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“To Be Channels of God’s Goodness”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23

 

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.


 

Reading this passage from Acts about the apostles and early believers sharing everything they have in common, I am struck anew at how very, very counter-cultural this act is.  One could even say it is subversive.

We buy and sell.  We own and transfer ownership.  We own land.  We build and own property.  And back in Jesus’ day, even women, many servants, enslaved persons, and children were all considered property.  As capitalistic as we are today, there was an even bigger spectrum in Jesus’ day of what and who people thought could be bought and sold, owned, possessed.

Frankly the idea of a person owning another person causes a visceral response in my body.  I find it so very offensive.  Nonetheless, the culture and world to which Jesus came and gave his life saw ownership as a sign of wealth and power, much as we do today.

So when the disciples ask new believers to share everything freely with one another, to sell their possession and give to the poor, to hold nothing back – it is most certainly subversive.  It is a hard ask.  Can you imagine asking that of another person?

 

I cannot.

I truly delight in ownership.  I love owning a car.  I adore owning real estate.  I love the items that I’ve purchased or found and now call my own.  I love the memories.  I love the resourcefulness.  I love being prepared.

And yet the disciples learned a very different way of living from Jesus.  They travelled from place to place, without ownership, without provision, without knowing where their next shelter or meal would come from.  Sometimes they picked wheat and produce from the fields through which they wandered.  And sometimes Jesus asked them to feed people, when they themselves did not have anything on them to offer another.

But Jesus had shown them the power of this way of life.  They’d been challenged to wholly lean on God for their well-being.  When they split up to go and witness to the Kingdom of God in neighboring towns, Jesus had instructed them to go empty-handed.  They were to take nothing but the tunic on their backs.  And they were to rely, wholly, on the generosity of those they met.  Can you imagine?

 

Some in our culture know this way of life.

There are a few who also know not where their next meal will come from or where they will find shelter and rest.  There are some who travel without provision, wholly reliant on those around them to survive.  Many hustle in their own way – trying to sell goods or services to make a buck.  And others beg on street corners, traffic islands, and even grocery store parking lots.

We tend to look unfavorably on these folks.

They are not being responsible, we say.  They are mooching off the rest of us.  We are paying for their laziness, we feel.

We don’t know what to do when we see them.  Are they truly in need?  Are they a victim?  Are they victimizing me?  What will they use my gift for?  Will they use it for life-crushing substances?  Will they use it for food?  Will they use it wisely?

Our questions are left unanswered, as we each try to make up our own minds.  And this discomfort weighs on us, especially as we pass by those we choose not to help.  Are we doing the right thing??

 

And though these wanderers and sojourners differ in some ways from Jesus’ disciples, they also have enough similarity, that it behooves us to pay attention.

 

In America we have some exposure as well to a culture that did not believe in land ownership:  the Native Americans.  The earth and all its fullness is seen as a gift – not to be grasped, but to be received with gratitude and respect.  The earth and all its fullness is not for us to use and squander however we choose.  Rather, we are given its keeping for a little while, and it is our great and holy responsibility to keep it thriving for our children and our children’s children.

Frankly, this view of creation sounds far more in keeping with Christ’s manner of living than our own.  And sometimes, the manner of living of the homeless and wanderers among us, seems much more in keeping with Jesus’ manner of living.  Jesus was, after all, homeless.  He did not have money.  He was not beholden to the systems and powers that be.  He was not part of the economic engine, the machine.  So in this way, he was uniquely free, a freedom many of our homeless brothers and sisters have also known.

 

So where does this leave us?

I’d like to think that our society is just what Jesus would have designed, but I cannot imagine that is true.  I appreciate capitalism.  I love home and land ownership, but this is not what we see in Jesus’ own life, and as uncomfortable as it makes me, I believe you and I are responsible to God for how we life, be it for good or for ill.

So whether we own or use land, whether we own or use resources, whether we buy or borrow goods and services, we are responsible.  And our actions reflect, in some way, our levels of trust, in the good shepherd, with whom “I shall not want.”

 

We give lip service in the church to trusting God.  We give lip service to trusting God with our money, our goods, our lives.  But when it comes down to it, our actions most accurately reflect our trust. 

