Romans 12.1-8 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
(This is part of a sermon series looking through what we do together in our worship service and why are we doing it.)
– History of offering in the US?
- What are your most vivid memories of the offering part of a worship service?
(Most recently, I think of worshiping with a Presbyterian congregation in Kenya, instead of passing a plate there were these baskets at the front of the sanctuary, during the offering everyone would get up from their seat, walk down the middle aisle, and put their offering in the basket … it was kind of like an offering parade and, to me, it felt as awkward as it sounds.)
- Who in your has life taught you the most about generosity?
(My grandparents taught me so much about generosity – as a kid, I remember, when I would go to church with my Grandmother Joanne, she would always hand my brother and me a couple of dollars to put in the offering plate as it passed by … I also think of all the ways my grandparents have supported me and don’t know that I could be doing what I am doing now with out the ways they have shown me financial generosity. My Granddad Dick showed me another kind of generosity – he always had time for me. He would stop by my parent’s house, just to say hi. I don’t remember him ever being too busy for me and my brothers.)
As Christians, as people who take Jesus’ call to follow him as disciples seriously, and as people who take the bible seriously, we can’t get around talking about money. Jesus has so much to say about money … where it comes from … how to use it … how it can trap us … how we can use it in ways that can be helpful and that make a difference in people’s lives … Jesus is clear that this stuff matters to him, and because it matters to him, it is something we should pay attention to.
I think the offering has to be one of the more difficult parts of our worship service to talk about … mostly because it has a lot to do with talking about money … and who wants to talk about money in public … its personal … there is so much potential for it to turn into a guilt trip …
When Sarah and I worked with a team of people to lead campground worship services in Glacier National Park, the organization we were part of had a list of things we had to do and couldn’t do during those services.
The National Park Service didn’t want any extra litter in the campgrounds, so we weren’t allowed to hand out any paper during the service … which meant we could only use music that was printed in our worship books, which often felt really limiting.
There always had to be a sermon in those services and during every service there always had to be a time when an offering plate was passed. Everyone on our team was anxious about the offering. We had all these conversations about how we wished we could just scrap the offering plate, or just leave it in the back of the campfire area with a note and if people saw it and wanted to support these services good, but if they didn’t, no big deal either. As we led those worship services and wrestled with the offering part, as we saw the generous responses people gave, we came to see the value and importance of having an opportunity for people to be generous during those services and we came to see that offering was about much more than money.
I am learning that we could be missing something important if we don’t try to talk about how our faith and money can work together. That’s is what stewardship is all about. When we talk about the offering and about stewardship, we have to make sure that the conversation has to do with more than money … money is an important part of it, but really, stewardship has to do with our whole lives, with our gifts and abilities, and with what it means to wholeheartedly follow Jesus as a disciple. It is also really important to remember that in it’s purest sense, the offering does not have anything to do with guilt or pressure.
In its best and purest sense, it has to do with gratitude. In your bulletin, there are a few passages from our Directory for Worship … my favorite parts I put in bold,
“Christian life is an offering of one’s self to God … As those who have been claimed and set free by his grace, we respond with gratitude, offering him our lives, our spiritual gifts, and our material goods … The gifts we offer express our stewardship of creation, demonstrate our care for one another, support the ministries of the church, and provide for the needs of the poor” (BOO, p. 97).
The offering catches our worship rhythm of “Grace and Gratitude.”
God acts in grace and we respond with gratitude. God generously offers us love in Christ, and we respond with gratitude, offering our lives to God, with the hope that God will use us to pass along Jesus’ love and grace to other people.
I think this is why Romans 12 stuck with me this week as I have thought about the offering part of our worship service. In Romans, Paul talks so much about the grace God gives us in Christ.Paul insists that in Christ, God gives us grace we don’t deserve, Paul is uncompromising in his conviction that through sin, we have rebelled against God and harmed our relationship with God, yet God still pursues us and in Jesus offers forgiveness and restoration.
This is God’s grace in action … even though we don’t deserve it, even though we could never do enough or give enough to make things right with God, God reaches out to us … Christ pursues us, Christ gives himself to make us right with God, and frees us to live in a right and free relationship with God.
And our response to all this is gratitude.
As Christians, we live the lives we live out of gratitude … God has been so good to us … God has been so generous to us in Christ … we respond with joy and thanksgiving as “living sacrifices” honoring God by living lives of loving God and loving our neighbors.
In Romans, and in his other writings, Paul insists that all Christians have been given gifts that build up the church and enable the church to live into our mission of reaching out to the world to share God’s love. In Romans 12, Paul mentions gifts of prophesying, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy (this is not an exhaustive list, in other things Paul has written, he includes other gifts). Our stewardship, has to do with these gifts … it has to do with responding to God with our whole lives and using the gifts we have been given to worship God and to reach out to our community with that love.
Last May, when we had that awesome “Appreciative Inquiry” gathering in the fellowship hall, a guy named PJ asked us a lot of questions.
Questions like “when have you felt most alive and connected with this congregation,” “what motivates you to come to worship with this church,” “What spiritual gifts do you share with the church,” … I thought your responses to these questions were so cool … there was one question he asked that has stuck with me … I remember it being a challenging question to answer … My edited version of PJ’s question goes something like this:
“Consider any gifts you have that aren’t shared with the church. Are there gifts – such as talents you enjoy, skills you have, or things you are good at – that don’t get shared with the church? Maybe because you haven’t offered … maybe because the opportunity doesn’t exist?”
I love that question … it challenges me personally as a disciple (are there gifts that I am not sharing with the church … are there things I could be doing … things I could be sharing that I am not) … maybe, it means that if I haven’t before, I need to be more open to financially supporting the church … maybe it means I need to give more time … or it means I need to talk to someone in the church’s leadership about opportunities to share the gifts I have. As a pastor and church leader, this question also challenges me to work to create more opportunities for people to offer their gifts, talents, and skills to serve Christ and our community.
As we think about our offering, I think that is a helpful question to sit with and work through … you are valuable to God … God has given you something good … some good gift to share with the church and with the world … are you sharing it?
You are God’s beloved child and you have something good to offer to Christ’s work through the church … As Paul taught the church, everyone in the church has value and purpose … and everyone’s gift, no matter what it is, has value in Christ’s work.
It can be challenging to talk about our offering, but it also can be good and joyful … God gives us so much … it can be our joy … our worship … to offer our lives and our gifts back to God for God’s use and for God’s glory.