Faith Works 3-6-10
Carrying Everything Forward, Putting It All on the Altar
This past week, we had to say "farewell" to Gretchen Dubbe, a woman of whom Proverbs 31 might well have been written.
Among all the other things I might say about her Christian commitment, her passionate concern for family, community, and those who think they are outside of those warm-hearted circles of concern, I have to mention… knitting.
She loved to knit, and she was in this, as in so much, interested in understanding it right down to the ground, and back up and out to teach (teacher was one of her many honored titles). She explained to me once, very matter-of-factly, how she delighted in having a couple of sheep, learning a bit about shearing, doing the carding and pulling and spinning, and making the yarn. "It makes the knitting even more meaningful," she explained. "And fun!"
It's Gretchen's sense of what knitting can be about, when you have a heart for every step in the process, that carries me with confidence into what is many people's least favorite part of corporate worship: the offering.
To some, the passing of the plates ("the holy hubcaps" my brother used to say) is the brief but interminable fundraising pause in the program, like a pledge drive week on public radio.
Ah, no. It is – it should be – the very heart, or at least close to the heart of the worship service.
Like Gretchen's sheep, the way I most appreciate the offering, and the way I envision it in my heart even when it isn't what's actually done, is as an integral part of communion, woven in from the start. In liturgical traditions, it is actually fairly common that when the collection of the offering is concluded, they are brought forward *along with* the elements. The wine (or grape juice) and the bread are carried up to the communion table (or altar), along with what we've just put in the plates, our envelopes and wadded cash and occasional jingling change.
In most Christian perspectives on communion, or the Eucharist, we as the gathered community present the grain and grapes, scattered and grown, gathered in harvest, crushed or ground, and transformed through our means into the bread and cup. We trust God to work through these gifts, in ways that may vary a bit from one church teaching to another, but all agreed that God makes of them that offering which points us to the presence of Christ.
That's what the offering is. Alongside, next to, even underneath the appearances, like the communion offering, those mostly financial offerings are from our labors, out of our hearts, flawed and broken though they may be, but presented so that God might transform them into an acceptable gift. They are changed by grace from above for building the kingdom of God here on earth.
Obviously, if your tradition doesn't have communion every week, you can't always have that visual reminder of the offering plates carried forward with the loaf and cup. But that's why, though we tend to forget it, most churches carry the offering forward at the end, often with a singing of the Doxology, the "Song of Praise;" not to give thanks for what we've given, but to rejoice in what God has promised to do with what we bring forward.
I could talk about the contents of what we give: recent studies show that active church members give 2.56% of their income, compared to 2.2% for the entire population. Check out the website emptytomb.org for more striking insight into what giving is and isn't in modern American Christendom, and try the Yoking Map button on the sidebar for some enlightening applications of what "empty tomb, inc." is trying to say.
But right now I just want to remind us of what offering is, and can be in our worship services. It's a place to remember that we never really put what we might in front of God, yet somehow something amazing can happen around our loaves and fishes. When we pour out the cup, and speak of Jesus' life's blood poured out, we also see a bright spark of long-ago sunlight transformed in a sphere of fruitfulness, now juice to flow through our veins.
Offering, and communion, and worship itself is about transformations, each hinting at a greater one beyond. When we lay to rest those we love in the cold wintry ground, is it really so strange to see the seeds of a greater transformation that leads to a brighter day, which only ends in rejoicing before the Throne of Life?
"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow . . ."
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; make an offering of a story through him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.