Give your first fruits

We had the following message in church yesterday, Feb. 21, 2016. It was written for Feb. 14, but the weather in our area was pretty bad, so many of the churches were called off, ours included. As a saving time and resources measure, I chose to use this message and the bulletins that were already prepared. It also let our musician stay with the same plan, and we were both happy that we would be able to use the chosen songs, one of them being “On Eagles wings” which was our closing hymn.

The focus scripture was Deuteronomy 26:1-11 with Romans 10:8b-13 and Luke 4:1-13 as supporting scripture. Below is the original script, though I am sure there were a few add ons and such, I am never able to totally replicate what I say, only what I intend.

Looking out the window yesterday, I was glad that we did not go to Fargo for Paulina’s track meet or even to Wishek for the Regional wrestling match. We had thought of going out to eat, but living in Herreid that would mean a trip out of town, and even though the winds calmed and the snow stopped right around supper time, it was hard to think of even going outside with the wind chill at -2 degrees. In fact for a few minutes, I was wondering if we would be seeing each other this morning, the way the wind was whipping up, I was afraid we would all be staying put this morning.

[In truth the weekend prior to this message we were in Brookings watching the Jimmies compete in the Indoor Conference Meet. The information on that day is in yesterday’s post. It was worth the trip even if we were tired afterwards. I am glad the snow was last weekend instead of this one.]

It is sort of hard to think of the church year as being in the season of Lent when the weather takes a turn for the cold after a fairly warm winter. How can it be this close to Easter and spring with the winds and the cold and the snow right outside the doors? Mostly though, what I was wondering as I dealt with this message was how do we talk about wandering around in the desert wilderness when we don’t want to leave the house? And how do we think about fasting when our bodies tell us to eat to keep warm because of the cold?

The fact is, we are in the season of Lent, and this is the Sunday to think about and discuss the story of Jesus going to the wilderness to fast and prepare for his ministry. Today’s gospel is the story of Jesus alone and fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and then being tempted by Satan. By the way we probably are all well aware that 40 seems to be a significant number throughout the Bible, but did you know that Moses and Elijah also fasted for 40 days. I must have missed something along the way, when I read that yesterday the light went on a little brighter about why those were the two Jesus met on the mountain during the transfiguration.

But I am not going into the significance of the number 40 or the details of the story of Jesus’ temptations much today, we have discussed those details in the past. For today’s message we see that Jesus’ and his resistance to the temptations is the fulfillment of the Old Testament story of the Israelites. Jesus is the one who comes and resists and teaches us how to resist the powers of evil that tempt us and try to pull us away from God and God’s love.

Our focus for this morning is going to be the lesson from Deuteronomy. This story is part of the covenant, the laws that God gave to Moses for the Israelites. This is the law about what they are to do after the time of their harvest. Technically this is a law of celebration and rejoicing for all that God has given to the Israelites. It tells what they are to do at the time of their harvest in the land God will give to them after their years of wandering in the desert, in the wilderness.

This law, though it might seem like an Old Testament sort of rule, is important for us to remember also. In this law, God tells the Israelites to use the first fruits of their harvest in their offering to God. It is of the first and the best that they are to share with God. It is not their left over when all else has been taken care of. It is not out of what was left after building themselves their homes or making improvements on the land, or lavishing gifts on their families. It is the first that goes to God.

I began thinking about that within my own life. This idea of giving the first of what we earn or grow or raise doesn’t seem to me something that was emphasized so much to me as I was growing up. That would mean the first tomato in the garden, or that first small pail of potatoes, or that first batch of snow peas, the ones you eat straight from the vine, those are parts of the first fruits… Or then I got to thinking not so much of harvest and farming sort of things, which is what my garden is for me, a throw-back to the farm, but what about how we are paid in our day.

