Memories of God #4
"Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us - our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love. Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord."
The above prayer will be familiar to Lutherans who used the Lutheran Book of Worship every Sunday for 30 years. It is the "offertory prayer," or the prayer after the offering. I don't know if it's in the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship or not and I'm not taking the time just now to look. I just know my congregation hasn't used this prayer since we got the ELW.
In the spring of 1995, I was finishing up my seminary career. My mother had died the spring before, I was making my first steps out of the closet, I was completing a Master of Divinity degree that I wasn't planning on using---in short, the future was looming with lots of "new normals" to be discovered. In short, I was a mess.
Well, I'm often a mess. If there is one recurring issue in my life, a "besetting sin" (as some might call it), it's that I just can't imagine that I have anything of real value to offer the world. Forget the world---to offer much of anyone. I hate putting that out there. It sounds so remarkably whiny and not a little self-absorbed. Okay, add that to my list of besetting sins. I'm sure I'm not the only one who can make a list of them.
But the 1995 version of the mess that is me: I was all kinds of heartbroken, grieving, uncertain about my future. One day, that spring, we were in chapel and we prayed the above prayer, as I'd been doing since 1978. This time, though, there was a (non-literal) tap on my shoulder and a (non-literal) finger pointing to the one line: "our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love." I heard a (non-literal) voice say to me, "See? You are a sign of my gracious love."
I burst into tears and didn't really stop crying for the rest of the chapel service. I'm sure people around me were concerned I'd finally cracked. Maybe I had. It wasn't something I could explain right away. I can't explain it now.
Part of the problem is I don't really believe it. Maybe that's just as well. Maybe it's something for others to believe, although I'm sure I can produce witness who would gladly plant a seed of doubt against that (non-literal) voice. At the very least, if I ever live up to the (non-literal) voice's word to me, it is sporadic and often despite my intentions.
The more important thing is that the prayer speaks in plurals. If my sorry self can be a sign of God's gracious love, then others are the same. It forces me to look at other people, the "our selves" around me, and see the Imago Dei in them, the sign of God's gracious love that they are to the world, too.
In general, I have a fairly low opinion of our race. I'm not proud of that, but that's my knee jerk reaction. People suck and it's a terminal condition. Except all "those people" (and I am one of "those people") are children of God, heirs of the "Merciful Father," who loves us despite our terminal suckiness.
We are the beloved of God. Let us be reminded of that and live according, as signs of God's gracious love.