This Sunday in worship, we received a special offering for Human Relations Day as well as our ongoing offerings for God’s work through the local and connectional (worldwide) church. This act reminded me of a conversation I had this week with a worship staff colleague about the role of the offering in our lives.
The words that we use about our offerings are important because they imply different worlds of understanding.
First, we “receive” offerings; we don’t “collect” them. “Collect” implies a billing approach and a contractual agreement for services rendered. It focuses on taking in money, not on receiving it in order to use it for others.
Second, we “give” our offerings; we don’t “present” them. The verb “to present” is part of the Old Testament language for sacrifices. That’s the whole point of Jesus’ gift of himself for us in his life, death, and Resurrection: thanks to Jesus Christ, no more sacrifices are needed or wanted by God. Jesus’ sacrifice was done once for all people and for all time. (See the Book of Hebrews about this.)
And third, we give “to God through the church,” not “to the church” as an end in itself. By being mindful about our language, we help shape our deeper understandings.
So our offerings are not three things: They are not our sacrifices for God. They are not a way to earn our place with God. (God already loves us as children of God.) And offerings are not just symbolic. Our offerings are meant to be substantial and to come from the substance of our lives: our time and energies, money from our work, our lived-out values, priorities and commitments, all given in gratitude for God’s love already given to us. Our offerings are substantial in another way, as well: they can make a substantial difference in the lives of human beings in this world.
Language is important, but ultimately it is what we do that counts. So when we give back to God some of the resources God has entrusted to us, we come with grateful hearts to participate in God’s substantial work all around us, by giving from the substance of our lives. May your offerings this week of your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness embody the substance of God’s love!
Your partner in ministry,
Written 1/18/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church