What if we took our normal offering during worship, dumped it on the altar, and set it on fire? Wouldn’t that get an enthusiastic reaction?
The Israelites made burnt offerings to their God. They placed their offerings on an altar and burned them, letting the fire completely consume everything. But why? The only explanation seems to be that they felt the experience of sacrifice to be important. Sacrifice was an important part of their worship. They eventually realized the good of sharing those offerings with the needy, but this was just an added bonus of their sacrifices. Or what about Jacob pouring oil over a stone (Genesis 28:16-18)? Or the woman who covered Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment, instead of using the money to feed the poor?
In our worship, the offering is the centerpiece. It’s like we sacrifice, and then we partake in Christ’s sacrifice, his body, blood, and life that bought us for such a great price.
It seems that we might be losing sight of the importance of sacrifice as one of our faith practices. It’s easy to be disappointed by worship when we approach it as a means to get what we want. Not so easy when we approach it as a sacrifice to God. This sacrifice requires us to give up attention on our wants and needs, and allows us to instead focus on God.
And I’ve realized that by participating in Simply Giving, I’m actually missing out on the chance to experience sacrifice, and the changes that the Holy Spirit might work in me because of it. The Scriptures mention generosity as a fruit of the Spirit.
The gospel of stewardship begins by overcoming that within us which prevents our being stewards – the pride of imagining ourselves owners; the sloth of irresponsibility, neglect, and apathy. And that gospel gives us the grace and courage that we need to exercise a love that is larger than our self-esteem or our anxiety about ourselves.
Douglas John Hall, The Steward
Act of Worship, Expression of Faith, Spiritual Discipline
I mentioned sacrifice as a valuable centerpiece of worship. Jesus asked a rich man to sell everything and give the money to the poor. He walked away hopelessly (Luke 18:1-25). He’s law. Zacchaeus wanted to only give half of his riches away to the poor, to Jesus’ delight (Luke 19:1-10). That’s gospel. So, if there’s a stewardship law and a stewardship gospel, we live under the law when we refuse to give, or we feel guilty over how much we should give. We live under the gospel when we give gladly, and don’t worry about the amount.
Stewards care for what someone else owns. They’re entrusted to care. Scriptures say that we are stewards – not a choice we made, but who we are. So, everything we are, and everything we have, belongs to God. It’s not just that God’s the creator, but we are God’s creations, divinely chosen to care for God’s property. In our liturgy, we even say that we offer with joy and thanksgiving, what God has first given us – ourselves, our time, and our possessions.
We give thee but thine own, Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone, A trust, O Lord, from thee.
Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”
Every day we stand in the shade of trees we did not plant. We live in houses we did not build. We eat food we did not produce. We ponder ideas that are not original to us. So, too, we live in a body and with a mind and a spirit that we did not choose or create.
Donald Hinze, To Give and Give Again
Jesus tells us where our treasure is, there our hearts will also be (Matthew 6:21). So how can I love God more? By sacrificing – offering myself and my resources to God. Jesus is telling us how we can determine who we will become, not revealing who we currently are. We can give to things that we want to care about, and let our hearts catch up. It’s easier to act into a new way of thinking, than to think into a new way of acting.
What can we do via our worship and classes to be more explicit about this?
Support and Sacrifice
People never think about their proportionate share of the church’s expenses, for the ministries that we’ve chosen to pursue together. Am I covering my fair share? Am I covering others’ shares? Am I not covering my share? If I’m actually covering others’ shares, then my giving becomes sacrificial. Depending on the amount, perhaps I’m actually covering others and might want to cover even more. This seems like an approachable way for people to judge their own contribution, and to personally recognize when they enter the realm of sacrifice.
I did a rough count of adults and kids, and referred to the 2011 budget (half-year, so multiply by 2). For $466,968 (excluding ECM, but does that still seem like a lot?), 235 adults and 150 children, our ministry costs $1212 per person. Since the kids can’t pay, it’s actually $1987 per adult. But I can use that number to reflect on my own contribution. If I then consider a 10% tithe, then it helps me also understand just how blessed I am.
And as an aside, I think we need to do away with the Simply Giving tokens for the offering plate. If my sacrifice happens automatically, outside of worship, then it feels like offering them isn’t very encouraging of me to turn the offering, and worship, into an experience of sacrifice.