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What my heart says is that my stuff is mine. I worked for it -- or my folks worked for it and I inherited it. Regardless, it is mine.

 
Resources: LLM Archives
For nearly a century, Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways. LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its web resources available to a new generation of stewards.


L
et's Stop Responding to the Past
By the Rev. Hank Langknecht 

For 12 years I've been a Lutheran and for 12 years I've prayed, "we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us - our selves, our time, and our possessions…."

For 12 years I've tried to convince myself that the prayer is true for me. But it's not. For 12 years I've tried to convince myself that I am motivated to place my envelope in the plate by that same "j" and "t." But I am not. For 12 years I've wondered why we pray this prayer (other than because the "Blessed are you” prayer involves a noisy page turn).

Is anyone motivated to "respond to past blessings?" Of course. But I will bet that although our brains acknowledge that yes, our everything came as God's gift; and yes, an offering response is seemly; our hearts are not brimming with joy and thanksgiving at the prospect.

What my heart says is that my stuff is mine. I worked for it -- or my folks worked for it and I inherited it. Regardless, it is mine. Trying to muster "j" and "t" is fruitless because my work-ethic heart - Protestant, American, and sinful as it is thus revealed to be - isn't in it.

For 12 years as a Lutheran I've struggled with this (read: felt guilty about this) until now. Turns out that "joy and thanksgiving for what you have first given us - our selves, time, and possessions” is not the only motive, not the only Biblical motive, and perhaps not the best motive for giving. I do give. I give in proportion. I increase the proportion every year.

I give with what could almost be called joy and thanksgiving. I even give in response to what God has first given me; but it is not God's past gifts, not self, not time, and not possessions. I give in response to the gift of God's vision for the future.

I want to call three Biblical witnesses to my aid here. Givers all. But givers who would hedge on the notion that they gave in response to God's past blessings.

The widow at the temple from Luke 21 is the first. While she might claim "time" as a gift, she is culturally without self and obviously without possessions. To boot, Jesus has just described in Luke 20 how the temple staff is guilty of  "devouring widows' houses." Yet here she is, at the temple, putting her two cents in. Is she motivated by "signs of gracious love?"

We don’t know, of course, because her motivation is not the point of the story. But I'm guessing she wasn’t giving in joyful response to God’s past blessings; but rather to a fervent hope for God's future.

Consider Zacchaeus. Here was a motivated giver. Would anyone want to maintain that his fortune -- coming as it did from illegal skimming from Roman tax receipts - was a sign of God’s gracious love? Did he give because God had blessed him so richly?  What about the sinner who poured oil on Jesus' feet? No one, least of all she, would reflect with pious serenity on how wonderful God had been to bless her with such riches. But Zaccheus and the sinner, when brought face to face (or face to foot) with the incarnate future of God, gave. They gave big time.

And so do I. Because I've seen it too. I've seen what God intends to do with creation. I've seen what God intends to do with you. I've seen what God intends to do with me. I've seen God's future and I want it. I want its mysterious, hidden, already-not-yet presence to be exposed, made plain, revealed, now. The Augsburg Fortress Ecclesiastical Supply Catalog lists a box of 500 whole-wheat communion wafers for $13.75. For 50 cents I can enable the delivery of God's grace and forgiveness - God's future - to 17 people on any given Sunday. Fifty cents! Imagine. (I can even choose whether they receive Christ's body imprinted with Paschal Lamb, Jerusalem Cross, or Cross Formee!) For 50 cents I am a part of God's future delivered direct.

For 12 years I have bristled at synod stewardship consultations that felt more like United Way campaign pitches than spiritual dialogues. I realize though that insofar as such presentations trumpet the ways that the Church is working in the unfolding of God's future, they are just as faithful as the "first fruits" party line. In a way they are more compelling because they draw me into God's future rather than forcing me to try to reinterpret my past.

It doesn't matter whether what I have came from God, grandma's life insurance, the lottery, theft, inheritance, or through my own blood, sweat and tears. In fact, it doesn't matter if I have very little, or nothing, at all. (Note that poverty is a condition ill-addressed by a "first fruits" emphasis and no one, least of all that widow, would exempt the poor from stewardship). No matter what I have or whence it came, I want God's future. I want to be involved with that future as it unfolds in the work of Christ's Church.

My giving makes me a part of it.

Of course God does not need my money to bring the future to fruit. I know that. At the same time, my money, transformed into sacrament, mission, and ministry through the Church (and realize that money given to any old charity is not the same!) does participate -- even enable - the delivery of the Gospel, the delivery of Christ, to the world.

It does join me to the unfolding of God's future.

I give in response to the future vision God has granted me; not least of all because by God's grace that vision includes me. And here is where it is my money, and my money alone, that must be given as God does the unfolding. God has shown me that one day I will be relieved of my Protestant work ethic, and my American capitalism, and my other assorted sinfulnesses. God has shown me that one day I will be a trusting, dependent child of God who does honestly offer "with joy and thanksgiving." And so that final irony is that I give not because I believe the prayer now, but because I yearn to believe it, and because my giving is part of what is involved in the unfolding so that I can believe it.

For those who already "offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us," a tip of the miter to you. I hope you can understand that for me, God's gift of future vision is a source of motivation that has moved me far beyond where I ever expected to go. 


The Rev. Hank Langknecht is assistant professor of homiletics and Christian communication at Trinity Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. He wrote this essay for Faith in Action when he was serving as pastor of First English Lutheran Church, Marysville, Ohio, where he has served for eight years.