A few weeks ago I was in worship at Island United Church in Foster City. It was a warm, inviting community not atypical of many of our vibrant Local Churches throughout the Conference. Toward the end of the worship celebration, I was filled with joy at the appearance of The Holy Cow. (And not simply because the cow features its own theme song!)
Now, we are a wide and inclusive bunch with a broad range of theological perspectives – but this story is not a matter of theological integrity. For the members and friends at Island United, an opportunity to share with The Holy Cow is about making gifts in honor or memory of individuals, life rituals, families, or other occasions toward an ongoing partnership with Heifer International. This clever, cheeky outreach offering ritual is a fun way of making tangible the universal spirit that connects us, our Christian ministry of outreach and mission, and the amazing abundance of God’s creation.
While I listened to the reasons why people were giving money to The Holy Cow that morning, I remembered my own upbringing in a small town church in northeastern Minnesota. During our Sunday School opening each week, one of the teachers would invite anyone who had a birthday in the coming week to come forward with pennies for the global ministries offering. We brought as many cents as years our birthday would mark, depositing them in a bank in a great dramatic showing while everyone in the room counted – sometimes stretching the ingenuity of our childhood minds as we brought nickels and dimes instead of pennies and our fellow classmates would have to count really fast in order to fit the numbers in. The coins were collected in a bank shaped like a mini globe, reinforcing once again the wideness of our connection in the Spirit and God’s abundance.
I realize how much simple traditions like this one from my own childhood have had a lasting impact in my own faith and practice. Tithing my income each year to the places and organizations where I see God at work is a priority in my life. It seems kind of silly that something like that little globe offering would make such an impact, yet when I think of that elementary-aged Sunday School time, that’s what I remember the most.
One of my favorite Gospel passages is John 10:10, when Jesus proclaims that in contrast to the thief that comes to steal and destroy, he has come with a message of life abundantly. In contrast to the heresy of scarcity, the promise of the Gospel is a life filled with more than enough.
How easy it is to confuse that abundance! How often do we simplify abundance with only a few more 0’s in the bank account (or our church membership numbers)? Or a larger home (or newer church building)? Or when we reduce it to simple economics, rather than a posture of life?
So, maybe I take back what I said earlier – this is about theology. I hope that we might have more Holy Cows and birthday banks and other clever ways of enabling our wider covenant connection and mission in our Local Churches. Temple talks and mission moments. Stewardship as a way of life, not just a month in the spring or autumn. We are alive in God’s abundance. Thanks be to God!