Not a “Collection” but an “Offering” A Stewardship Meditation by the The Rev. Dean Taylor
One of my earliest memories of Church is my father pressing a nickel into our hands just before the offering plate came around. We would wait with that nickel until the offering plate came around, and we would put that nickel in the plate. The Rev. George Sparks used to say that that’s really a liturgical action, as important as crossing yourself or bowing to the cross. You put the money in the plate, and it goes up to the altar and gets blessed, and it’s like your life, at least your work, is going up there to be blessed.
That’s one of the many, many “in person” actions in our worship that we miss in this Covid-19 era of our church and society. How do we remain the church—how do we go about this Stewardship season—when we are not even present in our beloved Sanctuary to reinforce what this beloved parish means to us? Perhaps, in remembering that sacred liturgical action of placing the money or the card in the Offering Plate, it will make clearer that important difference between and offering and a collection. When you’re at the party, and everybody orders pizza, and they pass around the hat for money to pay for it, that’s a collection. Collection happens because money is needed. But Offering is something a little bit different. Offering is when I need to give something of myself—or even my whole self—to something greater. When I walk in the woods on a beautiful morning by myself, I might offer up a song, just sing something out of sheer happiness. An artist might offer up a painting, maybe a painting that might not ever be sold, but just, to have painted it and hung it on the wall as an offering to beauty. A soldier might offer up his life for his beloved country.
Offering, then, is holy. Offering has less to do with where the offering goes (though that’s important) than it does the one who offers. It is something we are led to do spiritually. The heart of Holy Offering is Gratitude. Thanksgiving for all that God has given us in this life, and even in the life to come. Gratitude is first, an important spiritual virtue. Gratitude is a kind of spiritual “inoculation” against a host of spiritual vices. The great preacher, Fred Craddock, once said, “I have never seen a thankful person who was at the same time mean, stingy, merciless, or cruel.” But second, Gratitude is the stance that we as a people, as a “body of Christ,” the Church, are called to be in the world. It is the spiritual foundation for all that we are and all that we do as that “Body of Christ” in the world. Rev. Sparks was right. The placing of the money or the card into the collection plate— even virtually—is a liturgical, Holy gesture. And in doing that, we offer up ourselves, our very lives to God. And all of it, our work, our hopes, our very lives, is blessed.