Giving as Thanksgiving
A sermon for the First Sunday in Lent
Meister Eckhardt sad that If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. Thank you is the prayer that overflows from a heart that knows it has been blessed.
Thankfulness is both response and source.
We are thankful in response to love, kindness, beauty, unexpected joy, a lightening of difficulty, a reunion with a loved one, and many more things. We are thankful when we feel blessed by circumstances, resources, relationships, and more.
Thankfulness is also a source of love. It is the gentle rain that helps to grow the fruit of the Spirit. When thankfulness pours from our hearts, we show more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is not a coincidence. Thankfulness connects us to the holy and the one who is holy transforms us.
Today’s passage from Deuteronomy invites us to examine the attitude we have toward giving and the very nature of giving itself. It speaks of giving from our material resources, but the principles apply to giving of all kinds including where we give our hearts.
This reading talks about the joy and abundance of coming into the promised land. Here is a rich land that will produce abundant fruit and the people should take a basket of that fruit to the house of God and say words that speak of coming into God’s promise. This is the declared reason for bringing the offering. It is a celebration and a thanksgiving for the goodness of God.
The people are to do two things. One of these is this celebration and thanksgiving for the goodness of God. The other is to use whatever blesses them to bless others.
The last verse of today’s reading is extraordinary. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. Why does it say to celebrate with the Levites and resident aliens? Why not just celebrate, or celebrate with others, without specifying with whom you should celebrate?
The Levites and resident aliens have something in common. They have no claim to ownership of the land. The people addressed by this passage from Deuteronomy have something that the Levites and aliens in the land do not. They are blessed with the resources that produce abundance. Because they have been so blessed, they are to share that abundance with those who do not have those resources. Thankfulness should result in generosity, exercised with joy!
The norm for giving is to return in thanksgiving to God something of the abundance with which God has blessed God’s people. Giving is a joyful response to the blessings of God.
If we are blessed with material resources, we give thanks to God and we use some of those resources to help those who have less. If we are blessed with food on the table, we give thanks to God and share with friends and family. If we experience the beauty of creation or the quiet peace of our backyard garden that reflects a little of creation, we commit to helping it to survive and thrive. We do this not just for our own pleasure but for others and for the well-being of that which blesses.
About 7 or 8 years ago, Parish Council took a hard decision to give away 10% of our offertory. We had wanted to do this for some years but there never seemed to be enough money. Or we worried that there might not be enough money for our needs if we did this. But we took the decision and we have never looked back. Every quarter, it is one of the more joyful tasks of Parish Council to decide where this giving should go. Some is regular, like our support for our CMS missionary and our support for Pastor Sihati’s kindergarten. Some is a single donation in response to needs such as natural disasters. Some is local. Some is national or international. Some is for spreading the gospel. Some is for justice and righteousness. Some is a response to hunger or suffering. We have never been tempted to reduce our quarterly giving because it is a response to Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, and because it gives us joy to do so.
When gifts are given, something is revealed of both the giver and the receiver.
Our Communion Service is rightly called a Eucharist which is a thanksgiving and it contains any number of references to what is given to us and by us.
When the offertory is received:
Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have these gifts to share.
Accept and use our offerings for your glory
and for the service of your kingdom.
Blessed be God for ever.
In the consecration:
Merciful God, we thank you for these gifts of your creation
Jesus said, Take, eat, this is my body given for you.
Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant
The gifts of God for the people of God.
And the prayer of self-offering
Father, we offer ourselves to you
Revisiting the celebration with the Levites and resident aliens, may we rejoice together with all the rich bounty that God has given us of relationships, resources and much more. May we be ever mindful of what we have been given and ever generous in our giving. Amen.