Mark 4:30-32, from the Common English Bible
1 Timothy 6:17-19, from The Message
2 Corinthians 9:6-11, from The Message
If you have been to a First Church Amherst Consecration Sunday service before, you know that this is the time when we interrupt the meditative Taize chants and inspiring scripture readings to focus on our gifts to the church. Perhaps more to the point, you know that beyond the beautiful singing and the deep peace it brings, a highlight of our Consecration service is that moment when we rise from our seats, walk to the front of the sanctuary, and place our pledge cards in a common basket.
This ritual never fails to move me deeply. From my front row seat, I marvel at how long the line gets and how long it takes for the members of our church to submit the financial pledges that represent their hopes for our church and this world that God so loves. As you make your way up to the basket to drop in your pledge, I watch in wonder and awe and thanksgiving.
Well, to state the obvious: Things are different today.
Most of us have not been singing. Some of us are not here in the sanctuary—and we don’t even know who some of you are. Some of us have already mailed in our pledge cards or used the online donation form on the church website, while still others of us may have chosen not to pledge.
Many of us are grieving the loss of the way church and Sunday mornings used to be, but we love God and church too much to imagine living without it. Some of us appreciated the break the pandemic gave us from church routines, and some of us may never come back, at least not in the same way.
Some of us hated talking about money before the pandemic, while others of us may have gained a new of appreciation for financially stability now that we seem to be coming out of a time in which so many businesses, families—and yes, churches—succumbed to the loss of reliable income. Some of us have actually achieved a new understanding of grace and privilege, and we want to make our use of money part of our spiritual practice.
All of us have, in our different ways, been forced since March 2020 to weather a scary and overwhelming storm. Our culture tells us that when times are tough, we need to put ourselves first—that we should hunker down, circle the wagons, hang on tight to whatever we have.
But Jesus and our long spiritual tradition tells us something very different: That when we are rooted in God’s love—a love that extends to our community, to neighbors and strangers and all the people who’ve been left outside of that love—we will sustained even in the most brutal circumstances. And, even more than that, we will bear fruit that scatters seeds that will grow into trees that bear still more fruit. And on and on and on.
What we choose to give or not give makes all the difference in the world. Our gifts can multiply exponentially how much love is present and operating in the world. In the same way, our decision to pull up roots and suspend our giving can break the chain of growth, fruitfulness, and healing that we and our world so desperately need.
As the pastor of this church, I don’t know how much you give—or even if you give at all. But what I want for each and every one of us is lives that are rooted and grounded in love, lives flourishing in the love and support of community, lives made joyful by seeing souls nurtured, families fed, children cherished, hearts held, and justice done. And I believe much of that comes from our giving and sharing of what we have received by grace.
So let us continue to bring forth our gifts, in whatever way we do. Let us continue to root ourselves in love and faith, hope and community, joy and justice. Let our pledges be roots growing deep into the soil of love and sustenance. Let our pledges be a way of saying to one another and the world that we are not giving up, but are committed to seeing our church and our neighbors through this uncertain time. Let our pledges and all our gifts be how we put our love for God, neighbor, ourselves, and—yes—our church into action.
[INVITATION to PRESENT TITHES and OFFERINGS]
Now the time has come: Our opportunity to experience some of that love and joy—the joy of giving together. If you have not already mailed in your pledge card or submitted your pledge online, we invite you to bring it forward, along with your weekly offering, at this time. We invite you to give generously and cheerfully—
So that you may know the fullness of life,
So that you may be rooted and grounded in love,
So that God’s work may continue to be done in this place and through this church, and
So that we and all creation might come to know more than we could ask or imagine, and
So that this world God so loves may know healing and hope, justice and peace, community and love.
[Consecration of Tithes and Offerings]
Creator God, source of all Life, giver of all that is good, Great Mystery who imagined us into being,
Receive now these love offerings from our lives, expressions of thanksgiving for the wealth of blessings we have received from you. See in these offerings the longings of our lives, the hopes of our hearts, and the joy we experience in being your people gathered together still—even as this pandemic continues to challenge us. See in our pledges our dreams not only for this church but also for this world you so love, this beautiful and broken world made entirely of gifts from your heart of love. Honor our imaginations and visions as those of your own Spirit.
Bless now these gifts, that by the fruits of our generosity, seeds of love, community, justice, peace, and healing will sprout and grow strong and tall. Bless our gifts, that through the power of your Spirit they might accomplish even more than we can imagine.
And to you be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.