Do our gifts of money, answer God’s call on our finances?  Have we taken the time to be still and listen for God’s still, small voice speaking over what we possess?  Do we even dare open up ourselves to such a vulnerable position of listening??

How much treasure do we store up for ourselves?  When do we have enough?
How much toilet paper do we store up?  When do we “have enough?”
Isn’t it all relative?
Isn’t it all so easy to rationalize?

 

I do not think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to any of this.  I dare not venture to prescribe how much you should own or give.  And I think God’s answers and invitations to each of us differ widely. 

 

And so, I invite you, to be still before our God, and to listen. 

 

What does God bring to mind?
Who does God bring to mind?
Is there someone in need nearby, whom you can help?
Do you have resources you’ve outgrown that would tremendously bless someone else?

This process is for you and you alone.   Each person, each family, each couple is responsible for how life is lived, what resources are used, what is shared, and whether or not we obeyed God’s private instruction in our lives.

 

The early believers shared all they had in common.  They sold what they had and gave it to the poor.  They shared, wherever there was need.

THIS my friends, is the Kindom of God.
THIS is the radical way of living Christ calls us to.

We are to place our trust in Christ alone, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

 

And I am moved to read this now, because so many of us have been acting more like this of late.  Food Lion issued 1,500 $20 gift cards for school children in impoverished neighborhoods in this community.  Jo-ann’s has been giving out mask-making supplies free to anyone who will make them.  Reservoir Distillery here in Richmond is giving away hand sanitizer every weekday – turning their tasting room into a distribution center.  Celebrities are paying rents for entire low-income neighborhoods.  One is even paying for virtual therapy.  Another has started his own boot-leg broadcast called, “SGN” – Some Good News, and he’s using it to spread stories of hope and courage to lift of the community.

You have made masks upon masks for one another.  You have labored long over financial records and payroll sheets – to find and solicit ways to continue employing those workers who have served in our midst for so very long.  You’ve written cards and letters to one another, especially our home-bound members and friends.  Money for projects and paychecks has been provided, mysteriously, anonymously.  You have rallied to put up and fill a new Little Pantry on our church grounds, to supply the community in this needful time.  When various ones among us have been in a bind, you have responded with help, in time.  When folks call our office asking help to pay a bill, you fund an account that pays portions of these bills.  When folks among us need a ride to appointments, you have shown up.

 

Just as the Israelites long ago were not blessed for themselves alone, WE are not blessed for ourselves alone.  We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world – to be CHANNELS of God’s goodness – of grace and love, abundance and provision, comfort and care.  We are called to shepherd one another, as our God has shepherded us – to love and comfort one another as our God has loved and comforted us.

We are blessed in order to BE a BLESSING. 

 

So as we prepare to leave this gathering,
I invite you,
to covenant
– with yourself and with God –
to set aside a holy moment,
this day,
to listen to your God.

Generous and merciful God,
how are you calling us to be faithful,
here and now,
in this time.
Speak, in ways we can hear.

And by your grace, may we most surely be, your faithful disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Thy Kingdom Come…In Us”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Samuel 8
Isaiah 35:1-10

 

1 Samuel 8

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”

 

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


 

What is the point of all these Isaiah prophesies – telling of the coming of justice and God’s reign?  We are instructed that with Christ, comes God’s reign, and yet for the last 2000+ years, we’ve had knowledge of Jesus Christ, and yet wars still rage, injustice still reigns, and all things have not yet been made right.

What are we to make of this?

 

Is all this just a nice dream, a fairy-tale, make-believe?

Is it what we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better in the presence of evils and powers we feel powerless to change?

 

I wonder.

 

 

And I feel bad for asking these questions.  After all, I’ve not known more love and truth, hope and goodness than what I’ve found in Jesus Christ.

But what do I make of these prophesies and the disparity we see between the vision of God’s Kingdom and the realities of our broken world?

 

In the Old Testament, we read a lot about kingdoms.  Israel as a nation was supposed to be led by God and not by any human, that is why God raised up for them judges and prophets instead of kings.  They were to communicate God’s will to the people.  But in the end the people wanted a human king.  Like every child who wanted the same things as his peers, the nation of Israel wanted a king.  They wanted to be like all the other nations around them.

