February 17, 2013
First Sunday in Lent
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Both Deuteronomy and Luke talk about remembering. In Deuteronomy, the people stand at the threshold of the land of promise. They have stopped just outside to hear again what is important. They are on the boundary, moving from the daily reliance on God in the wilderness, to a place that will have regular seasons of sowing and reaping, planting and harvest.
Early in the book we read the warning that when they get to the land of promise and they have eaten their fill of food they have grown and they have multiplied their assets by trade and investing and they are secure in their own homes and not dwelling in tents any more, they must not forget the God who brought them out of Egypt, the God who fed them in the wilderness, the God who guided and guarded them through.
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’
Now they stand at the border, and they are reminded again. The first three verses are very telling:
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you
as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,
you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest
from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it
in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose
as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office
at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your Go
that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
Note that in each verse it is not simply the land. It is “the land that the Lord your God is giving…” The verb is in the present tense. God did not give it back then. God IS giving it. God’s giving is not once and done, it is not a onetime thing. God IS giving. Land. Food. A place to live. That which we need. God’s blessings, God’s providence, God’s grace, God’s abundance is an ongoing gift of God.
And so when the people first harvest, first reap, first take in the bounty of this land, they are not to store it up and save it and guard it. They are to take the first fruits, the apple of their eye, the good stuff, and they are to take some of it and take it to the priest so that it may be offered to God. They are to remember God’s walking with them through the wilderness, they are to remember the things and people and events God put into their lives that they might live. And they are to remember that each day is a gift.
One minister writes about sitting down with an accountant to work out the family finances, and the accountant asked how much the minister gave to the church. She replied “10%.”
The accountant looked up and said, “Is that 10% pre-tax or post-tax?”
“So you only expect post-tax blessings from God?”
First fruits mean that this is important enough for the good stuff. First fruits hit our bottom line, and that is what gets our attention. This issue of first fruits is difficult unless we get in the habit of it. Mary and I are not there yet. We are getting there. If you aren’t there yet, either, then I find myself in good company.
The issue is not a God tax. What is at stake is the realization that God has saved us, and then remembering it with our lives.
Jesus remembers God with his life when the devil comes calling. Yes, even the Satan can quote scripture.
“Feed yourself, like God fed the people in the wilderness.”
“Claim me to be God, and I will give you authority and power and might.”
“Bluff, throw yourself down so that God has to follow what the psalms say
and send angels to catch you.”
How does Jesus respond: “It is written; it is written; it is said.” Jesus is drawing on that memory of faith to keep hold of God and not follow lesser agendas or dire temptations.
“The mortal one shall not live by bread alone.”
(Readers and hearers fill in the rest of the verse: “but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”)
“You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
This is not just a scripture battle. This is not the earliest recorded case of “sword drills” for those of you who grew up with such. This is remembering God, remembering God’s covenant, God’s sovereignty, God’s providence, God’s presence “in trial and rejoicing” (as we say in the UCC).
What is at stake in remembering what God has done for us is that we will remember that God is still doing this for us. God’s love is not once and done, but an ongoing grace and gracious gift. Remembering it means remembering it with our whole lives. At times, that is what is at stake.
Remembering how God has walked with us, healed us, carried us, lifted us, saved us reminds us that God is not done with us. Nor are we done with God.
…and you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God
has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite,
and the sojourner who is among you.
Thanks be to God.