Deuteronomy 26:12-15

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, then you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments:

I have not eaten of it while in mourning; I have not removed any of it while I was unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me. Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.’ Deuteronomy 26:12-15

The Bible opens with two different creation stories. They are different stories but together, they tell a whole story. The first story (Genesis 1:1-2:3) says there is an order and purpose to life, that life makes sense. The second (Genesis 2:4-3:24) says that life is broken, things are messed up. Both stories feel like our lives. And both stories assume that the purpose of people is to tend to the creation around them. This is where stewardship (managing the gifts of God well) starts.

Stewardship is about far more than what we give, it is about how we live.

At this point in Deuteronomy 26, the writer moves from how the gifts given to God were used to meet the needs of the most needy ones in the community – the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows – to reassurance that God’s gifts have not been abused. They were used as intended. They were used always in accord with God’s commandments.

Then comes the request from the people to God that God keep his side of the bargain. That God bless both the land and the people. I don’t know why I find this fishy but I do.

For any number of reasons, I find myself getting very uncomfortable when I hear people talk about how God will abundantly return to us what we have given to God. It reminds me of the TV preachers exhorting people to “plant a seed” by sending them money – and then to watch how God would repay their gift with blessing upon blessing. To me, this always feels crass and manipulative.

But that IS what the Bible says. “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us.”

I read 2 Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9, by far the clearest words in the New Testament about the role of financial giving in Christian discipleship and I am all about its call to joyful, sacrificial, and proportionate giving. I just get uncomfortable with the part that says “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity…”

I don’t think we need to expect some kind of quid pro quo from God for our generosity. Maybe it is more like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly – the blessing is inherently attached to the behavior. Generosity plays life forward.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, keep us mindful of the blessings attached to using your gifts to us as intended. May we find ourselves, not in what we possess, but in being possessed by your love for us. Never let us grow comfortable with a world that leaves children hungry, parents desperate, or widows bereft and alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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