As a kid I was very interested in the concept of opposites, and now as a new mother I understand perhaps part of the reason why – children’s books are peppered with references to opposites. I suspect my fascination also had something to do with my desire – then and still – to categorize and organize things. As I grew up, I realized of course that not everything is that black and white; not everything has an opposite. Nevertheless, I do still find that when I need to consider a complex idea or concept, it sometimes helps to think about how it’s different than something I’m more familiar with. So that’s where I started in thinking about Consecration Sunday.
I work as the Director of a non-profit, where I’m responsible for, among other things, fundraising. I do a lot of thinking and reading about the best way to ask for money. While charitable giving shares some key things with giving to church – namely that the gift is motivated by something personal and that the gift is used in the service of a mission – there are some significant differences in how we give to Grace compared to how we give to a non-profit or cause.
Charitable giving to a cause or non-profit is part of the economy of the world. It’s motivated by altruism but it’s nevertheless part of how we spend our money in the world. I often write appeal letters that talk about what a donor’s gift can “buy.” I work in healthcare, so, for example, a $40 donation will buy a year’s worth of prescription medication for one of our patients. Or we talk about reaching a budgeted goal. I suspect anyone who regularly tunes their radio to OPB knows what I’m talking about – we have fifteen minutes to reach our goal of $5,000 this hour…and your donation will get you a tote bag or a pint glass or the newest season of Downton Abbey before anyone else. The language is about what the organization or its clients need.
When we give to Grace, we are participating in the economy of the Kingdom. How is that different? Well the question of whether and how much to give is not only a question you answer, but it’s a question about you, not about Grace. The question is: What is God calling you to give? And why is God calling you to give? How will your relationship with this community and with God grow and change as a result of your giving?
When I was in graduate school, we had a visiting professor, Jamie Smith, from Calvin College in Michigan. Dr. Smith was sharing with us about the challenge of parenting in our consumer-driven culture. Even if he had wanted to keep his kids from being subject to the consumerist world, which he didn’t, there was simply no way to do so. The messages of the market were ubiquitous, and this was pre-Facebook and pop-up ads. So he turned to the power of language. The example he shared with us was that while he would happily drive his kids to the mall when they asked, he asked in return that they refer to the mall as the “temple of stuff.” He wanted them to acknowledge that visiting the mall was, in a way, an act of worship in the economy of the world, an economy that was very different from the economy of the Kingdom. While I suspect this was lost on the kids, the message of it really stuck with me and reminded me of the importance of the language we use when we’re talking about something – money – that plays a role in both economies – the economy of the world and the economy of the Kingdom. So while we use some of the same language in talking about giving to Grace as we do in talking about our other types of giving – donation, pledge, gift – we also use some language that wouldn’t be familiar in the world economy, and I want to finish by talking about just a few of those words and phrases.
Consecration. Today is Consecration Sunday…it’s not our fall pledge drive. To consecrate is to take something ordinary and material and to make it sacred. We’ll have the opportunity today to physically enact the act of consecration by walking our estimate of giving cards up from where we’re sitting to the alter.
And then there’s the “t” word – tithe. When I started preparing for today I thought, “Whatever you say, don’t utter the word ‘tithe.’” But as I gave more thought to it I realized that tithe is absolutely the right word because it refers to the percentage of what we’ve been given that we feel called to give to Grace, to this community. Again, it’s not about the percentage of the budget that Grace needs to bring in from pledges. It’s about the percentage that each of us feels called to give.
Finally, we refer to giving as a spiritual discipline, not a recurring or monthly donation. The act of giving does something to our hearts on an individual basis yes, but as we all do it, it becomes a collective act. As we walk forward at the end of the service, look around – what you’ll see are individuals giving of themselves and in doing so forming the church, this community we love. As the letter to the Thessalonians we heard earlier says “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”