To this request, God warned them that if they got what they wanted, they would regret it.  Kings would cause suffering – asking of them the fruit of their labors and the lives of their children.  But the people did not heed God’s words through the prophet, and so God gave them over to their misguided desires.  God gave them a king.

 

And indeed the people knew suffering.  Their first king, King Saul, led them in God’s way for awhile, but he strayed from the Lord and began to disobey God’s leading, so much so that he was tormented by an evil spirit and God’s Spirit left him.

Their next king, King David, is remembered as a man after God’s own heart, but he certainly made his share of mistakes – taking life unjustly and abusing his power for his own personal gain.

And then after David, we have King Solomon – known as the wise king who rebuilds the temple.  But alas, he has many wives and is quite indulgent.  But following these three kings, the list goes downhill sharply.

 

Thus, Israel came to intimately know the downside of spurning God’s leadership and trading down for a human leader.  But experiencing all this suffering unfortunately does not insure that any of us learn our lessons.  And the nation kept wanting a new a better king.

This is something of the environment into which Jesus is born.  And Jesus starts using the phrase “Kingdom of God.”  Does it remind you of anything?  If the people’s memories had been preserved strongly, with the passing on of the knowledge of God and their history as part of God’s story, then this phrase, “The Kingdom of God” should take them back to the times of the judges and the prophets, the time when God sought to lead them more directly, without a personal ego in the way.

 

“The Kingdom of God” could also take them back to that original story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Because it was then that God walked and talked with the people directly.  Indeed THIS is what God intends for each of us.  But in our sinfulness, we have traded that possibility for the chance and power and knowledge and control.  We have sought not to be led but to lead.  We have sought not the One who knows but rather to know ourselves.

We wanted to BE God, rather than to be with God.

As a human species we have always wanted to be in full control, from our very beginnings – as though any of us possess the wisdom and power to do that, much less effectively.

 

And when God called Israel into covenant relationship with God – to be God’s people, a city on a hill – God provided leaders, judges, and prophets.  But again the people wanted more.  It seemed to weak perhaps.  They wanted a figure-head, and human display of power and might.  And so they got what they wanted.  And they traded down God’s good gift of intimate leadership for a human leader, a human king.

 

So here we have Jesus, claiming to have brought the Kingdom of God to earth.

For the first time in our history, since our fall in the garden, God will reign.  God’s will has come to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ.  And everywhere, hearts that receive Christ, receive God’s reign in their hearts – where God will live and guide them, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

And so, God’s Kingdom has come.  But not in the human sense.  Jesus didn’t make himself their human mascot king.  Jesus had bigger fish to fry.  Jesus didn’t want to govern our actions but to be Lord of our hearts – that we might will to do what is pleasing to God.

And Jesus came to bring that Good News that God wasn’t looking for perfect people but for followers.  WHO would let Jesus into their hearts?  Who would allow the Spirit of God to break into their lives and sensibilities?  WHO would be so transformed in God’s unwithheld love that they’d never be the same?  WHO would be among those who finally realized that life isn’t life at all, unless it is the life that God freely gives?

 

And so our Messiah has come.  Our King has come.  Our Rescuer, Deliverer, Savior has come!  But not in the human sense, not in our human political machines, not into our systems of laws and societal order.

 

God has come into hearts, far and wide. 

 

And if God reigns in us,…

If God truly lives in us,…

Where God is still truly received,…

Where God’s WORD is still welcomed and followed,…

THERE is the Kingdom of God.

THERE is power and authority like none other.

 

THERE we find justice flowing down.

THERE we hear truth rightly spoken

THERE the sick are made well.

THERE the lame are healed, the deaf hear, and the blind see.

THERE the burning, thirsty ground becomes a pool of refreshing.

THERE we hear singing, with everlasting joy and gladness.

THERE no one steals or kills or destroys.

 

THIS is the power of God.  THIS is the Kingdom of God.

WE are the body of Church.  WE are the body of Christ.

 

Will we rise up and be people of God?

The family of God?

The messengers of God?

 

Will we bring Good News?

Will we set the captive free?

Do we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?

 

 

In all things and at all times, we have a choice to make: 

To follow Christ our Lord and King

Or to follow in our own way. 