Does this scripture say to us that we are to take the first of our pay-day, our pay check and bring that to God? Not sure that is what the banker has in mind when they write-up our mortgages. I suppose this concept is the same in our time of electronic banking, though I don’t think we have that here yet as some of the churches do. I can’t imagine… My thoughts go back a little to earlier years, simpler times. Back to the time you read of so often in books about the days of the Great Depression when people would cash their pay check, and get this stack of cash and then go around and pay off their bills or perhaps divide the money into different envelops to be used for the various things throughout the month.

The scripture here in Deuteronomy is about taking the first of that pay check and using it in the offering to God. Not the last and not the left over if there is any, but the first, presumably the best. God wants the Israelites, God wants us to show honor and respect and returning love by following that command. In essence what God wants from us is not any more than what we ask of our own children.

Think about this a little in a parent sort of way. I subbed for the elementary special education teacher in Linton last Friday. One of her main instructions for me was to make sure that one of the middle school boys at the end of the day had everything in his back pack to take home for the weekend. An Aid was telling me how she had helped the fifth grade boy get his desk organized, and the sixth grader in the room at the time laughed a bit and said “well you don’t take home those bad papers, you bury them at the bottom of your locker.” We asked how he learned that idea, and he said it is just an unwritten rule that they pass down to each other.

As a parent, I remember looking through those papers to find out what went on in the life of the child, and even more, I noticed when we were in Dickinson this past November and Jaxon came home from school on that Wednesday when Mama was heading to the hospital to have that next baby, she said good-bye to Jaxon, but it was grandma who went through his folder with him to find out what should be kept and what should be completed and returned. As a parent or care giver, you want to know what has been happening in the life of your child or charge. You are delighted to know what they have been doing, and you certainly are waiting to see the results of their efforts, their harvest. Imagine if we as earthly parents wait so eagerly to hear from our children how much more God wants and waits to hear from us?

The words in Deuteronomy are part of a long list of commands that Moses brings to the Israelites, commands of what the Lord their God expects from them. But if we stop and look at it as a loving parent which is what God is, isn’t this command, this expectation, perhaps nothing less than what we might owe in respect and love for all that we have been given. God did after all give the Israelites the land that they reap the harvest from.

Jesus as he fasted and pondered alone in the wilderness was more than keenly aware of the importance of giving the first fruits to God. Jesus was the first fruits. God not only gave the best to his chosen when he gave the Israelites the land of Canaan after they had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, but in the end, God gave them and us, the best of what he had in order that we could be reconciled, redeemed and returned to be his children, his full heirs that he intended for us in the beginning of creation.

Perhaps if Satan had succeeded with Jesus in the wilderness as he succeeded with the Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, perhaps then we wouldn’t need to think of offering up our first fruits, perhaps if Jesus had also fallen, what we did wouldn’t matter, there would be no hope. But that is not the case. Jesus held firm and offered himself as the first fruit. Jesus died that all we have to do is believe and confess that we believe and that in itself is our offering, those actions are our first fruit offering. All we need to accept God’s Grace is our belief, the rest; the actual physical offerings that we make are merely a way of saying thank you to God for our many blessings.

When we stop and think of God as that parent who is waiting for us to come home at the end of the day, at the end of the week and share what has been going on in our lives, to offer ourselves up in love and thankfulness for all that we are and all that we have, for me at least it becomes much easier to see that giving of ourselves and our first fruits is really nothing more than saying thank you for this amazing love that we have been so blessed to receive in the form of a Son who was willing to take our sin and endure the cross so that we will have the opportunity to share eternity in paradise.

The more I think of it, the first of my harvest is a pittance in comparison to what Christ offered us. I hope we all take the time during this season of Lent to ponder some of these things. Jesus did and does many things for us. We consider that enduring the cross and coming back from the dead as his greatest feats on our behalf. But the lesson we hear today just might rank right up there.

Jesus resisted Satan while he was in the wilderness, perhaps while he was at his weakest. Without that resistance, there never would have been a Passion Week, and a betrayal and a sacrifice. And though we study about how Jesus resisted these three specific temptations, the final words of the passage tell us there were other times (until an opportune time). Satan is nothing if not persistent. Let’s remember that for ourselves as we begin this season of Lent. Amen.

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