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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Note: Computer woes kept me from posting last week. I think we've exorcised the demons. Lent begins in joyful remembrance that all we have flows from God. God’s love, purpose, and power in the wilderness – for the people of Israel and for Jesus – reveal such providence. Experiencing God’s grace beckons us to open what we have and who we are in thanksgiving to God, and in sharing with neighbor. Let us celebrate the good God gives! Deuteronomy 26:1–11 Deuteronomy consists of a series of addresses attributed to Moses. They serve to prepare the people of Israel for entering the land after the wilderness sojourn. The book of Deuteronomy likely did not take final form until the late 7th century bce. The focus passage comes at the end of a collection of laws (12:1—25:19) that are to govern Israel. This passage provides understandings based on covenant of “where we came from” and the basis of hope in God. What comprises covenant here? God gives. The people respond with offerings, confession, and celebration. This text describes covenant faith and action. Note how covenant becomes inclusive. Israel is not to celebrate alone. The Levites and the “aliens who reside among you” (v. 11) are included. Why? Israel lived as aliens in Egypt (verse 5). The Levites had no tribal lands on which to raise crops in order to bring an offering of first fruits. In both cases, covenant calls for their inclusion because of the good (a more literal translation in verse 11 than “bounty”) God provides. “First fruits” giving reflects an ancient tradition that the land and its produce belong to God. “First fruits” literally refers to the first crop harvested, considered the prime part of the harvest. Offering first fruits expresses faith in and gratitude for God’s providence. This passage and Deuteronomy 26:13–15 relate two traditions of first fruits offerings. This tradition of first fruits giving invites us to be stewards who are grounded in gratitude and give from what comes first, not from what is “left over.” One striking feature of this passage is the centrality of God’s giving. While the action called for is the first fruits offering, we are reminded of God’s providential and saving activity. The land, the harvest, the bringing out of Egypt: all are attributed to God’s works on behalf of Israel. This is visually apparent in the repetition of the holy name of God, which occurs no less than fourteen times in these verses! Belief invites action that relies (trusts) and calls upon God. Psalm 91:1–2, 9–16 affirms God’s presence as trustworthy. In Romans 10:8b–13, Paul links heartfelt belief with confession in a way that is evocative of Deuteronomy’s use of faith confession. The narrative of the wilderness temptation in Luke 4:1–13 affirms Jesus’ reliance on God. In these texts, belief is more than simply knowing or saying the proper words. Issues of allegiance are important in these texts. The Roman church confessed “Jesus is Lord” in face of the demand of Rome’s emperors to be hailed as “lord.” Jesus’ refusal to serve the tempter reveals a similar tension. The repetition of the holy name of God in Deuteronomy recalls that this name had been given to Moses so he could tell Israel who would deliver them from Pharaoh. Allegiance is a form of trust. These texts confess trust and allegiance grounded in God. Such confession in our times also may involve hard choices when encountering rival claims to sovereignty from political institutions or economic systems. With joyful remembrance we confess our trust in the One who makes life possible. How can we thank God, not only with our offerings and gifts, but with the whole of our lives? What does it mean to “believe”? How does trust in God’s radical acceptance of us transform the way we respond to God – and to others?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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