Jesus’ words in this passage aren’t aimed at helping his followers decide how to help the poor. As so often, Jesus scrapes away surface spirituality to uncover the real motivation for actions and responses. The pandemic may have moved us rapidly towards a ‘cashless society’, but in Jesus’ day coins were the sole currency, their size often reflecting their value. For the wealthy an ostentatious display of charitable giving was easy to stage, especially in the Temple precincts where it was visible to all – a flamboyant gesture and satisfying clunk as the coins hit the base of the box. For Jesus this behaviour summed up the hypocrisy and superficiality of the religious leaders of his day. They were interested only in impressing others with their generosity (and the wealth which enabled it) rather than making their offering to God as part of their worship and devotion. Jesus had no truck with showy spirituality, but always honoured commitment rooted in God’s love. Fasting was a regular part of devotional life – Jesus himself practised it – but he condemned those who made it obvious to all what they were doing, with grimaces and scruffy appearance. Superficial, attention-seeking religion is far removed from the un-self-conscious commitment to following the way of Christ we’re called to as Christians.

Most of us would respond to an emergency or disaster appeal, and maybe to a ‘telethon’ such as Comic Relief. But Christian giving goes far deeper than merely reacting to a grim scene of suffering and destruction. It’s a fundamental part of our relationship and walk with God, to which we commit gladly for the sake and care of others, without any need for ‘grandstanding’. The pandemic and lockdown have created an extra level of profound need that seems far beyond our capacity to meet. Our calling is to demonstrate God’s unlimited generosity in response to his care for all people.

Take a moment to offer to God your prayers for those in need with whose situation you identify, opening your eyes to the reality of their situation, and your heart to their suffering.

Prayer for today

Lord Jesus, you had no time for showy religion,
but always reached out to the poorest wherever you were.
Open our eyes to the needs of our world,
and our hearts to act in response
to those you call us to serve in your name. Amen.

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Pause for Thought:

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