A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Lent 1 – The Long Story of God’s Faithfulness

Jacob Goeth into Egypt, Gustoc Dore (1866)

Lent 1 – The Long Story of God’s Faithfulness
Rev. Doug Floyd
Deuteronomy 26:1–11, Psalm 91, Romans 10:4–13, Luke 4:1-13

This morning as we are invited to reflect upon the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness we also consider a regular ritual of the Hebrew farmer. According to Philo, this ritual was called “The Basket.”[1] Unlike the yearly festivals, this offering was not specifically seasonal.[2] Some farmers did this near the feast of weeks. Those who lived near Jerusalem may have participated several times a year whenever they had a new harvest. Those who came from farther away may have joined with other farmers and made the journey to Jerusalem together.[3]

The farmer fills a basket with first fruits of his harvest and brings it to the Temple as an offering of thanks to God. He brings it to the priest who apparently speaks a word or two and then hands it back to the farmer. The farmer approaches the altar and rehearses the first fruits recitation. This is a communal memory that he embraces as his own memory.

“A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.”[4]

This is a shortened narrative of Israel’s story. The rehearsing of salvation stories is a fundamental part of the Hebrew culture. These stories can be rehearsed through ritual actions, songs, food, sacrifice, pilgrimage, and prayer. The five senses are engaged as a way of remembering God’s goodness.

In “The Basket” ritual, the farmer begins with the wandering Aramean. It is a direct reference to Jacob but it probably includes Abraham and Isaac as well. The Patriarchs are shepherds with no land. They wander, following the call of God. Their stories are stories of trusting God in the wilderness. Jacob and his family go into Egypt for refuge during a famine. They become a great nation, but they are also enslaved and have no land, no home, no place. In the fullness of time, God rescues them and leads them through the wilderness and eventually to the Promised Land.

The farmer is a sign that God’s people wander no more. He works the land instead of wandering with the flocks. Inherent in this memory is the call to let go and follow and the gift of place, of rootedness, of home. The farmer has become a living witness to God’s faithfulness. He has inherited the promises of God. He rehearses the memory of Jacob and the Israelites, taking these memories as his own. He was a slave in Egypt. He was rescued by the hand of God. He has been given the gift of land, of place.

The ritual ends with an exhortation to remember those who do not have land, who do not have a place, a home.

“And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.” [5]

Deuteronomy continues with an exhortation to provide for the fatherless and the widow: the needy in the land. Even though the Lord has provided for His people, life happens. People die. Not everyone prospers on the land. The Levites are not given a land inheritance and must trust God’s people to provide for them. We have an image of God gifting His people with place, with home, with land. Simultaneously, his people are called to live out this abundance by giving to those in need around them. It is a world of gift, a world of grace.

Again and again in the Old Testament, we hear the phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey.” This captures the abundant promises of God to care for His people. As they dwell within the reality of His blessings, they become a sign, a witness to the nations of the Goodness of the Lord. They are the holy ones in the land.

And the Lord has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, 19 and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” [6]

In this ritual, the farmer is telling His story and the story of God’s holy ones: he was a wanderer but now he is home; he was a slave but now he is a free citizen; he enjoys the promise long hoped for, long anticipated, long dreamed. The land of milk and honey is pure gift from God.

His story is my story, is your story, is our story. We enjoy an inheritance that angels longed to understand. Generations followed the call of God, sacrificed sometimes everything in hopes of enjoying the freedoms we enjoy.

Many Israelites forgot their story. They forgot to give thanks to God. In times of struggle, they turned to the idols of the nations around them. They adopted the deviant practices of cultures who did not know the goodness of God. They failed to offer thanks and failed to care for one another. They trampled the weak and took advantage of the poor and the sojourner. They duplicated the dying cultures around them.

As we read the farmer’s story today, we are reminded that we also tell our stories. The question is what story are you telling? One story I have often told myself is that there is not enough, especially in relation to food. When I was young, I would help my mother cook in the kitchen. One year she was preparing for company and decided to make hot dog manicotti. Remember this was the late 60s, and some recipes were a bit odd. I was so excited to try this recipe. Company came and ate all our food: none left over for me and my mom. We had to snack on some leftovers. As an adult, I developed a habit of cooking way more food then in necessary for a group. I did not want to run out. And something deep in me suggested “there’s not enough.” The fear of scarcity drives conflicts within families and even between nations. It is based on the lie that God cannot provide.

There are other stories we tell such as I am alone, no one can understand what I am going through; I’m rejected (I don’t fit in to the group); I’m a failure; God has forgotten me; I’m not enough (not smart enough, not rich enough, not beautiful enough, not loved enough). Based on the pattern we see in the Old Testament, we come to see that these false stories lead to idolatry. They displace our trust in God as we seek to find ways to fulfill false narratives, false desire that will ultimately lead us away from God’s goodness and into some form of slavery to patterns that lead to unhappiness and death.

The challenge to ancient Israel is to remember rightly. When you forget your story you are in danger. We face a culture every day that is bound by false stories about God, about themselves, about the people around them. Our music, entertainment, literature, news, politics, and even our churches can easily descend into false stories.

As we look to Jesus, we come to see that He faced these false stories, these temptations for us. He exposed Satan’s story of turning stones to bread by confessing the absolute provision of God for us in His living Word. He exposed the call to a false worship by focusing on worshipping God along. He distinguished between faith in God and presumption by refusing to put the Lord to the test.

In the midst of world of false stories, we turn and return to the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ. Together, we as a community retell the story of God’s faithfulness, of our redemption in Christ, of God’s abundant blessings in our lives. We keep coming back to these stories. We keep rediscovering God’s unbelievable goodness. In the community of Christ, we rediscover again and again that all is gift, all is grace, all is love.

As the saints of God, the Holy Ones in the land, let us spend this Lent following Jesus into the fullness of His love. Along the way, I pray that our false stories will fall to the ground, and we will become living witnesses to God’s abundant goodness and grace showered upon us every moment of every day.

[1] Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 239.

[2] Ibid. “According to the halakhah, the first fruits could be brought from the Feast of Weeks through the Feast of Booths, the two festivals that followed the harvests and the processing of their products, or even as late as Hanukkah, though in that case without the present Recitation. Since this law is not connected to the festival calendar in chapter 16, the ceremony probably had no necessary connection with the festivals, but many farmers would have found it most convenient to bring the first fruits when they traveled to the Temple for those festivals.”

[3] Ibid. “According to Tractate Bikkurim of the Mishnah, in the late Second Temple period farmers who did not bring first fruits on a festival would come in groups made up of people from towns in the same region. They traveled in a festive procession, led by a flute player and an ox with gilded horns and an olive wreath, and were welcomed by officials outside Jerusalem.”

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 26:5–10.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 26:11.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 26:18–19.


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