I have a new found respect for offering envelopes.
Strange way to start a blog, perhaps, but let me explain.
Last week, I attended a theological conference. I usually don't get too much out of these things--at least from the presenters. I enjoy worship. I enjoy the camaraderie with my close clergy friends and playing 42 into the evening and night. No matter what, I generally find something to complain about, but that is the nature of the beast at these events.
Nothing, as of yet, has sent me over the edge, but this past week offered something that almost did--it came really, really close.
Opening worship was pretty cool. I hadn't been a part of a jazz service, and the music at this worship was phenomenal. The brass jazz band was led by a woman who could belt out the liturgy like no one's business. The tunes were catchy and easily sung. The sermon at least kept my attention even if the Gospel was rather hidden.
And then, it came time for the offering. Good cause. Water wells. Provide clean water for folks throughout the world. Goal of $7,500--one well per synod.
Then the rub. There was no announcement about how we were to give our offerings. Normally, they pass a plate. Not this time. No instructions given, but finally, a few people started heading toward the front of the worship space.
"Oh," I thought, "we are supposed to bring our offering forward."
I got up along with those at my table. I headed toward the front. There, I was confronted with an interesting sight: three buckets each marked with one of the three synods participating in this conference.
WTH? Are we having a "friendly competition" with our offering to see which synod gives the most?
Apparently so (later, they announced the giving by synod).
I paused for a good 15 seconds taking in this scene. I really was having difficulty processing this. Offering? A competition? By synod? To see which synod "gave" the most? I found the whole scenario quite lacking. No. Not strong enough. I found the whole thing to be completely wrong.
How could I protest such a thing? I didn't want to cause any sort of scene.
I placed my offering in another synod's bucket. It was the only thing I could think of at the time.
Now, most of you who read this blog regularly have seen a very important shift. You've seen me "go far down the grace road" so to speak. You've seen me begin focusing quite a bit on what God has done and the importance of Christ crucified in reconciling us unto God. I believe focusing on this action leads us to a position of humility--not humility in the sense of "Oh, I am a terrible, horrible person," but a humility of "I mess up constantly and really, truly am no better off than any other person. I need Jesus just as much as anyone else needs Jesus. We're all on the same level of sin and need of grace."
No. There is no but attached to those comments. There is no, "this is such a blatant affront to my understanding of Christianity that I will now leave this denomination/synod/or whatever." That's not grace. Not at all.
I just want to put down why this bothered me so much and why I hope I never have to experience such a thing again.
First, the Law. I kept having Matthew 6 run through my head as I witnessed this ordeal.
‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by
them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 ‘So whenever
you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do
in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by
others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
What is secret about parading up to the front of a worship space and dropping an offering in a bucket? Not much in my book. Not much.
I also had flashes of this story:
41 He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
43Then he called his disciples and said to them,
‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who
are contributing to the treasury.
44For all of them have contributed out of their
abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all
she had to live on.’
Giving apparently isn't about the amount, you know.
I also thought, "I believe that as we gather in worship, we are the body of Christ. We don't make distinctions in the body when it comes to the work we do. The focus is to glorify God, not ourselves. The focus should be on helping others with these gifts, not on who 'wins.'--not on which synod gives more or has the most generous pastors."
Now, the Gospel. As deeply as I disliked this display, I know that God's work is still being done with the money collected. As deeply as I resented this method of giving in worship, I still know God loves those who set it up just like He loves me. I believe and trust this completely.
I personally would not set such a thing up--IN WORSHIP. That's an important clarify-er. I'm all for friendly competition in other arenas. It does spice things up.
For me, worship is another matter completely. Perhaps it shouldn't be, but it is.
And it is why I'll defend the use of offering envelopes now.
I get it.