I recently went to an early evening Eucharist at another church in the area. I knew many people there, and I was happy to have the opportunity to worship and pray from the vantage point of a pew. That is, until I saw the plate. The collection plate, sitting on a little table, empty and waiting to be filled at the offertory. I simply didn't want to put any money in it. I had all kinds of reasons (or excuses), the usual ones: I shouldn't have to put money in the plate every time I worship; why can’t I just pray without having to deal with this; my family recently had a source of income reduced; there had been unexpected expenses; that church had more money than the church where I work and didn't really need my little donation; someone in the room, associated with that church, had recently said something that upset me; etc. etc. etc. And here’s the excuse of all excuses: I only had a twenty in my wallet. No singles. Maybe I could have given singles. But twenty dollars? Here? Now?
All of these thoughts were about me. Me Me Me. And they were topped off, at last, with a remark silently made in my brain that was so snarky, so catty, so downright petty and unfit for worship, that I knew immediately afterwards that I had only one choice: I simply had to put the twenty dollars in my wallet into that collection plate. I had to release it. There was no other way for me to be free to pray in this moment, free to be in relationship with God. That twenty dollars was standing between me and God and between me and my brothers and sisters in Christ. I had to offer that money to God with no strings attached, no conditions, and with it offer to God all of my selfishness and pettiness, my cattiness, the anxiety and lame litany of soul-killing thoughts that were gaining power over me, turning my heart to stone.
As soon as I made that decision, I was free. (I’m not exaggerating.) I felt like something very toxic had been taken out me. I became less anxious. I was filled with peace. I was able to pray in a new way. I was even filled with renewed love not only for God in that moment, but also for the people of that church where I was worshipping. I now saw the empty plate not as an obstacle, an anxiety-producing reminder of all that was wrong and unfair, but rather as an opportunity. I was glad to be able to give. I was honestly filled with joy and gratitude as I emptied my wallet and put everything in it into the offering plate.
When it was time to take Holy Communion, I felt like I was in right relationship with God and neighbor in that moment. I felt like I was able to actually receive the grace that God was offering in Communion. Nothing was in the way. I had put a lot more than money in that plate. I had released into the plate a lot that was going on inside me, those thoughts and feelings that were doing nothing but harm in my soul. They went to the altar, too, along with that green piece of paper from my wallet. I had offered things that I had been clinging too tightly, gave them to God upon God’s altar, and in so doing I was released from their power, freed and transformed. Instead of being emptied, I was fed, and I was full. Wonderfully full. …And I never missed that twenty dollars.