Sunday, February 17, 2013

Deuteronomy 26:5-10 Lent 1

The church doesn’t need your money.  God doesn’t need it.  If he needed to, he could say the word, “let there be a money tree,” and it would be so.  We bring an offering because God has said that we should give back to him.  It isn’t that he needs it.  It’s more that we need to give.
We are too focused on ourselves.  God wants us to remember him and remember the needs of others.  This was actually also the reason why Christians fast sometimes, and why Jesus fasted.  It was an opportunity to say no to yourself and what you want, and focus on your heart on God instead.  It was a spiritual exercise.  The offering is an exercise of your faith, an opportunity to say “no” to yourself and remember your God.
God knew that his Old Testament people would forget him.  After their 40 years of wandering in the desert, when they finally settled down and had land of their own to plant and harvest, they would be proud of their hard work and eager to enjoy the fruit of their labor.  They would sit down to eat and dig in, without ever remembering that it all came from God.  So he told them that, when they settled down in the land, they must bring an portion of the harvest to him as a firstfruits offering.  It was the firstfruits—the first portion, and they weren’t supposed to eat any of the rest of the harvest until that first portion had been given to God.  This way they would always remember where their food was coming from. 
But he didn’t want them to bring their offering in fear, hoping that he would be good to them for another year.  That was how the Canaanites worshiped their false gods.  He wanted them to remember that he is a God of love, one whom they could trust.  So, he told them to remember his mighty deeds of the past when they brought their offering.  Remembering all those times when he had blessed them and their forefathers, they would bring their offering in true love and thankfulness.
God’s words through the prophet Moses are a guide for us also, when we bring our offering.  Hear what he says:

5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me.”
Deuteronomy 26:5-10

Theme:  Remember God’s Goodness

1.  By bringing your offering
Now God hasn’t commanded that we bring him the first portion of our harvest today, or even the first portion of our paycheck.  But his instructions to Old Testament Israel are still good guidelines for us, as we want to do what he has commanded.  He wants us to give cheerfully and generously, because “God loves a cheerful giver, “ according to 2 Corinthians 9.  Jesus also told a story about a rich man who stored up everything for himself so that he could enjoy life, but his life was taken from him and he wasn’t able to use any of his wealth.  Jesus said this is how it will be for anyone who is not generous toward God.
So consider what God was teaching the Old Testament Israelite, and see if it might be a good guideline for us.  As the Israelite brought his gift, he remembered God’s great blessings.  He would think of how God blessed him with land and harvest.  He would be thankful, and joyful that he wasn’t wandering in the desert anymore.  There would be no need for him to worry whether or not he would still have enough after he brought his offering—God’s record in the past shows him that he will not need this first part of the harvest anyway.  God will take care of him with the rest.
Bring your offering cheerfully and thankfully too, remembering that it is God who cares for you anyway.  I know you worked hard for your money, and the check has your name on it.  But it was God who gave you the job, and God who gave you the ability to work.  If you are getting a welfare check, God gave you a government that gives welfare checks.  God made sure you would have a roof over your head.  If there was a time when you didn’t have a roof over your head, God kept you safe then too.  Even the food that you buy wouldn’t be in the grocery store unless God made it grow.  Bring your offering, remembering that God is really the one who takes care of you.
When you bring your offering, don’t worry about whether or not you will still have enough to take care of yourself.  If God is taking care of you, and he wants you to give some back to him, trust that he will be able to take care of you with the rest.
I want to say again that God isn’t asking you to bring an offering because he needs money.  He has all the money in the world.  He asks you to do it for your own benefit, so that you will remember his goodness.  We are too self-centered to remember him on our own, too prideful in our own work, too selfish with our money.  We are too likely to think that we are doing it all on our own, and then worry about how we will take care of ourselves in the future.  We need to bring an offering, so that we will remember God.
It isn’t just that God wants you to go through the motions of bringing an offering, though. Look what he told the Israelite to do.  He was to say, “My father was a wandering Aramaean,” remembering that Jacob had no home and little hope when the famine hit the land of Canaan and he left his home to live in Egypt, but God blessed him and made his family into a great nation there.  “But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer,” the Israelite would say, remembering their years of slavery in Egypt.  Even still, God was there to care for them, and he heard their cries for help.  He rescued them, with mighty hand and outstretched arm.  He brought them to the land of Israel, and he won their battles for them so that they would live in the land in peace.  He gave them the land.  When the Israelite brought his offering, he remembered God’s history of doing great things for his people.

2.  Remember God’s goodness by remembering his mighty acts when you bring your offering.
What would happen if the Israelite hadn’t recounted God’s blessings?  The first time something bad happened, he would think that God is angry.  His mind would go to the offering, thinking that maybe it wasn’t good enough or big enough.  So he brings another offering, a bigger one, hoping that maybe now God will bless him in the coming year.  This self-centered, distrustful Israelite’s offering is nothing more than a bribe.  It’s an insult, when you think of all that God did for them.  If you don’t know that God loves you, your offering becomes a bribe.
What would happen if we didn’t bring our offering as part of the worship service?  What if we sent you a bill?  The same thing would happen.  We don’t naturally trust God to be good to us.  We are too wired to think that nothing is free.  Every blessing must be bought with prayers, worship attendance, and offerings.  Every trouble is punishment for something we have done.  We are wired to think of our life in terms of rewards and punishments.
We are also wired to know when we have done wrong, and our hearts tell us that we have.  We deserve punishment.  If God is blessing us now, in the back of our minds there is always something telling us that punishment is right around the corner.  We don’t trust him.  We want to bribe him.  If you don’t know that God loves you, your offering is a sin, and an insult to God.
We bring our offerings as part of this worship service, where we remember the great things that God has done.  We remember him as our creator.  He is God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.  We remember him as our Savior, Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, who suffered when he was tempted by the devil, but did not sin.  When he was fasting, he kept his faith in God to keep him alive, to protect him in all his ways, and also plan the best course for his future.  He honored God perfectly, so that he could offer to God the Father a perfect life of obedience to be counted in place of our disobedience. Now, remembering that Christ’s perfection covers us, we know that we have a God who loves us and always will.  Christ’s The forgiveness that Christ won for us tells us that God will not punish.
Our hymns remind us of God’s great acts of salvation. In the absolution, the pastor tells you that your sins are forgiven, because Jesus said that this is true.  The readings remind us of the things God has done and said, and the sermon helps you apply it to your life and problems.  In the Creed we recite the great things God has done for us as our Father, the Son our Savior, and the Holy Spirit who makes it all real to us by giving us faith and strengthening that faith. Then we bring the offering, trusting that we will not need that money anyway, because we have just been reminded that we have a God who has always loved and cared for us, and thanks to Jesus, he always will.  It’s a pleasing offering to God, because we bring it out of love and true thankfulness, not as a bribe.  There is no need to bribe him, because he has already given us everything anyway, with the promise of more.  Our offering is pure thanks.

Remembering God’s goodness doesn’t happen naturally.  People who stop coming to church forget, and they are fearful or uncertain about God.  They don’t know where they are going when they die.  The best they can do is hope.  Faith that remembers Gods’ goodness it the new you, created by God.  Just as your body needs food and exercise, your faith does too—you need to be fed by the Word, remembering the great things God has done, and be exercised in various acts of love and thankfulness, among these bringing an offering.  Bringing an offering makes you remember that God is the one keeping you alive anyway.   But the offering is nothing but a bribe if you don’t continue to feed on the Word of God.  Bring your offering, but bring it remembering the great things God has done for you.  Remember God’s Goodness.  Amen.