(The conversation on how we can lower barriers to faith communities continues on my other blog.)
Mohandas Gandhi made a list of 7 deadly social sins that I got from Sojourner’s Magazine.
1. Politics without principle; 2. Wealth without work; 3. Commerce without morality; 4. Pleasure without conscience; 5. Education without character; 6. Science without humanity; and 7. Worship without sacrifice.
I “get” the first six, but how could worship possibly be sinful?
Regular readers of my blog will know that I tend to dive straight into the parts that I don’t immediately understand, and this tendency is a gift of my Quaker seminary education. I know I have nothing to fear, but can look forward to spiritual insight and growth in my relationship with God. So I took the challenge.
In order not to deprive myself of the opportunity to encounter Truth, I decided to presume that when he says “worship”, Gandhi means a true encounter with God, not empty rituals or mindless recital. I also decided to presume that when he talks about sacrifice, Gandhi means voluntary giving of something valuable. He is neither talking about somebody taking something from another against their will that s/he can’t afford to lose nor about giving a tiny something – he is talking about voluntarily giving something of real value.
I also noticed what Gandhi isn’t saying. He is not saying that we should give because people are in need, although that would probably be true, too. Presumably Gandhi would want us to sacrifice even if there was no unmet need anywhere in creation. And since Gandhi was a Hindu, not a Christian, I also know he is not talking about the importance of sacrifice just as an expectation of followers of Jesus, who gave his life for us.
Knowing about Gandhi’s sense of responsibility for assisting Hindus to become better Hindus, Christians to become better Christians, etc, I’m guessing Gandhi says that giving is good for us. Necessary, even. I think he is saying that the act of sacrificial giving turns us into better people. It helps us to become the persons God wants us to become.
But there’s more. If true worship – a genuine encounter with the Divine – can nonetheless be made sinful by the absence of sacrifice, sacrifice must have something to do with the very nature of worship and even the nature of God! Not just for Christians, but for Hindus, Muslims and all other kinds of worshipers, too.
This mindbending exercise leads me to Matthew 10: 8, “Freely you have received, freely give.” We must give, because in worship God has given to us. And indeed, all of chapter 10 has to do with giving and sacrificing, neither counting on a reward nor fearing punishment, but because giving things of great value is the truest expression of who God is and who we are as worshipers.
Also, I thnink giving something of value safeguards us from the temptation to worship because it makes us feel good. It does feel good to worship, and it is good to enjoy the delightful aspect of worship, but it would be a sin to worship for the purpose of feeling good.
I had an experience recently that helps me understand what all of this might mean. Not so long ago, I had the heartbreaking privilege of supporting someone through a lengthy panic attack. It had gone on for a long time and he had taken his medication without getting much relief. This physical fear still held him in its grip. Soothing touch did not help much either. We prayed together for the lessening of his fear and it did help, but not very much. He told me that part of his anxiety had to do with his powerlessness to help someone he knew who was hurting more than he was, and so I suggested that we pray for her. We held her in God’s loving Light, and within seconds, my anxious friend had relaxed and fallen asleep. It was in giving that he received. In trying to pass God’s love on to another, he was filled with it himself.
So the nature of God is “giving”, and when we give, it not only makes us better people, but it makes us feel good, too. Isn’t that an inviting way of thinking about tithing and giving away material and societal valuables in order to achieve justice?!
Query for prayerful consideration:
How is giving good for me? How does my giving affect worship? What do I wish to give sacrificially?