Deuteronomy 26:12 – When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe) giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns. (NRSV)
Deuteronomy talks about the tithe, that portion of our possessions that rightfully belongs to God, to be used, according to the passage, to support the Levites (that is, those who serve in the sanctuary), the strangers, the orphans the widows, all those in need.
Somehow we have reversed the order of our giving. In this society charitable giving is seen as something we do with the leftovers, with what is not necessary for our life and livelihood and lifestyle, and, it is often done somewhat begrudgingly, with a not-very-well-hidden suspicion that some people are poor just so they can claim a few pennies from the rest of us who have to work for a living, and they really should go out and get a job. There's not much of the cheerful giver in such giving. The Bible says to bring such an offering from the first fruits, not from the leftovers, to bring it in proportion to the abundance with which the Lord has blessed us and not from the pennies in the pocket and purse, and the accompanying lint and dust bunnies. It is a time for true and heart-felt thanksgiving and generosity. That was always the rationale behind services of thanksgiving and praise at the end of the harvest time. Seeing the abundance and the bounty of the blessings we have received was to be a vivid reminder of how blessed we have been and how generous we are called to be.
Thanksgiving 1998. Is it a time to bring the best and make an offering that is well-pleasing to God? Like much of what we do, Thanksgiving has been turned into a time of getting instead of a time of giving. We get together and get a turkey and get so full we can't even go out and walk it off. Where is the thanks, and where is the giving? Israel went out into the fields to bring in the best and when that offering had been made, the people rehearsed who they were and whose they were. They knew themselves through the adversity they shared and the hardships they experienced, and the deprivations they endured. They knew God through God's constant faithfulness, guidance, protection, promise, and providence that had them inherit a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, out of the abundance of what they had received, they brought willingly and cheerfully the first and the best. And the gifts they gave brought more praise to God, for the first call on the first fruit was by those in need. And from the blessings and the bounty that the community celebrated, even the dispossessed, marginalized, and downtrodden had reason to celebrate and give thanks.
Today is our modern version of an ancient celebration. Today you are invited to simply stop and consider the many benefits and blessings of God on your life. Turn that private reflection into a public demonstration of gratitude for the goodness of God. Make this a thanks-giving moment by giving of your best and of the first. Join in the great adventure of giving and not counting the cost, of walking in faith where sight fails us and doing it all in the name of the One who, for us and for our salvation, gave everything, including life itself, that we might know and experience life in all its fullness. Thanks be to God!
Prayer: Bountiful God we are blessed with abundance, and the beauty of the earth is awesome in our eyes. Complete the vision of an overflowing cornucopia with grateful hands offering it to meet the need of others and thereby fulfilling the dream of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Just as you did it to one the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Amen.