17 August 2006

separate and apart

Today I've been reading a few chapters of William Willimon's Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. (Summer break's not over yet... but it might as well be. Still, it's a great read so far.) One of the most fascinating parts of the book so far, oddly enough, is a short discussion of place of the weekly offering in worship. I grew up in a church where the offering always closely followed communion, but I often heard these words sandwiched in between them: "Now separate and apart... ." That's the cue for everyone to reach for their checkbooks. This is, to my knowledge at least, a strange turn of phrase unique to churches of Christ; I think it's meant to disassociate the icky "hand in your money" part from the more holy elements of the bread and the cup. I've always wondered what I would say if I had to introduce this part of the service - what's a good transition from celebrating the Eucharist to passing the collection trays?

But maybe a transition isn't what we need here. What if the way we use our finances actually has something to do with Kingdom living? What if it is actually transformed by the cross of Christ, and so it is indeed the most appropriate action to follow our participation in that salvific event? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Jesus doesn't seem to consider our money to be "separate and apart" from our spiritual lives. What if our contribution is really an expression of our loving, faithful response to God, a testimony that we are citizens of a Kingdom where the property lines are quite a bit different from those of the rest of the world?
Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
I found Willimon's reflection on this passage inspiring:
"Here is the church's strongest visible evidence of the truth of resurrection - a resurrected community in which old, deadly economic and social arrangements have been overturned. Here is truly "testimony to the resurrection" in this transformed people. Here is the world recreated as God meant it to be, where "there was not a needy person among them," and all things are seen as gifts entrusted to us by God rather than possessions to be tightly grasped. Each Sunday's offering is meant to be a revolutionary, countercultural, and prophetic act for the church. There are few more inflammatory and potentially disruptive acts than when the pastor stands and announces to the congregation that it is now time for the offering. Here embodied before the congregation on Sunday is what the pastor ought to be doing all week - demanding that we give God what is rightly God's, that we show that our money is where our hearts are (Matt. 6:21), and that by God's grace we are able to feel the needs of someone other than ourselves, that we are being transformed from takers into givers, that we give material, visible, monetary testimony to the Resurrection."
Pass the plates! I'm ready!!! But please don't tell me that it's "separate and apart." I don't want anything in my life to be held separate and apart from the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I want that to shape every part, including my pocket book!

1 comment:

Jared Cramer said...

in my church we do the offering as a part of the "offertory" where the parishioners present the bread, wine and water for consecration and use in the eucharistic celebration.

right after our financial gifts are presented, along with the bread and wine, the following is said:

celebrant: all things come of thee, o lord
people: and of thine own have we given thee.