Lent 1 · Deuteronomy 26:1-11 · February 21, 2010
By Glenn Nielsen
The approach for this sermon is a textual structure that uses key phrases in the text in the order in which they appear. What follows are brief comments about the key phrases with possible illustrations, applications, stories, and visual aids that could be used. The goal of this sermon is that the hearers will more joyfully give of their first fruits to the Lord and to those in need.
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you…”
This text is not a practical guide on how to do the various sacrifices and offerings. For example, it does not focus on the tithe, which would come at the end of the harvest, and the amount could be calculated. Rather, it connects God’s grace in giving the Promised Land with both the confession of how God acted so graciously in the history of his people and the giving of first fruits to the Lord and to those in need. The simple declaration that he gave them the place to live recognizes that God keeps his promises and is the giver of all that we have.
One personal way to see how God has been so gracious in our lives is to video tape your house and its belongings, much as you should do for insurance purposes and then label that tape “All God has given to me/us.”
Most of us don’t raise crops but we do have many physical gifts. As a visual you could hold up a key ring with lots of keys on it: house, car, safety deposit box, office, sports locker, bicycle lock, jewelry cabinet, etc. As you single out each key, emphasize how each one is just like the Israelites having a land of their own to raise crops. “We have come into our land” could be a recurring phrase for each key.
“first of all fruit…”
The word for “first” could also be translated “best.” Either way, the offering is not to be a “who wants this leftover” offering but the most desirable portion, and it is set aside for the offering before any of the crops are used personally. As mentioned above, though, the specifics are not given other than an amount that fits into a basket and is brought to the central sanctuary. It could actually be a number of different offerings as the crops ripened at different times (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives).
Another way to get at the best/first aspect is the budgeting technique of envelopes in a box. When a paycheck comes, money is placed in different envelops marked: house payment, car expenses, food, savings and so forth. However, the first envelope in line is always marked “offering” to remind us that the best and first goes back to the Lord.
We can’t go to the temple or give it to a high priest as the text instructs, but the public aspect of the offering can be carried out as we place our contribution envelopes into the offering plate and give of ourselves in ways that reach beyond our private lives.
Notice that this text does not explicitly contain accusatory Law. The text instructs God’s people. In fact, the instruction on giving the first/best is an antidote to the coveting prohibited in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. We live in a consumer culture that encourages greed and an attitude of “what I have is mine and not God-given.” Advertizing tempts us to want more and to be unsatisfied with what we do have. Pride and possessiveness overrule giving to those in need. God promises help in time of temptation (1 Cor 10:13), and the giving of the offering as described in this text is a powerful teacher of sacrificial and joyous giving.
“You shall make response before the Lord.”
While verses 5b-10 have a creedal quality to them, the confession is time and event specific—entering the land and having a successful harvest. At the same time, the words certainly could have been used regularly in worship for years to come. The verses do not include an extensive review of God’s gracious intervention in history but focus on Israel’s history reduced to the essentials. Jacob’s wandering is in contrast to a land they can call their own. The few who went down to Egypt now number in the millions. Those who were oppressed now live in stability and are even land owners.
The Creeds we have certainly do what the text instructs the people of Israel to do. We confess that God has given us all our creaturely goods. He is Creator, and all we have is simply a gift from him for us to use wisely. The Second Article is God’s gracious work in history for us in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit brings us into the Church in which such a response is made possible. Reciting the Creed in the midst of the sermon is one way to bring the Gospel into the message.
Open the hymnal to the location of the Creed and the Offering. It is separated by only the prayers in most services. You can point out how we are doing what the text says needs to be done: connect our confession of faith with the offerings that we make.
“…worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice…”
While we do not have a clear description of how this offering was made, worship typically was done lying prone or at least bowed. It is an act of thankful worship for what God has given. The key emotion is that of joy. Giving away what has been given to us is a joyous thanksgiving that is bound up in worship.
The giving of the offering is not some favor we do for God by thoughtlessly dropping a few dollars in the collection plate but a carefully thought out act of thanksgiving in response to the favor of God.
One way to say this is: “We don’t need more to be thankful for, but to be more thankful.”
A visual that could be used is to make a happy face out of yellow construction paper. Make the face the same size as the center of the congregation’s collection plate. Hold up the collection plate with the smiley face on the bottom to emphasize the joyous nature of making an offering to the Lord.
“The Levite and the sojourner … ”
The Levites were the tribe that did not receive a land for their own but were dependent on the tithe that was given. Sojourners did not have the rights of the citizens. Including verse 12 brings the orphan and widow into the picture. The words of Jesus are certainly true—the poor are always with us. Society is all too often broken into the “haves” and “have-nots.” Those who have are to take care of those who have not. God’s concern for the less fortunate is closely connected with the offerings given.
Homiletical applications of ways to give to those in need
Theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
Standing in a “Life Chain” to show our support for the littlest of people.
Twice in less than a month I had people come up to me while I was filling my car with gas. They asked if I could help them with gas for their car. I went into the gas station and told the clerk to put the amount of money the people asked for on my credit card so they could get some gas. I didn’t give them money, but responded to the specific request by buying them gas.
Dinners for the homeless or dropping money in the red kettles at Christmas time.