I’ve spent a lot of time in church. Lots of churches. We were there Sunday morning, Sunday night and some Wednesday nights. My grandfather and brother were preachers. My uncle is still a preacher. Daddy was a church deacon and mom still teaches Sunday School. Lots of church, lots of memories, precious memories.
I heard a country song this week, “God’s Country”, and Blake sings about thanking God for rain and grain and giving some back in the plate, cause it’s God’s country. The plate, the offering plate. I floated back to my memories of the plate. It was actually more like a bowl. I’ve seen a lot of offering plates cause I’ve been in a lot of churches. The plate, or bowl, wasn’t always the same. Sometimes it was wooden, sometimes gold-rimmed with a velvety, carpet circle in the middle. Sometimes you put your money in an envelop or just threw your cash and change in the plate. Some churches today have plastic buckets. I prefer the wooden bowl I think, Jesus was a carpenter after all. My church has done away with the plate all together and has “giving stations”. My verdict is still out on that one.
I was at a conference this year and author/speaker/singer Sheila Walsh gave the opening talk one night. She spoke of her home in Scotland and the sweet church she grew up in. The offering plate was being passed around one Sunday and it landed in the lap of the local drunk/misfit. She tells that instead of passing the plate to the next person, he strangely sat it on the ground. The pastor was confused and asked him to pass it on. He begged the pastor to wait for a minute and then actually placed both feet inside the plate. He stood, wobbily because his feet were large,and raised his arms, and began crying out to God, “Take me as an offering. Take me, all of me, all the broken parts, the drunk parts, the misfit parts, please God just take me as an offering.”
Wow, what a picture. That is what offering is meant to be. We sacrifice, we place money in the bucket because it costs us something. It cost this man much to offer himself in this way. It cost him his pride, his comfort, but he needed the plate. The offering plate was the catalyst for his healing.
The way church went for me was you presented your best self on Sundays. Hair was curled, tights were white, dresses pressed and dad’s suit came out of the closet. You brought your best behavior, and smiled, and no one saw the broken parts of you. No one saw what this Scottish drunk so passionately gave to the Lord. In my church experience, your best self was offered. But what if this Scottish misfit was more right than what church told me? What if God wanted all our parts as an offering?
Somehow, my understanding of church and my relationship with Jesus got confused and my offerings became more about what was acceptable, appealing and useful. But I am not sure that is why the Savior had to come. As I have aged and grown in my faith, my understanding is that Jesus came with grace and love to embrace what seems unofferable, unappealing, unacceptable- all our broken places.
I learned somehow to hide these parts of myself, to deny or shush them, but they have been screaming at me lately. Screaming to be noticed. As I attempt to keep them quiet, because I’ve learned to hate them, they just keep knocking. I condemn myself for even having them, because they seem unacceptable to me, to the religious part of me that learned to be presentable on Sunday morning despite what I had done on Friday night.
Over time, I somehow became afraid of these parts, the ones that are angry, undisciplined, unkind, overwhelmed, judgemental or doubtful. I believed that they could undo me and the reputation I worked so hard to establish. Instead of acknowledging them as needing love and redeeming, I rejected them and they just became angrier and louder.
What if I quit trying to deny that the broken parts are there and acknowledge them, say “Hello, I see you” and then just put them in the plate? Well, wouldn’t that be brave? What if we even did this in front of others? Could what we put in the plate encourage others to be brave too? What if the Scottish misfit was just so right?
I was reading the Christmas story again this year and a verse struck me. The angel Gabriel has come to Mary to give her a message. “God has decided to bless you.” he says. (Luke 1:31). Then Mary after asking some questions states, “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever the Lord wants.” vs 36.
Now that is an offering. She had to put it all in the plate. This would cost her greatly. Mary accepted this blessing from God, but with this blessing came much pain: The ridicule of being pregnant out of marriage, the scandal of Jesus’ ministry, and ultimately the murder of her own son. This was part of the blessing she was given and yet she offered her whole self, all the parts, the anxious, angry, doubtful, exhausted parts. Mary offered herself, “a lowly servant girl,” into the hands of her holy, Abba father: the only one who could take her tired, weary and human self and empower her for this hard, Holy blessing. What an offering she made, an amazing Christmas offering. Because of her offering, the healing of the world came.
What if we did this, offered ourselves, every part, like the drunk Scot or the overwhelmed Mary? What if we just stepped in the plate, or laid on the alter, or just fell on our face this Christmas and offered it all. All the parts. What if we recognized that we needed the plate so desperately? What if we quit running from the fear of the parts that we think are unacceptable and just let the blood and the grace and the love of our risen Savior cover them? When we hide the ugly places, we put him in a box. We are saying that his sacrifice wasn’t enough to cover it all, assuming he only wants our best, dressed up self.
Jesus tells us in Mark 2:17 that he didn’t come for the healthy but for the sick, he didn’t come for the whole that need no physician, but for those who need healing, freedom and rescue from sin.
I am not a whole. I am both. I am both scared and full of faith. I am both angry and kind. I am both selfish and giving. I am both redeemed and broken. Holy and hard can be friends. I am not sure wholeness can happen here on this earth. I think I am made of parts and he is redeeming these parts when his timing is right. This is why he tells us creation is groaning along with us while we wait for the redemption for our bodies. (Rom. 8:23). We wait, we wait and we groan with all the parts, we wait and we groan and we step in the plate. With the offering, comes the healing.
This will be my Christmas offering, to stop running and hiding from my groaning, undesirable parts. I will show them the love and grace of the cross and place them in the healing, wooden plate.