Thursday, October 1, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Coke machine at church “tempted” us
When I was a Sunday school tot, we deposited our offerings into a tiny, wooden box, made in the shape of a church. It even had a steeple. I associated it with the finger game, “Here’s the church, Here is the steeple, Open the doors, and see all the people!” The little offering box was a homemade affair, and were it around today, it would be in somebody’s museum as an example of vernacular folk art from the Mississippi Delta.
The going rate for Sunday school offerings in those days was a nickel. I doubt the little slot in the roof was large enough to admit a quarter. The occasional child might have deposited a dime, but we would all have thought anyone who inserted a penny was a slacker.
The ritual was as follows. One of our teachers would play the piano and the children would rise and form a line, making a circle up to the front of the room, placing their coins in the little church, and then return to their chairs. It was a simple, homespun way of inculcating the lesson that everyone who is part of the church should give something to the church.
As in every other department of life inflation has taken its toll. I note that our Sunday schoolers of today seem to contribute dollar bills. There they are in the little collection plate all wadded and crumpled by tiny hands.
In my childhood, five cents bought a candy bar. Today, it takes about a dollar to purchase the same item. So, giving has to be proportionate, but I remember the plinking sound our little nickels made in the tiny wooden collection box. Each child would pause momentarily for the sound affirming to all present, that he or she had put the money where it belonged, and had not palmed the coin for later use in the morning in the church’s Coca-Cola machine!
Some might have said (though I do not know if any did), that having that machine presented an inappropriate temptation. Some might even have said (for old Presbyterians were scrupulous in matters of conscience and economy) that it cost the church money in lost offerings.
But thoughtful parents in my hometown usually encouraged their children’s budding sense of generosity by providing coins sufficient for both an offering, as well as a soft drink between Sunday school and church, but I suppose more than one of us was tempted to withhold our gift in order to have a more liberal allotment of refreshments in the break-time between the two services of those far-away Delta Sabbath mornings.
“…And keep us ever mindful of the wants and needs of others.” That is the phrase of the old table blessing, and I still include it in my prayers. I find that this consciousness is not automatic. In churches and charities, it is always the same people who sustain the enterprise. One might think such people would find this to be a burden, but this does not seem to be the case.
Many people might be surprised to know who some of these people are. But, again, I think this is true in every church and community.
Concerning the current government budget debates, someone wrote a letter to the newspaper that it is not the responsibility of the state to care for the poor, but of the churches.
If that be true, I wonder if we in the churches are willing to give all it would take to fill these needs? But the point is well taken: the church is supposed to exist for others.
The offering of our gifts in worship is one of the most solemn moments in life, for it is an occasion when in a solemn, but public setting, we are enabled to take action on what should be one of the most important commitments of life.
Are we willing to sacrifice on behalf of others? No one knows whether we give but a nickel, or much more.
But I am convinced it was not wrong that the church had that Coke machine to “tempt” us. Ultimately we should make a decision every Lord’s Day on behalf of that same principle. Self or others? That is one of life’s truly great questions, and I am glad we had to think about it on Sundays long ago down in the Delta.
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