Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Most Dangerous Time In Worship - Deuteronomy 26:1-10

Deuteronomy 26:1-10New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

26 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 Lordyour God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that theLord 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. 10 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.

In the worship service, there is a moment each week when we face grave danger.




Most of us probably don’t think that there is a dangerous time in the worship service, but take my word for it, it’s there! We think worship is danger-free because we do not live in a dictatorship where Christians are persecuted. But don’t be fooled. There is one moment in the worship service that is filled with danger and hazards!

No, it’s not the Children’s Devotional! – although there have been times when we did find it somewhat unpredictably hazardous.

 And no, it’s not during the hymns when we might find ourselves next to someone who sings loudly but can’t carry a tune.

Nor is it during the sermon when you are afraid you might fall asleep – and start snoring.

The time of danger? It’s the offering.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we read about a very ancient order of worship. Like any experience of worship, there is an opportunity for an offering – a sacrifice.

In our reading from Deuteronomy, the people of God are about to enter the land God has promised to them. It has been a long time in coming – some 40 years to be exact. And now, after a generation has come and gone, the people are about to enter the land. And Moses speaks to them and gives them some instructions for worship.

He says, “When you have entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, "I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us." The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the LORD your God.”  And that, my friends, is the crucial moment. The danger filled moment. It was at that moment that person worshiping God could come to his or her senses.

“Wait a minute. What am I doing giving God my first fruits? I’ll be back later when I have second or third fruits.”

Or it is at this moment that a person might say, “Wait, I think I’ll keep that nice yellow banana. For my offering today - Here’s a slightly bruised one instead.”

The poor would love to have this ripe banana.

God would want me to have this yellow banana. 

It is here that a person might even rethink the offering completely. “Give me back my basket. God gave me this to enjoy, I think He wants me to keep it all to myself. I’m not about to share my first fruits. I’m not about to share anything God has given me!”

The offering is a dangerous time in the worship service, because it is here that one might forget where our hearts need to be.
It is here that you might forget - that everything you put in this basket, and everything you keep - both come from the generosity of God himself.

Our Old Testament lesson for today comes from the book of Deuteronomy, toward the end of the book. But near the beginning, there is a wonderful passage.

In chapter six, verses 10 through 12, Moses gives some instructions on what to do when the people finally enter the Promised Land. He tells them, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—

a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build,

houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide,

wells you did not dig,

and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant

then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

It is so easy to forget.

It is easy to forget that all we have to present to the offering comes from God in the first place.

It is easy to forget that the homes we live in – God provided.

And the food we enjoy – God provided.

None of these comes from our hands as much as from God’s handiwork.

The offering is a dangerous time in the worship service, because it is here at this moment that you are being asked what kind of commitment you have to God who committed so much to you.

You see the danger?

You’re being given a test – where is your heart? How committed are you to God? What do you really value?

Jesus spoke a great deal about money. He talked a lot about it because he understood that money has such a driving force in our lives.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I don’t know about you but my heart always goes where I put my money.

Actually, I take that back. I do know about you!

Good or bad, faithful Christian or inquiring visitor, profoundly wise or rather simple – your heart goes where you put your money.

If the earthly ministry of Jesus had taken place today rather than 2000 years ago, Jesus would not have said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Instead Jesus would have put it this way --- “Show Me your checkbook, your Mastercard statement, your online banking account, and your receipts, and I’ll show you where your heart is.

Do you have a heart for the work of God?

Do you have a heart for the poor?

Do you have a heart for Haiti or other world missions?

Do you have a heart for the youth of our church?

We say we do, but that moment in the offering tells the reality.
Where is your heart?

         When the time for the offering comes, is this all you are willing to part with?

Copyright 2014, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.