 

May we,

Both individually and collectively,

Choose to bear the Kingdom of God into this weary and burnt-out world,

Day after day

After day.

 

The world is dying for the LIFE that lives in you. 

 

“Thy Kingdom Come”

Psalm 119:137-144

You are righteous, O LORD,
and your judgments are right.
You have appointed your decrees in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me
because my foes forget your words.
Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and your law is the truth.
Trouble and anguish have come upon me,
but your commandments are my delight.
Your decrees are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I may live.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous-therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.


 

I love Habakkuk. Frankly he gives voice to the cries of my heart: “How long, O Lord!” Why? Why do you make me SEE this stuff? Why does justice never prevail? Why does wickedness have the last word? Why? Why?!?

 

How many of you relate?

How many of you are troubled by the injustice and wrong-doing you see all around you?

 

I love how Habakkuk says he will stand watch and WAIT for God’s answer. He is a bold one. Seriously. He essentially challenging God.

 

I admire Habakkuk because I usually do not feel so bold as to pray like that – to challenge God to make Godself known, to answer me, to make things right.  But I love this because I feel all these things.  I too cry out from the depth of my own brokenness and the brokenness of the world crying, “How long, O Lord!?!?”

And what I love about this verse is how God answers.  What we just read of Habakkuk’s complaint is only a portion of it.  He actually goes on for a while longer, complaining.  But then GOD ANSWERS.  God assures Habakkuk that all will be made well.  God assures Habakkuk that evildoers and wickedness will not have the last word.  In fact, God will have the last word, and God entreats Habakkuk to write this vision big and boldly, so that even those hurrying by will see it.  God will make things right, and we are to wait for it with hope.

 

So what does this say to us?  How does this conversation speak to you and to me?

 

Well, it reminds me to be bold.  If we do not speak honestly with ourselves and with God, we will not find the answers we seek.  If we don’t take the risk of asking, we don’t open ourselves to the possibility of hearing God’s answer to us.

So whatever is on your heart, speak it to God.  Do not be worried about offending God.  God already knows what is on our hearts.  We need to speak it.  We need to hear ourselves say it.  Half the time, our feelings and thoughts are not even real to our own selves until we hear ourselves say them.  Something actually changes in our brains when we give voice to our thoughts.  Speaking them out is an act of vulnerability.  And we need to be vulnerable with God.  In fact, who else can we most trust, and with whom we can be most vulnerable, if not God?!?

I encourage you to feel what you feel and think what you think.  And bring ALL of you, ALL of that to God.  We serve a God who is big enough to handle our anger.  We serve a God who is strong enough to handle our doubts.  We serve a God who is loving enough to see us for all that we are and still love us.

 

Therefore, may we bring our honest and heart-wrenching questions before our God in prayer.

Was Habakkuk chastised by God for his challenge?  What Habakkuk shamed for being angry and discouraged?  No.  Not at all.

When Habakkuk went honestly before God, speaking his truth and opening his heart – complaining to the God of the Universe – God showed up.

God answered.

 

We serve a God who wants to be in communion with us.  We serve a God who wants to be with us.  We serve a God who fashioned us to walk with God in the garden, speaking with God at the time of the evening breeze.  That is what we were made for but our ancestor’s gave up when they chose to eat of the forbidden apple and take things into their own hands.

We are made to be in conversation with God. 

This world is not fair.  It is not easy.  We have no guarantees that good actions will yield good rewards.  Too often we watch as the selfish plunder and pillage the selfless.  Too often we gaze helpless upon the rape of the natural world for our own ends and means.  Too often we watch as systems of inequality leave the vulnerable and wounded, more alone and more unseen.  Too often we watch as the haves get more and the have nots even less…

 

So let us praise God, that our hearts are breaking with God at injustice in the world!

Let us praise God, that we are not blind to the inequity in the world!

Let us praise God for showing us a better way – for showing us that all are worthy and cherished and of value.

Let us praise God for burdening our hearts for the hearts of our neighbors, near and far.

 

In the passage we see Habakkuk on fire for justice.  He is angry because he has God’s heart for the world.  And that is an honorable and good thing.  As painful as it is to look upon injustice, how much worse would it be if we didn’t see injustice for what it was.  How much worse would it be if we were defensive and hardened to the evil in our world.

