Saturday, November 10, 2012

Homily: Sunday, 11 November TheTwenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Homily: Sunday, 11 November TheTwenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living

It is an odd thing that when people talk about stewardship and giving they more often do so without once mentioning the main thing, the central fact of the Church’s life, The Holy Eucharist, “the source and summit”  of the Church’s life (Vatican II), the central act of worship on the Lord’s Day (BCP 1979).

After all the language of the Mass is also the language we associate with giving.

Eucharist means thanksgiving; an ancient name for the Mass is the anaphora, a Greek word which means ‘offering’;  we call the Mass ‘the holy sacrifice’.

In the Prayer Book Canon of the Mass the priest says “we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee”.

I suspect that the part of the Mass which is least understood is the Offertory. In fact I imagine that lots of folks do not even think it is part of the Mass. They view it as a kind of intermission, when nothing is really happening, and so a convenient time to take up the collection and sing a hymn.  

You may be fumbling to hold the hymnal and at the same time reach for your wallet but the priest at Mass is very busy at this point, not just getting the bread and the wine ready but praying and offering the bread and wine, which will become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

First offering the bread:

            Receive, O Holy Father, Almighty and everlasting God, this spotless host I offer
            unto thee

Then offering the wine, as if for a moment he has forgotten about the rest of you, he switches to the first person plural:

            We offer unto thee, O Lord, the Cup of Salvation . . .

Then whether you like it or not the priest asks God to accept our sacrifice, everybody’s sacrifice:

In a humble spirit and a contrite heart, we beseech thee, to accept us, O Lord, that our sacrifice may be in thy sight this day that it may be well pleasing unto thee, O Lord our God.

Then finally

            Receive, O Holy Trinity, this oblation, which we offer unto thee, in memory
            of  the Passion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . 

By the way an oblation is just a Latin word for “offering” or “giving”

But the first hint that you all get about this is when the priest turns and says out loud

            Pray, brethren, that this my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable unto 
            God the Almighty Father.

Truth to tell you all are doing something important at that point too and I do not mean belting out a hymn. I mean by reaching for your wallet and it is not just about money.

In fact what the Church wants from you is not so much money but bread and wine.

In earliest days of the Church the lay folks provided the bread and the wine for each Mass and these were delivered with considerable ceremony at the Offertory. There was an elaborate procession of the faithful, first came the men with bread, then the women with the wine, then the priest and the deacons, up to altar, all the while psalms were sung.

There were early church canons which expressly forbid the laity from giving and the clergy from receiving anything but bread and wine. But in time several things happened: first, there was more bread and wine than was needed, so the surplus was given to the clergy and the poor; second, the lay folks became more and more inclined to give other things, honey, milk, chickens, gold and silver and the clergy became less satisfied with the unpredictable quality of the bread and the wine.  And before long the priests provided the bread and wine and laity the money to buy bread and wine.

Still make no mistake about it: what you are doing when you put money in the plate is buying bread and wine and you are making the sacrifice of the Mass your sacrifice. To be sure there may be a surplus which pays the priest, relieves the poor, keeps the electricity on, stops the building from falling down. But the surplus presupposes a generosity appropriate to generosity of Jesus in the Eucharist.

When we give to the Church we are giving so that the words of St. Augustine will be true: “There you are on the table, and there you are in the chalice...." Our pain at parting with that which we need and hold dear is on the altar.

So how much should you give? The Gospel of the widow’s mite gives us a clue. Jesus is in the temple, that is, place of Sacrifice, Jews did not go to the temple to hear bible stories, or sermons, they went to kill something and offer it to God. When they gave money they were paying for the animals to be sacrificed. The scribes gave to treasury what they could get by giving but the widow gives everything she had, her whole living, her whole life.

So in this Gospel Jesus anticipates his own Sacrifice on the Cross and His Church’s continual offering of that one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice in which Jesus gives himself , body, soul, divinity and humanity, wholly and completely to us.

You often hear that the tithe is the biblical minimum standard of giving and no doubt the tithe is based on strong biblical authority and is also a convenient standard. But for Eucharistic Christians the standard is higher, the standard is Our Lord himself.

As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it: “he has appeared once for all at the end of the age –not to offer blood not his own – but to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

It is a standard of course that we will not and cannot meet. But is still the standard. And however puny our offering it is united to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus – our gift of bread and wine becoming His Body and Blood for the life of the world. That alone makes our not-enough enough.

She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living

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