Epiphany: offerings that cost us nothing?

“We will not offer to God, offerings that cost us nothing”
An opening verse and response from the morning prayer of Iona Abbey.

Offerings for a newborn:  The top ten required gift items maybe?  Cloth nappies wraps & pins, changing mat, grow-suit, (Though it seems you can spend your life in one of these now moving from cute rabbit baby versions through to the so called onsie in all shapes and sizes.) Blanket, blue fluffy rabbit, cot mobile, baby monitor, car-seat, Bottles Breast pump and sterilising equipment, sling of random construction.

Contrast this to the gift offerings the ‘Wise Men’ chose.
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  Close.  I wonder what would have been offered if it were wise women…  Of course these were offerings with a different purpose – to set apart this birth to mark it in particular ways.

“We will not offer to God, offerings that cost us nothing”

As a student full of righteous anger at the many injustices of the world I sat in Iona abbey and responded to this verse with indignation that many in the world offer only what they can easily afford.  Welcoming the outlet of mistrust and scorn at bankers, governments and corporate financiers, regimes of hate and violence, terrorists and generally anyone else.  The liturgy was a place where anger was moved and motivated, exercised; and put to rest.

In later years taking students along to a week on Iona the phrase became familiar, something within the liturgy, something to challenge others with a question within the phrase itself, what does it cost us to answer this question.  Very little.  Words come cheap.  There was no understanding that this meant action – even though the whole place spoke about such things.

However, things change.  Wind forward a number of years, as an early member of the Iona community trying to make sense of the rule of life especially the economic discipline and accounting to fellow members for time, money and other worldly resources it became a yardstick of giving, what is enough?  How much should it hurt?  At what cost the offering? Could this be seen as bargaining and bartering offerings and gifts in an effort to make them seem costly when in fact they don’t cost at all?  Are we in the business of competitive giving?  Surely this phrase was not meant in this way?

We will not offer to God, offerings that cost us nothing.

This phrase haunts me now because I’m not entirely sure I ever understood it in the past.  Not sat as a student in Iona Abbey, nor as a new member of the community.  Turn the phrase around and ask, What are the offerings that cost us nothing?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the book “The Cost of Discipleship” and I wonder if this line in the liturgy is taken with that book in mind.  At what cost to ourselves what we offer.  Not necessarily in financial terms – forget about the church quota for a moment.  I’m not talking about bricks and mortar.  Being a follower of Christ is more than about church on a Sunday.  And this is where Bonhoeffer’s book is central for the line that comes to mind is, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”

Discipleship is costly.  What is it going to cost me personally this year to chalk on the door or the gatepost or the wall 20+C.M.B+14 the cost of this might be minimal at the outset, but what are the ‘costs’ of this action?  To have this as an invitation over the door can be costly indeed.  It is an invitation of hospitality to those in the know, an invitation to question by those who do not.  It invites us to ask ourselves how much of our life we are willing to give over to God.  Jesus asks not for Gold, Frankincense or the latest in tablet computers, but simply for the offering of ourselves.

~ rhannu os ti isio ~ do share ~





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