Deuteronomy 26:1–11 (NIV)
26 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that You, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before Him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
Today the church is decorated with symbols of God’s salvation. We see before us the produce of the land and we see the bread and the wine on the altar which with God’s Word becomes Christ’s body and blood for us.
If it were not for the bread and jam, meat and milk, fruit and vegetables, (perhaps for some even chocolate), your lives would cease to exist.
God has seen to the needs of our physical bodies and has sent the rain to fall, the sun to shine, and He has placed the minerals in the ground to nurture the growth of grass and shrubs, legumes and tubers, trees and vines.
God has provided the edible plants for the livestock and ourselves. Without these gifts we would cease to be, and so, our physical bodies are saved from death by God’s goodness.
God has made us wealthy by international standards. We’ve been blessed beyond the dreams of many of the world’s population.
One of the problem’s with being wealthy is that it’s easy to forget where one’s wealth comes from. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that we have what we have because of our hard work, shrewd dealing in the market place, in business, real estate or on the stock market.
Sure those who work hard are rewarded for their labour – but not all are rewarded in monetary or material terms. There is also the satisfaction of knowing that you have done a good job. That you have done a fair days work for a fair days pay.
There’s the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve served others in a similar way to which Jesus has served you – in making a sacrifice for the well-being of the community.
But, back to the point of God’s gifts to us. Ultimately “all good gifts around us” as the hymn says, “are sent from heaven above.” God has given us the privilege of co-creating with Him – He’s given us the raw materials, the knowledge, the seasons and energy to work.
God’s provided the seed and the livestock, to create and to harvest. He’s given us the skill of the tradesman and the knowledge of the professional so that we can all receive what we need to sustain our physical, emotional and spiritual lives.
In response God asks for a small token from us. He says, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.
In Leviticus and Deuteronomy God speaks of the tithe – 10% as the small token. Malachi 3:10-12 says, Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put Me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
How blessed would Aotearoa be if we all took God seriously in this matter?
Today, our offering may be an envelope with currency of the realm, it may be a bag with a tin and or packet, it may be a plate with cake, a bottle with fruit of the vine that you bring to the Lord’s temple today.
You have brought your gifts today – to say thank You to God. He sees and receives them and asks one thing more of you, 4Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. 5"And you shall make response before the Lord your God,
The response God asks for is a confession of all that God has done for you. We have already made that confession in our worship today in our hymns and songs. We made it at the beginning of the service when the invocation was said, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as we remembered God’s presence with us and blessing in our baptism.
We make it as we come to the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion as we remember how Jesus serves us. We should also remember how He served us. Remember the words of the Apostles Creed:
“And,” I believe, “in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
And Luther’s explanation of what this means for us?
“I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord. He is truly God – He has always been the Son of the Father. He is also a real human being, the virgin Mary’s son. Jesus rescued ‘us’ when ‘we’ were lost and sentenced to death. He set ‘us’ free from all ‘our’ sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. It cost Him more than gold or silver; it cost Him his life. Even though He was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for ‘us’. Jesus did this so that ‘we’ can belong to Him, and He can rule over ‘us’ as ‘our’ King. ‘We’ can live under Him and serve Him, innocent and happy forever, just as He was raised to life, and lives and rules forever. This is certainly true.”
I really like what Luther says about us living “under God, innocent and happy forever.” It’s about worshipping God and celebrating God’s goodness in all aspects of our lives.
The Deuteronomist also encourages us to celebrate life. He says, 11And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.
After the work and service to and for others, God wants you to have a party to celebrate His goodness. To gather and enjoy the fruit of your labour so that you can continue to say:
This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to the Servant King.
We thank You Almighty God, that we have been blessed so abundantly with Your creation and the gifts of our labours. Help us to celebrate and share Your good gifts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.