In the book of Deuteronomy, we read over and over again about the land God promises to God’s people. Trusting that promise, they leave the nation where they have been foreigners and have been enslaved to set out on a journey to settle in that promised land. But they complain and drift away from God and into worshiping idols, so a journey that should take them about eleven days (Deut. 1:2) takes them forty years. To provide them with direction, God gives commandments for them to follow in love and obedience to God.
After forty years in the desert, God’s people arrive at the promised land where God commands them to show gratitude for the fulfilled promise. Today gratitude can be a shallow expression; saying “thanks” will do, sending a “thank-you card” will suffice. But that is not what God wants from Israel. God instructs the people to remember the journey, to remember the darkest times, to remember God’s continuous presence with them, and to express their gratitude by offering publicly the best of what they have—the first fruits of their labor. God calls them to do this not only before those who are important in society but also before those who are less important so that all people will rejoice and share in this moment of gratitude.
This story reminds us of God’s presence with us during difficult times and during joyous times, and of how important it is to show gratitude to God by publicly acknowledging God’s unwavering love toward even the most unfaithful of us. This witness and joy can be experienced by all, those in high places and those who live at the margins of society.
Creator God, I remember the many times you have walked with me, even when I went astray. With all of my heart I give you thanks for everything you have given me. I rejoice in your presence and in your grace. Amen.
As we begin the season of Lent, the readings provide several images of how we might prepare our hearts. Deuteronomy focuses on gratitude with a recitation of the history of God’s faithfulness. The people are instructed to offer their gifts to God as a response to God’s generosity. The psalmist focuses on faithfulness. If we put our confidence in God, God will protect and sustain us. In Romans, Paul emphasizes faith. Our confession of faith from the mouth should come from the heart, and this heart confession saves us. The story of the temptation of Jesus admonishes us to know biblical truth. The devil tempts Jesus with half-truths—even scriptural quotes—but Jesus counters with correct understanding of God’s word and God’s character.
Read Deuteronomy 26:1-11. We no longer offer physical sacrifices to God. How do you give the “first fruits” of your labor to God in thanksgiving?
Read Psalm 91:2, 9-16. Recall a time you have felt abandoned or insecure. How did God respond to your call?
Read Romans 10:8b-13. Paul learned to see those he once despised as his equals in Christ. Whom does God call you to learn to love?
Read Luke 4:1-13. How do you follow Jesus’ example to use scripture to resist temptation?
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