So as we grieve, as we mourn, as we grow angry, as we are discouraged, as we long for healing and cry out from the depths, “How long, O Lord?!?” may we too hear God’s voice.

May we quiet ourselves to listen for God’s answer to us. 

 

And may we find comfort in knowing that Christ too grieved, Christ too mourned, Christ too was discouraged, Christ too cried out from the depths!

 

We are in good company.  And our discomfort is a sign that we are truly no longer of this world.  God has made us new.  We are in the world, but this world is not our home.  We are made for more, and we know it.  The world is God’s world, and the Kingdom of God is real.

Justice will come. 

If it seems to tarry, wait for it. 

It will not delay. 

“Lives That Nourish”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 13:6-9
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

 

Luke 13:6-9

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.


 

 

We are responsible.  We are responsible to God for the space and life and breath we have been given.  We are responsible to God and to one another for the earth we inhabit and the food we consume.  We are responsible for what we leave behind – our waste, our relationships, our legacy…

God has entrusted us, each one, with gifts and talents, with energy and ability, with love and mercy, with food and drink, with air and water, with earth and sky.  We have been given much.  And to whom much is given, much is expected. 

The point of all that we’ve been given is not to simply comfort and satiate ourselves.  God certainly does comfort us.  God certainly does satisfy us.  And these many good gifts of God are often the ways and means by which we experience God’s love and provision, comfort and joy in this world.  But the end of this comfort and joy, love and provision is not ourselves.  Our lives are not the main point.  Our joy is not the destination.

 

Now in life, we need joy.  Joy is what makes this life worth living.  It invigorates; joy begets life.

But our joy and comfort alone are not the main thing.

Rather, Christ died that ALL might know God’s love. 

Jesus came to the chosen people of Israel SO THAT they might become a city on a hill, a light to the nations.  Jesus walked among the people of Israel but had his sights on all people.  Jesus lived and died not just for the people of Israel but for all people.

 

WE have been called by God, drawn to this place, drawn into fellowship with one another and in deepening relationship with God, but our own personal well-being is not the end of this journey, for God’s heart is for all.

As long as there are people in this world living in the shadow of death, there is work to be done.  As long as the world groans in pain as we litter and poison it, there is work to be done.  Until the Kingdom of God comes, in fullness and completeness, we have work to do.  For God’s heart is for all that God has made.

And so coming back to our own means and provision, joy and comfort – these gifts are not meant to stop with us.

We have a responsibility to love as we have been loved.

We have a responsibility to comfort as we have been comforted.

We have a responsibility to give as we have received.

We have a responsibility to forgive as we have been forgiven.

And in-so-doing, we spread the love and light of God like a wildfire that burns in hearts and lives and communities.  In-so-doing, we become a light in the darkness.  In-so-doing we usher in the Kingdom of God. 

 

So as we hear this parable of the fig tree, may we remember that while it is good that we enjoy the many delights and resources we have been given, these many gifts are meant to keep going, to keep giving, to be the seed of a mighty tree, the first drops of a mighty flood, the planting that reaps a harvest through our very lives.

You and I are God’s handiwork.  You and I are beautifully gifted.  You and I are infinitely loved.

And with all this goodness that surrounds our lives, may we not become reservoirs but channels of God’s goodness and love!  Indeed, when we close ourselves off, stopping the flow of God’s goodness through our lives, we ultimately stop the flow of God’s goodness into our lives.  But when we open the floodgates, and let God’s blessings flow in and out of our lives, we become conduits of God’s greatness, beauty, and surprising love.

Like the fig tree that blooms and bears fruit,

our lives sustain and nourish many! 

 

May our lives be full of the joy and bounty of our God,

and may many,

many

come to know God’s infinite love,

healing justice,

tender mercy,

and surprising grace…

through us. 

“The Command, as Invitation”

Katherine Todd
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15
Luke 6:38

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15

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 God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me;…

Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Luke 6:38

…Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.


 

This passage from Deuteronomy is interesting.  It talks about the tithe – giving the first fruits of one’s labors to God.  Now it isn’t as though they just set baskets out before an invisible God and left them there, no.  Their gifts to God were to be given to the Levites – the family of Israelites charged with teaching about God and leading the people in their relationship with God – to the aliens – those outsiders residing among them with little means, acceptance, or connection – to the widows – those women not permitted to work who had lost the man in their lives – and to orphans – obviously the children without parents and therefore a means of survival.

