Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 39: Leviticus 7-9; Psalm 33; Mark 6

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, make good your vows to the Most High....
In my tradition, Sunday liturgies hinge on two basics portions of worship. The first portion we call the Liturgy of the Word. The second portion is the liturgy of the Table, the Holy Communion. Any action containing two parts requires a transition from one to another. For us in our worship, that hinge is the offertory. That is the point in worship when we take up the offerings of the people and present them, with bread, wine and water for the making of Eucharist, at the Altar.

To introduce this moment in worship, the Celebrant is directed to offer a sentence of scripture that opens the offertory and invites the people to send their gifts forward. For years, I had to carry my prayer book with me to assist with proclaiming those sentences. Now, having done it often enough, several of them are written on my heart and they come easily:

"Ascribe to the Lord the Honor due his Name, bring offerings and come into his courts...;"
"Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and make good your vows to the Most High..."

Those two most readily come to mind. As I read Leviticus, and as we are in the midst of God establishing the manner, nature and requisite practice of several different kinds of sacrifice that are to take place at the tent of meeting, I am mindful of that hinge moment in our own worship. In a season of the Church when the challenge of being good stewards of our lives, our households, our community, our environment are fast becoming critical issues for the continued survival of hearth, home and planet, the way, manner and practice of making offerings to God is becoming paramount to us as the Body of Christ.

That hinge of worship is a defining moment for us as Church. It is not only how much we give, but how we give that is important. Are we willing to break down our anxiety about rendering to God a gift that challenges us to change our impulsive habits so that we live more mindfully in connection with each other and the world? Are we willing to give with an abandon that makes our common life, our outreach and our care for commonly held assets not just a "by the skin of our teeth" moment but instead an occasion of radical generosity and celebration?

Are we willing to acknowledge that the focus of our lives is as much on an other as on ourselves: on God, on our neighbor, on those in need?

When Jesus sees the throng of people who have followed him into a deserted place, he feels compassion for them. Asking his disciples to feed this multitude, they kvetch and worry. It would take more than they could earn in six months to buy food for all these people. They don't even have enough food to feed HIM much less THEM! How much food do you have, asks Jesus...and we know the answer: several loaves and a couple of dried fish.

Jesus takes that meager meal, blesses it and then instructs his followers to offer it to the people. Consider that for a moment...the God whom we worship, in the person of the Son, makes an offering for OUR benefit. The example set? That we be willing to render up gifts that build off that radical model of generosity that Jesus presents: Take what we have and give it up so that all may have enough. Blessed and broken, taken and eaten...that simple little gift fed over five thousand. And, there were left overs.

When it is time to approach the table and begin the Eucharistic prayer, there is always that moment when I can feel my heart lift as the gifts are brought forward. This is us, as church, responding to having heard God's word and our prayers linked and lifted up. This is us, as church, getting ready to reaffirm our relationship with a living Christ as we take bread and wine and remember Him in the Body and Blood of Eucharist. This is us, as church, giving because we are able in that moment to make a response to God for all that we have been given. That offertory sacrifice is not a ransom for our good fortune, it is a bonding forged in thanksgiving that we celebrate with the One from whom ALL blessings flow....

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