Thursday, March 20, 2014

Another Ordinance: Giving?

In my theological tradition, we have two ordinances: water baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. In other traditions these might be referenced as sacraments.

One of the great things about ordinances is the tactile nature of it all. We take regular stuff (water, bread, the cup) and make it Holy stuff for a few moments.

We take water, maybe in a river or swimming pool or a specially-dedicated tank or even drops from a bowl, and make it Holy. In my tradition, we get in… and the one being baptized goes all in, completely soaked, completely immersed. The regular stuff becomes Holy stuff as we symbolically bury everything about the old life and the new life rises… every inch of us wet from the washing.

We take the bread and the cup, just as regular as it was when Jesus picked it up from His dinner table, and for a few moments that regular stuff becomes Holy stuff as we remember that Jesus suffered, bled, and died for us. We remember all that He did in order to commune with us. We remember that He is alive and communes with us today. And we remember His promise of eternity with Him.

The regular stuff that becomes Holy stuff helps us more fully understand and more fully believe… it helps us worship with our heads and our hearts and our hands. All of our senses are better encompassed and enveloped when we involve stuff. Thank God for ordinances. 

Along these lines, I wish we approached giving more like an ordinance. 

There was a day when I think I approached giving more like an ordinance. For a number of years I never let an offering plate go by without putting something in… even if it was just a coin, or the smallest bill in my pocket. On more than one occasion, unprepared, I found that the only thing I had in my pocket was a paperclip or a stray button… in it went. I’ve even written the occasional IOU when caught unprepared. I wanted to participate in worship with my giving whenever presented with the opportunity, and I wanted to experience the tactile exercise of it all… my stuff coming out of my pocket, through my hands, and into the offering plate. 

There was even a time when I encouraged folks to participate in just that way when I was given the opportunity to receive offerings. I would tell folks, “just give something… even if you have to borrow a dollar from a neighbor… even if you have to borrow a dollar from me.” 

But, even though I receive at least one offering a week these days, it has been a long time since I’ve encouraged everyone to give something every time. It just doesn’t seem to suit our times anymore. People give online, or once a month, or swipe their card. In a text-to-give or wave-your-smartphone-across-a-scanner culture, it just seems sort of primitive to think that everyone out to put something in an archaic brass plate every Sunday. 

By making giving so electronic and automatic, it seems like we are missing a mystical opportunity when regular stuff could become Holy stuff for a few moments. Just as regular water or regular bread becomes Holy stuff, could the stuff in our hands, before dropped in a plate, become Holy stuff in our regular worship?

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