From the Book of Ben Sira:
Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed,
for all that you offer is in fulfilment of the commandment.
The offering of the righteous enriches the altar,
and its pleasing odor rises before the Most High.
The sacrifice of the righteous is acceptable,
and it will never be forgotten.
Be generous when you worship the Lord,
and do not stint the first fruits of your hands.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 35:6-10 – November 3, 2012)
It shouldn’t, but it always surprises me when I preside at a worship service and the offering of alms (cash money) is small. This is especially so at a small-attendance service when there are only a few people but even fewer dollars in the plate. It surprises me, I suppose, because of something I was taught by my grandfather. It shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose, because of the realities of which I am aware.
Those realities include the fact that many of those present have made their weekly or monthly pledge offerings at another time during the week, at a principal service or, perhaps, by mail or by direct deposit. Those realities include the fact that many people no longer carry cash at all and have no small bills or change to put in the alms basin. Those realities include the fact that many who give prefer to do so in a way that can be tracked for tax or other purposes and one cannot do that with “anonymous” cash donations. I know all these realities and yet, because of what my grandfather taught me, I am still surprised at how few alms there are in the offering basin.
What my paternal grandfather taught me accord’s with Ben Sira’s words in today’s lesson. He said, “Never approach the altar of God without a gift of thanksgiving. Even if you’ve already paid your pledge in some way, even if you’ve already attended the week’s principal service and made a major donation, open your wallet and give a little extra.” My grandmother always took a “hostess gift” when my grandparents were invited to dinner or another gathering at someone else’s home; I suppose, in some way, my grandfather’s insistence on an offering at worship was like a “hostess gift” to God. It is a visible act of thanksgiving and is as much a reminder to me as to anyone of my need to be thankful and generous. lt is much more for my benefit that I give than for that of the church or any mission or ministry it may support.
God doesn’t really need our hostess gifts, but we need to give them.
A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.