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Monday, February 15, 2016

Gratitude-Based Giving--Loving God With All Our Possessions

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One of our lectionary texts yesterday (on Valentine's Day, no less) was the Deuteronomy passage on the giving of firstfruit offerings and of tithes. In our study at house church we found in it a sharp contrast between the celebrative way God's people were to financially support their new nation (a kingdom governed by priests rather than by monarchs), and the begrudging way we tend to fulfill our financial obligations to our congregations, community and governments today.

The annual offering of fresh produce from their newly gifted land involved a liturgy in which each Israelite household prepared a basket of the best and first of their harvest. Upon bringing this cornucopia of plenty to the priest, they were to announce something like the following (paraphrased):

"I hereby acknowledge that I (formerly landless) have inherited the gracious and undeserved gift of a land that God promised our ancestors."

The priest then received the basket of fresh produce and placed it on the altar, after which grateful and blessed Israelites were to recite something like:

Our ancestor Jacob was a wandering and landless Aramean
who went down to Egypt and lived there,
he and his small family,
but there they multiplied and we became many.
The Egyptians abused us and subjected us to cruel slavery.
We cried out to the God of our ancestors
who listened to our desperate prayers,
who took pity on us in our terrible plight,
and brought us out of Egypt
by great and miraculous means,
and brought us to this grace-filled place,
a land of abundant milk and honey.
So here we are with the best of the firstfruits 
of what the land God has given us has produced.
(paraphrase of Deuteronomy 26:5-10)

All who brought their gifts from far and wide were to then bow before the altar of God in heartfelt celebration of all of the blessings received. And according to other texts, the priests (Levites) then hosted a huge buffet in which all who were assembled enjoyed a thanksgiving feast, including any landless aliens or sojourners among them.

We found this a good reminder yesterday that our financial and other giving is less like a "tax" we owe our Creator, or simply a form of rent we pay for the privilege of inhabiting such a beautiful earth, but our offerings should be a lavish expression of the lover's covenant we have with God, a God of grace and mercy for all. As in all Valentine-like relationships of the heart, our lavish gifts are expressions of "endearments" and not just of "demandments".
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