Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Generosity and Mission Conference

Archbishop Douglas Hambidge – Anglican Church of Canada

There’s a message that bombards us that money impinges every part of our lives but somehow we must never talk about it in connection with who we really are as those entrusted with life and a world by God. I want to say that money is much more than something to pay the bills. No matter how important those bills are, that is not what money is for.

I believe that money has a sacred quality – almost a sacramental nature – because beneath its outward appearance there’s a deep spiritual meaning. Money is me in miniature. It says what I’m doing with my life. It says what I have done with my life. All my energies, all my time, all my skills, all the things I do. And right at the heart of worship I have an opportunity to say to God, this is who I am, this is what I have been doing with my life, this is me in the most complete form and expression that I know.

And as an outward sign of the offering of myself to you, I offer this expression of myself, this symbol of my life. I ask you to take what I offer and, in blessing it, make me more and more the kind of person you intended me to be. Consecrate my offering – consecrate me to be your person in the world. I am not giving because the church needs money. I am not giving because I might win something. I am not giving because there’s a tax benefit involved. I’m not even giving because there’s some crisis in the world. Before these things, important as they are, I am giving myself and the only way to do this that I know is to take this common commodity that expresses me and give it.

There’s a story in 2nd Samuel, chapter 24. There had been an epidemic of some kind in the land and pray had been offered that it would be taken away and the plague dies out. So David the King and the people decide that they will celebrate God’s blessing (by removing the plague) and that they will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. And so they went to the place where the last of that plague was seen and built an altar to offer sacrifice on this piece of land. It belonged to somebody else and so he said to the owner, “How much? I want that piece of land.” And the owner said, “But you are the King. It’s yours. I’ll give it to you for nothing.” David said, “I will not offer to the Lord my God that which costs me nothing.”

What does that say to the kind of appeal that you hear so often: “Just give another dollar a week, you won’t notice it.”? We are meant to notice it! We’re giving ourselves and it’s painful and it hurts and we notice it. Giving according to proportion of faith – you will notice it. It will cost you something.

The other side of the offering is to look up and see there on the altar bread and wine. And in the bread and the wine God is saying to me and to you and to the whole Church, now do you see how much you mean to me? Now do you see how much I love you? There’s the bread and the wine – symbols of a life. Now do you understand?

And there right beside it, if I had my way, there’s a plate full of money and it’s made out of my little offering and yours and all of us – tokens of our lives, tokens of ourselves sitting right there on the altar. I would destroy all those side tables that they use to put the offering on.

And there on the altar are the offerings that we’ve gathered, inadequate as they are, symbols and tokens of ourselves, representing all that we have and all that we are, tokens of ourselves right beside it. As we’re saying to God, now do you see how much you mean to us, now do you see how much we love you? At the heart of it the offering has nothing to do with the needs of the Church or the needs of the poor or the hungry. At the heart of it the offering has nothing to do with those things – that comes later. At the heart of it it has nothing to do with paying bills, meeting deficits or responding to a crisis somewhere else. I didn’t say these things weren’t important, I said that at the heart of it this is not where it is at.

I am convinced that if we began to take our offertory moment seriously – not just bread and wine but our total offertory moment seriously – lives will be changed as people are allowed, encouraged, to say to God, “this is what you mean to me because I know what I mean to you.”
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