I understand that scripture forms the basis for the whole service (at least when worship works.) I understand the morning prayer, the litany and the hymns—even when I don’t like them. I even understand the announcements!
But the offertory prayer???
What is happening there?
What do we think will happen?
Is this a loaves and fishes kind of thing? Do we think that if we pray over the money then God will miraculously transform our $5 bill into a $50? Then shouldn’t we just say that? “O God, please take this pittance that we have given and transform it into a great bounty!”
Or is this prayer a way of “encouraging” people to give? If that is the case then how about an honest prayer. “O God, bless bountifully those who give; and those who choose not to give, O Lord, strike them blind.” Granted it is rather Old Testament, but it would only take one blinding to cover the budget for the year!!
What do we do with the Offertory prayer? I have thought a lot about this recently. Many churches are in the midst of their stewardship campaign for the year. Others are wondering how they are going to balance the books by the end of the year. It is that love-hate relationship with money that causes many sleepless nights for ministers and churches.
A recent article in The Christian Century gave me some help. Dean Snyder not only gave a wonderful theological underpinning to the issue, suggesting that too many of our offertory prayers fall prey to a docetic heresy—the idea that the physical world is too base and grubby for God to have actually entered it, and therefore, something that we good Christians shouldn’t care for.
Yet as he points out, it is that base and grubby money that makes the ministry possible. You can read the entire article here. In conclusion, Snyder suggests a prayer he would love to hear, or even pray. I have taken the liberty of “Baptistizing” this wonderful Methodist prayer.
We offer to you, O God, this money and rejoice in all it will buy and pay for. We thank you that some of it will pay for baloney and cheese from Costco to feed hungry people in this city. A portion will help pay teachers’ salaries in Haiti. A few dollars will pay for the work sheets our children carry home after Sunday school. May what they learn here help shape their character and life values.
Some of this offering will buy sheet music for the choir so that your name might be glorified. Some will pay the electricity and heat for this building where we come to worship you, where homeless people come for help and where AA groups meet to help each other stay sober.
We thank you that this offering will pay for the pastors’ salary and the salaries of the church staff who devote themselves to organizing this congregation to make disciples of Jesus to transform the world. May our work be wise and courageous. And a small portion of this money will help our larger church do the things that we cannot do alone—support missionaries, train ministers, shape our future. We pray for those who lead your church that they might have the courage to lead us in your way.
We thank you also, God, that the money will not be spent on things that we might desire but that will not really bring us happiness. We thank you that when we give to you, we learn to seek our happiness not in things but in you, and we find a truer happiness this way.
We thank you, God, that when we give to you rather than spending more on ourselves we fulfill the trust you have placed in us by blessing us with so much. You have blessed us with life, strength, intelligence, abilities and resources, and we thank you for the opportunity to give you joy by being generous to you and others. It is a great blessing to be able to give this money.
We know that the way we use the money and resources we have shapes our hearts and affections. So we are grateful that we will love you more as a result of giving this treasure to you. May we give even more to you this coming week so we will love you even more.
We also remember that some of us who have given the fewest dollars have been the most generous, and some of us who have given more dollars have not given as sacrificially. Still we rejoice in this money we present to you, God. We delight in it. We delight in what it will buy and what it will not buy because we didn’t keep it for ourselves. We love giving you this money, God. Thank you that the Word became flesh and began this earthly Christian movement of love, inclusion, justice, beauty and joy so that we might give our dollars to help fuel it. In gratitude for the blessing of being able to give our money, we pray. Amen.
That makes sense to me. You might even want to use it this Sunday!