So their gifts to God were to go to those in professional service of God and to those in need in their communities.  All of these groups were those who could not own land, hold jobs, farm the land, etc.  All of these groups were those whose calling or circumstance in society made them dependent on the charity of others.

These gifts were the gifts of their labors.  They were the produce of the good land God was giving them to inhabit and tend.  But it wasn’t just any produce.  It was the first produce.

 

There is something holy and sacred about giving of one’s first fruits.  First fruits are long awaited.  They are anticipated.  They are watched and waited for.  Giving thanks and remembering the Giver of these good things is a holy and life-giving act.  And we are called to give thanks first, at the start.  We are not to wait till we have forgotten God’s work.  We are not to wait until we are satiated and feel secure.  We are not to give of our leftovers.

No, we are called to give of our first fruits.

We are called to give as this holy act of remembrance and gratitude.

We are called to remember that all we have has come from God

And to remember our calling to care for the outcast, the disenfranchised, the needy among us.  We are called to use these gifts to provide for those who serve us and our communities in remembering and being still before our God.

And we are called to do this first,

Before we know what will be,

…An act of trust.

 

God’s commandment to the people to bring their first fruits to God puts remembrance, gratitude, and trust at the center of their lives.  With each new season’s produce, they come before God to remember God’s deliverance and generous provision, and to make loving provision for those dependent on God for their daily bread.

 

What a loving commandment.

I imagine many have looked upon the tithe and giving to God similarly to how they’ve looked at paying taxes or paying for a service.  It may have felt like an obligation, or perhaps a nagging guilt.  But in this commandment is the wisdom of a parent, a parent who knows that we will never be happy and whole without gratitude.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us into a ritual of remembering all that the Lord has done for us.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that re-frames our labors and energies in the perspective that God is the one who has given us those skills; given us life and health; given us the air we breath, the land we walk, the earth we till and enjoy.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us to pay our gratitude forward in caring for others.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that reminds us we are not whole until all are made whole.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that challenges us to keep trusting God into the future, so that we don’t loose our peace in that endless fight to go and get ahead and succeed.

For those of us who hear and head this call to bring our first fruits, this is a holy and life-giving act.  It is truly an act of faith.  And in it we are bringing in the Kingdom of God – the world as God intends it to be – both in our lives and in the world around us.  When we give of our first fruits to God, we invite the Kingdom of God into lives and into our communities.

 

And how merciful is this commandment.

Notice the first sentence:  “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you… and possess it, and settle in it…”  WHEN…

Unlike a tax that pays little head to where you are in the journey, this commandment is not one driven by greed.  It is not so God can store up or take from us.  It is not a commandment that disregards our station and place in life.

No these gifts are to be given in proportion to what we have received!  AND we are not asked to give from our emptiness but from what we have already been given.

God does not place this command on them while they are traveling as nomads, wandering through the desert.  No.  God gives them this command for their season of arriving, their season of provision, their season of receiving God’s good gifts.

It is precisely when we receive those long-awaited promises, that provision, those gifts, those breaks, that we become vulnerable to many sins.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to believe that we’ve gotten there on our own.

It is in those moments that we can forget, by whose grace and mercy, we have arrived.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to cling to the gifts and to forget the Giver.

It is in those moments that we are tempted to ask more of mere things, that they can ever give us – such as happiness, security, peace…

That God calls us back to gratitude.

 

And God’s invitation, God’s command, is precisely what the Doctor ordered.  It is precisely what we need, so that as we move forward in this new season of abundance, we do not forget who we are and whose we are.  We do not forget those on whose shoulders we stand.  And we continually, in each season, actively remember that all good things come from God.  And we remember that our future, as was the past, is ever in God’s hands.

We remember that God is God, and we are not. 

For peace and happiness, joy and security cannot be earned or bought.  The best gifts in life, come when we remember, give thanks, walk in faith, and pay it forward.

 

God’s command to bring our first fruits, is our loving parent’s invitation to the good life,

the promised land,

…the Kingdom of God on earth.