Give thanks to God with first fruits instead of leftovers
The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.—Deuteronomy 26:8-10a.
Imagine a Thanksgiving Day that is different than any you have experienced.
You are the guest, not the host or hostess.
You have been invited to the home of someone you dearly love. It may be a son or daughter who has invited you, or you may be going to eat with a grandparent, or at the home of your dearest friend.
But pick somebody special and think of how you feel as you drive to that person’s home.
You are so excited that you can barely keep from speeding.
Lots of the people you love will be there — parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren, life-long friends, precious new friends.
You are delighted that this special person has offered to host the meal and that you can relax and enjoy the day.
You pull into the driveway 20 minutes early. You are surprised to see lots of cars already there. You hurry to the front door and ring the bell.
When that special person in your life answers the door, you apologize for being early. “Not at all,” your special someone tells you. “You’re right on time. Come on into to the dining room.”
In the distance you hear people talking and laughing. Then you turn the corner to the dining room, and your host or hostess holds out a hand and gestures. “Hear you are!”
You stop and stare. The table is not set and waiting for guests. It is in disarray with dirty dishes and serving plates.
The glorious Thanksgiving feast has already been devoured. Only traces of food remain.
You are stunned. “You’ve already eaten,” you say. “I thought you said to come at one o’clock.”
Your special person says, “I did. I thought that since we were eating at noon, you could start on the dishes around one.”
The person kisses you on the cheek and says, “By the way, help yourself to the leftovers.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone treating us that way. And we would not dream of inviting a friend or relative to eat the leftovers of our Thanksgiving dinner and clean up the mess.
We would never treat those we care about so poorly. But how do we treat the God who cares for us and provides for us not just the things we need but also many of the things we want?
When we make messes of our lives, we are quick to ask God to clean things up.
We easily say “Thank you” in our personal and corporate prayers.
But how do we show our gratitude to God? What do our calendars tell us? What do our checkbooks and credit card statements say? Do we give thanks to God first with the best of what we have, or only with what is left over?
The people of ancient Israel had an annual festival at which they gave thanks for what God had done for them.
At the beginning of the harvest, the people made an offering to God.
It was not an offering of what was left over after the harvest was complete. They did not wait until they had stored enough food for the coming year.
They brought an offering from what was harvested first of the fruit and grain, an offering of the best.
The people gave to the Lord God first and provided for themselves last. God received the first fruits, and the people kept the leftovers.
When the people of Israel presented their offering of first fruits, they remembered what the Lord had given them.
They recited aloud what the Lord God had done for them.
It was a way for the people to start over again, to reset their table. It was a way for them to be God’s servant and make the Lord God their special guest.
We also have an annual festival to help us remember what God has done for us.
We call our festival Thanksgiving Day. We gather with family and friends for a feast.
But Thanksgiving can be more than a meal shared with loved ones. It can be a season for starting over.
Our lives get cluttered with unimportant things. Thanksgiving can be an opportunity to clear away the dirty dishes and reset the table.
From now on we can do things differently. We can give thanks to God with our first fruits instead of with our leftovers.
We can start serving God before we serve ourselves, not only on Thanksgiving Day, but throughout the year.
How will you give thanks for God’s gracious presence? With what will you serve this most deserving guest?
The Rev. Dr. Barrie Miller Kirby is pastor of Spencer Presbyterian Church.