Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Deuteronomy 26:1-15) transports me to a place and time I always get excited about – the first pickings from the garden. I can’t think of many experiences sweeter than tasting those first juicy Silver Queen roasting ears. The boiling water is already on the stove when these first ears get picked, and after some quick shucking and silking, seven minutes in the water and a pat of butter melted over them, I can’t describe it any better than what the song says, that’s the glory of – that’s the story of love. I could go on and on about the similar experiences with the first ripe tomatoes sliced on fresh-baked biscuits, the first blackberries and wineberries in a bowl with milk and sugar, well, you get the picture. I can almost feel the juice rolling down my chin. It’s a nice fantasy to have on a cold snowy February day, especially after the balmy 50 degree day we had on Sunday that turned my thoughts toward the earth and plow.
My memory of this Deuteronomy passage has always placed it in context of the tried and true annual stewardship sermons I heard growing up. Bring your tithes to the storehouse. Support your local Levite. Don’t muzzle the ox when it’s treading the grain. When I re-read the Passage this morning, though, something leapt out at me so hard it almost put my eye out. God instructed the new inhabitants of the Promised Land to gather the first fruits from all their produce, and yes, some of it was to go to the Levites (the custodians of the sacred gathering places), but the law of Moses also instructed the faith community to redistribute the wealth; these first fruits were to go to support the widows, the fatherless, and the foreigners, those “resident aliens” sojourning in the community. Tithing, then, was not a simple fund-raising scheme to keep the lights on and the preacher paid; it was a social justice strategy, firmly rooted in God’s care for the most vulnerable and at risk in our midst.
Reflecting on our primary passage of the week and Jesus’ teaching about the spiritual fruits that we produce as people of faith, it occurred to me how incredibly timely this passage is for my own church. Fruit is such a great and healthy source of energy. So if our relationship with Jesus bears the sweet and juicy fruits of love, joy, peace, hope – all those positive, life-giving energies, then it follows that we are to give our first fruits – our best energies – to those people in our midst who most need those energies. I am grateful at how this is happening right now at Ecclesia. Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of things that can be downright exhausting in the life of any church these days – budgeting, negotiating the shifting sands of denominational life, recruiting enough people to serve on various leadership teams, scheduling and coordinating all those meetings that seem to be necessary to sustaining the life of a faith community. But it is incredibly inspiring to be part of conversations with fellow members who really are giving their first fruits, both in resources and in their best energy, toward some of the most vulnerable populations of our world. It’s like a blast of warm weather in February! The challenges surrounding us are huge, but not nearly as huge as the Spirit who has been sowing seeds and watering and nurturing and is now harvesting some of these first fruits. Just get somebody talking about the relationships they are developing with homeless folks through the breakfast program at the Vet’s Shelter. Or about what’s going on with our sister church in Cuba. Or the workday for the Dream Build at Habitat. Or the Bible study at the jail. Or coaching and mentoring families from disadvantaged circumstances and watching them grow and mature. That’s the glory of – that’s the story of love. Something to chew on.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.