Sermon Lent 1

February 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm Leave a comment

We have just heard from the twenty-sixth chapter of Deuteronomy this beautiful prayer of dedication which is given to the people by Moses. Set free from Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, they are about to arrive in the promised land. When they reap the harvest of the land of Canaan, they are to take the first part of the produce and bring it to the place of worship, and this is what they are to say:

“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 upon 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, with 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.”

Once we’ve gotten to where we think we’re going, how easy it is to forget who we are and how we got there.

Moses gives the people a ritual designed to keep them in relationship with God – to keep them from forgetting about the God who hears them, rescues them, and sustains them. But how quickly the people forgot – the book of Deuteronomy was found hundreds of years later, buried in the Temple, forgotten, unused, and God’s people looked very much like the rest of the earth’s people: secure and self-centered in their independence, having a land which was their own, and eating and drinking its produce with little thought for God, but much thought for how they could get more. Once we’ve gotten to where we’re going, how easy it is to forget who we are and how we got there.

Why is Israel commanded to give the first-fruits of the ground? Not as payment for the food; and certainly God does not need to eat it. But God created us and lives with us as a giver and receiver of gifts. To give of the first-fruits is to participate in that blessed relationship.

It was forever so – in the Creation stories from Genesis God creates not out of obligation but from sheer freedom and love. He gives humankind life, food, companionship, useful work, leisure and rest. Humankind has no responsibilities but to receive what is given and acknowledge God’s blessings. Don’t you wish you could have that kind of life? Doesn’t sound too bad, huh? That’s the original blessedness of Genesis 1 and 2, the blessedness which receives life as a free gift from God’s hand.

Of course, we know it didn’t last, because taking entered the garden of Eden, taking what was not given. If humanity in the image of God is a giver and receiver, then humanity in the image of God’s fallen angel is a thief who sees the world not as gift to be received but treasure to be acquired.

We see it as early as a toddler surrounded by toys, more toys than he can play with, but who is much more interested in what he cannot have, and who becomes quite frustrated when he cannot have it. We smile knowingly, but we shake our heads, for peace is taken away by these demands for more. The drive to take what one can carries with it its own curse: we see people surrounded by abundance who are consumed by envy; people who work so hard they have no time for God, others, or self; people who feel entitled to the good things and so are bitter and angry, thinking they’ll be happy once they get what they deserve.

To live in divine relationship of giving and receiving consists not only in receiving what is given but in not taking what is not given. And it is this not taking which is the test of a relationship – any relationship – whether it be between human beings or between humanity and God. Adam and Eve in the garden, Israel in the promised land, are to show that even in the midst of abundance they are waiting upon God’s provision, receiving in love everything that God gives by not taking what is not given, by giving back the first portion because they know it is a gift.

And it is this test they fail. It is this test we all fail, convinced as we are that life is not gift to be received but treasure to be acquired. From Adam and Eve we have our inherited worldview: what is forbidden must be desirable, what is needful must be gained (by force, if necessary,) and to wait upon God is to give up our freedom to control our own lives. Satan is crafty – every minute we go without, every minute we suffer pain, is an agony in which we are suspended between faith and doubt, ready to listen to the Satanic whisper that God has forgotten us, that he will not provide for us, and we must take what we desire.

And so Christ is sent to the world to restore the image of God in humanity, a humanity in blessed relationship with God of giving and receiving. He is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, and for forty days endures that agony of waiting upon God with us, suspended between faith and doubt. In not taking what is not given he shows that he receives all as a gift.

Jesus is the Word of God, and he knows the written Word. To Jesus Satan says three times, in different ways, “Your Father, who had begotten you, has forgotten you! You are powerful! Take what you can!” To which Jesus replies: It is written, I will receive what God gives. The second Adam heals what the first Adam had wounded; the son of Israel fulfills the command to Israel to live in giving-and-receiving relationship with God, by receiving what God gives and no more, by trusting in God’s Word of provision, even through self-denial, suffering, and death.

Lent gives us our yearly opportunity to renew our participation in the life of Christ:
by giving up our appetites and trusting in God to provide,
by giving away money and trusting in God to provide,
by giving God time and attention and trusting in God to provide,
by giving God our sins and trusting in God to provide –
not so we may take from God our blessedness but rather that we may rejoice in its free gift.

In Lent, even our failures may be blessed, when they become opportunities to rejoice in the sheer grace of God who rescues us out of his love.

And in not-taking, perhaps we may learn to receive with gratitude everything that is given and so grow and mature in the inheritance we have in Jesus Christ.

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Entry filed under: Sermons.

Do. Love. Walk. Sermon Lent 4 – March 14, 2010

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