We just reassigned our church officer duties in January. I went from chairing the Hospitality Committee to being a part of the Stewardship Committee. As part of my new responsibilities, I needed to delivery the inaugural “Word for Children” in our big build-up to “One Great Hour of Sharing”. This is an ecumenical offering – usually coordinated with Easter/Passover. Many different denominations (and even religions) participate in One Great Hour of Sharing to support shared goals of feeding the poor, responding to disasters and helping those in poverty dig their way out.
I was doing some background reading for my big delivery, when I was struck by the story of how the offering began. The tale is this: just after the conclusion of World War II, a group of church leaders got together to discuss the plight of European and Asian countries after the complete devastation of the war. On a Saturday night, they broadcast “One Great Hour” – a call to all the American listeners to make a “sacrificial offering” in support of those in Europe and Asia who had suffered in the war. The listeners were called on to go to their churches the next morning and give their offerings.
Reading this, I was completely caught up short. There so many things in this to give pause, to cause a rethinking. I imagined what it would be like to be one of those radio listeners. It was Saturday, March 26th 1949 – 10 pm eastern – when the broadcast came over the radio 1. An appeal went out for that sacrificial offering. I think of those men and women listening. They had just emerged from what must be the hardest 20 years in our nation’s history. These were people for whom the Great Depression was no distant memory, but as far away as the ’80s are to us. During those grim years, they had been homeless, or feared homelessness. They had taken in relatives. They gathered scrap metal for sale, made a pot roast last a week, and gone hungry. They had walked the soles through on their shoes and resewn old dresses over and over to try to make them last. They cut the buttons off shirts that had truly been worn through, used the rags, and reused the buttons on a new shirt. They had made great sacrifices.
Then, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, these same people had been pulled into the great incommunicable horror of war. They spent whatever money they had on war bonds. Sugar, silk, rubber and other commodities were rationed. Front lawns were converted to victory gardens. But this was the smallest part of the sacrifice. The greater part were the farewells to fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, cousins and friends. A generation of young men, knowing well how fatal war could be after the previous generation’s “War to end all wars” shipped out to Europe or Asia. In the best case, the sacrifice was of years of youth. In the worst cases, the ultimate sacrifice was given. And in the middle, men came back maimed and damaged, to live with their wounds for the rest of their lives.
So those radio listeners on March 26th were people who knew sacrifice, who had looked it in the face, who had watched tremendous sacrifices made by those who had not made it back to the living room for a Saturday night broadcast.
And then the civic and religious leaders had the courage – the gall – to ask these men and women who had already given so much to give a “sacrificial offering”… to benefit the very enemies whose armies had killed brother and son, husband and father. A people just emerging from want and scarcity were asked to dig deep for people they had every reason to resent.
And they did. As many as 75,000 churches participated. The sacrificial offering was made to help rebuild Europe and Asia. (An aside … we have not since had a war with Germany or Japan, and not just because we defeated them. They are our close allies and friends now because after we militarily defeated them, instead of “sowing the soil with salt” after we did in World War I, we helped them build a country worth living in.)
This is interesting thinking in our current long-running economic difficulties. How many times have we heard that this is not a good time to ask Americans for sacrifices (or tax increases or donations or special offerings). We’ve suffered too much lately. We’ve lost too much lately. It seems a pale excuse compared to what our grandparents suffered and lost. What would a sacrificial offering look like for us?