Pastor Galen, March 10th, 2019
Deut. 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13
This year I’ve noticed people getting an early start on Spring Cleaning. I used to think that Spring Cleaning was a thing of the past, but this year I’ve seen a lot of people tidying up their houses, sorting through their things and getting rid of a lot of stuff. And it’s all due to a popular reality television series on Netflix called “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”
Marie Kondo is an exuberant young Japanese organizing consultant. In each episode, she is welcomed into various peoples homes to help them get more organized.
When she first walks in, their houses are cluttered and piled high with stuff. But Kondo walks them through a process of deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. She asks them to sort everything in their house by category, and to hold each and every single item that they own in their hands, and ask themselves the question, “does this spark joy for me?” If not, she instructs them to get rid of it.
At first, the people in each episode say something to the effect of, “but I like all of my clothes!” or “I need all of these books!” But as they begin to sort through their belongings, they find that there are a lot of clothes and books that they forget they even had, and eventually, they get rid of mountains of clothes and books and kitchen supplies and other items.
The goal, of course, is that as they get rid of all of their extraneous belongings that they don’t want or need, their lives will become less cluttered and that will be able to appreciate the things they have.
This show has been so influential that ever since it came out on January 1st, so many people around the country have been implementing Marie Kondo’s method and getting rid of so much stuff, that thrift stores all around the country are getting overloaded with donations. So much so, that many thrift stores are having to turn people away from bringing in more donations! (Of course, this also means that if shopping at thrift stores sparks joy for you, this is a great time to find some bargains, because thrift stores have plenty of inventory!)
Today marks the first Sunday of Lent, the period of 40 days leading up to Easter (not counting Sundays) where we as Christians prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. It’s a time that we remember and reflect on our need for God.
Many people prepare their hearts and minds for Lent by giving something up for those 40 days. Some people choose to give up luxuries such as coffee or chocolate. Others give up bad habits such as lying or swearing. Some of my friends have given up social media for this time period, and of course they loudly announced it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
The word “Lent” literally means “spring” or “springtime.” So Lent is a sort of “spring cleaning,” when we get rid of the things in our life that we don’t need, at least for a period of time. It’s a time that we step back and take inventory of our lives, and it’s a time when we get rid of the things that have been holding us back or weighing us down, in order to remember our need and dependence on God.
In Deuteronomy 26, the Israelites are standing at the entrance to the Promised Land. They have been wandering around the wilderness for 40 years, and before that, they had been slaves in Egypt for close to 400 years. And as they are getting ready to enter the Promised Land, Moses gives them instructions for what they should do when they get to their new home. The Israelites have been wandering for so long that they don’t even know what it’s like to have a place of their own.
One of Moses’s chief concerns is that when they settle into their new land, and when they are finally able to plant their own crops and grow their own food, and when they eventually have abundant provisions, that they might forget God. Moses is worried that after struggling for so long just to survive, that when they are in a time of plenty they might forget their need and dependence on God.
So Moses instructs them that when they get settled into the Promised Land, and when the crops that they’ve planted begin to bear fruit and they have their first harvest, they are supposed to give the first fruits of their harvest to God.
Now I don’t know about you, but I would imagine that the first crops that someone harvests are probably the ones that spark the most joy.
But unlike Marie Kondo who instructs people to give away everything that doesn’t spark joy, Moses commands the people to give to God the very things that sparked the most joy in their lives. Moses doesn’t tell them to get rid of the produce that’s rotten, or the vegetables that are oddly shaped, or the excess fruits and vegetables that they don’t need. He tells them to bring the first fruits, the best fruits, to God.
And when they come and bring their first fruits, Moses instructs them to recount the story of their oppression in Egypt. They are instructed to remember together the reality that it was God who brought them out of Egypt, it was God who brought them through the wilderness and to the Promised Land, and it was God who provided the harvest — it was not their hard work alone.
Now, keep in mind that when Moses is commanding them to give their firstfruits, there is no guarantee that there will be more crops to come. Even if it looks like everything is on track to have a bumper crop, there could always be a hurricane or tornado, a plague of locusts or disease.
And yet Moses asks them to give their first fruits in faith, trusting God that there will be more to come. He wants them to trust that as they bring their first fruits and the best that they have, that God will provide for their ongoing daily needs.
The Ultimate Potluck Dinner
And then, after they’ve reflected on their own journey and the abundant provisions that God has given to them, after they have given the first and best that they have to God, they are instructed to invite the priests, the Levites, the orphans, the widows, and the foreigners to join them in feasting together on the first fruits that they brought from their harvest.
(For many years I had no idea that this is what happened to the tithes and offerings that the Israelites brought. I just sort of imagined that when the Israelites brought their tithes and offerings and firstfruits to God, that they offered them on the altar and that their offerings were burnt up as a sacrifice to God. But no! When the Israelites brought their first fruits to God, they were commanded to feast on those firstfruits and to invite anyone and everyone who lacked the capacity to grow their own fruits and vegetables and livestock to join them in that feast).
When I imagine this first fruits feast, I imagine the ultimate potluck dinner. As a college campus minister, my wife and I get invited to a lot of weddings. I’ve been to quite a wide variety of wedding receptions, from simple, to fancy, to outlandish. (Weddings can be quite expensive occasions — did you know that the average wedding in the United States in 2017 cost $25,764?!?)
But my all-time favorite wedding reception that I’ve ever attended (apart from my own) was the wedding reception of two of my former students who met and fell in love through the campus ministry that I direct on campus. For their wedding reception, they did something that I’ve never seen anyone else do before. They had a potluck dinner reception, and they invited all of their guests to bring a special family holiday dish — a special food that their family might eat for Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or another family holiday. Everyone brought their best dish, and it was absolutely the best wedding feast I have ever attended!
This is how I imagine this festival of first fruits. Everyone bringing the very thing that sparks joy in their lives and sharing that with others, and remembering and celebrating God’s provision together. For the Israelites, this would have meant baskets of overflowing farm-to-table produce, freshly baked bread made from home-grown wheat, figs from their very own fig trees, and wine from their very own vineyards. Everyone gathered together, feasting and celebrating God’s goodness and provision. No one left out or excluded, everyone invited to gather together at the feast. What a beautiful, amazing scene!
God’s Generous Heart
And all of this is a reminder not only of God’s provision, but also of God’s incredible generosity, and the fact that no one is left out or excluded from the Kingdom of God.
In Romans 10:12-13, Paul reminds us “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
“The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him!” “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!” This is Good News! No one left out of excluded, all are invited to partake together in God’s abundant salvation. And no matter how much we give, we cannot outgive God, who is “generous to all who call on him.” Amen!
Giving Our First Fruits
So I wonder, what would it look like for us to enter Lent with this perspective?
What if this Lent we gave our first fruits to God? Not the things that we don’t want or those things in our lives that don’t spark joy, but the best that we have to offer?
For some of us, that might mean that rather than avoiding luxuries, instead, you might be more intentional about sharing your favorite things with others. And rather than avoiding social media, maybe you are more intentional about sharing God’s love with those around you — whether in person or on-line. If you’ve chosen to give up lying or swearing for Lent that’s probably a good thing — but instead of staying silent, what if you chose to use your words to bless others?
And if you’re planning on doing some spring cleaning, rather than just giving away the things that don’t spark joy, what if you gave away some of the things that you love to the people you love, or to the people in your life who are most in need?
One of the ways we practice this principle of first fruits is through the giving of our tithes and offerings every Sunday during worship. When we give our tithes and offerings to the Lord, our money doesn’t just evaporate in the offering plate or get deposited into some bottomless pit. The money that we give in the offering is a sort of first fruits feast — it’s what allows us to keep the lights on and the heat running, so that we can come together to worship God each Sunday morning and to feast together on God’s Word. It’s what allows us to host the Food Pantry and Thrift store here at our church each week. It’s what allows us to host Family Fun Nights and invite the neighborhood to come together to experience joyful community.
Remembering God’s Goodness
And so this Lenten season, let’s reflect upon God’s goodness, generosity and provision, and let’s share with one another the story of God’s goodness in our own lives. Let’s give our first and our best to God, and let’s share God’s goodness with the world!