Monday, December 28, 2015

“First-fruit Giving”

S-1530 1SAC/3C 12/27/15 Hymns: (O) #357 vv1-4 (S) #783; L.S. 364; 368; 375; (C) #357 vv5-6

Texts: Psalm 111; Exodus 13:1-3, 11-15; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:22-40

Theme: “First-fruit Giving” (Hebrews 10:12-14; Luke 2:8-20)

Question: “Are you giving your first-fruit to the Lord?” (19th Sermon at Trinity).

Faithful followers of the Savior, Merry Christmas once more to you precious and beautiful people of God. The text for our meditation is from the O.T. Reading: When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery’”(Ex. 13:11-14).

In Nomine Iesu

Saints in Christ, as the Holy Spirit has brought us once again to kneel at the Manger since CHRISTmas is not a one day event, but rather, seeing God drenching His world in grace by giving them the long-expected Messiah—the Savior; today, we call once more upon the Holy Spirit to help us as we take time to reflect on the Words of Moses from his second book—Exodus. In these few words the Lord tells Moses to say to the Israelites to remember and celebrate the day the Lord God REDEEMED them from the bondage of slavery from the cruel master’s Pharaoh and his henchmen.

God tells them “…when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ You shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery’” (Moses was the first Lutheran, for he asked “What does this mean?”). By the gracious and strong hand of God the Israelites were freed and so have we. We too, like Israel were in bondage. But on account of Christ the Babe of Bethlehem, we have been freed from a crueler task masters, more powerful and evil than Pharaoh; more cunning, more wicked and deadly than any Isis or terrorist group we will ever meet—Satan Himself.

On account of the mighty act of deliverance by the ONLY true God the Israelites were commanded to give the first born of the womb to the Lord both of animals and humans they are to be dedicated to the Lord. This is a constant reminder to the people of Israel and us that deliverance from the enemy comes by the outstretched hand of God. Don’t overlook that statement. See the cross already in the O.T.

You and I as the redeemed of God and made part of the family in Baptism, have been privileged to travel in Spirit to Bethlehem to see this thing that has been told us by the angels; we saw the tiny hands of the Baby Jesus. Throughout His earthly travel He used His hands to do many kind deeds and freed people from many diseases and even death. But ultimately those strong, caring and loving hands were stretched on the cruel cross of Cavalry to redeem the world from its bondage and slavery under the tyrant Satan.

Those outstretched hands were the gift that God gave you and me to be redeemed and freed from every burden that drags us down and keeps us in the dark—destined to hell. On account of those hands our sins are forgiven and we are granted eternal life because those hands didn’t remain on the cross. They were placed in a tomb ultimately to rise again. PAUSE.

For this reason, I titled the sermon “First Fruit Giving.” But what does that really mean and how does that affect us? In order for us to know what does that mean we need the Word of the Lord to teach us!

Firstfruits, was a Jewish feast held in the early spring at the beginning of the grain harvest. It was observed on Nissan 16, which was the third day after Passover and the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Firstfruits was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision.

Leviticus 23:9-14 institutes the firstfruits offering. The people were to bring a sheaf of grain to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord. A burnt offering, a meal offering, and a drink offering were also required at that time. Deuteronomy 26:1-10 gives even more detail on the procedure of firstfruits.

No grain was to be harvested at all until the firstfruits offering was brought to the Lord (Leviticus 23:14). The offering was made in remembrance of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, the Lord’s deliverance from slavery, and their possession of “a land that flows with milk and honey.” The day of the firstfruits offering was also used to calculate the proper time of the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-16).

In the New Testament, the firstfruits offering is mentioned seven times. Paul’s meaning is that, just as the firstfruits offering was the first portion of a larger harvest, these individuals were the first of many converts in that region. James calls believers “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18). Just like the sheaf of grain was set apart for the Lord, so are believers set apart for God’s glory. PAUSE.

Where do we find these firstfruits offering fulfilled? In Jesus the gift of heaven who was born to die for you and me. Paul writes: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus’ resurrection has paved the way for our resurrection. Significantly, if Jesus was killed at Passover, then His resurrection on the third day would have fallen on Nissan 16—the Feast of Firstfruits. When there is firstfruit that means there is more to come. So we too, shall rise from the grave.

Therefore, we are encouraged, not mandated to give our firstfruits to the Lord. Paul even taught us in 1 Corinthians 16:2 saying: On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” We are to set aside these gifts to the Lord’s work as our occasion of thanksgiving and gladness of what the Lord has done for us and continue to do for us.

Yet, how often do we give our firstfruit offering to the Lord? Be honest now. Is the first check you write and set aside to the Lord, or after you had paid your bills, you check what you have left over? When you do something at church, is that your first thought, priority, or is it because someone begged you to do it? If you want to know if you are giving your firstruit to the Lord, check two things: Your check book and your calendar. This will give you an indication what is important in your life.

You see my beloved; our minds are not like the Lord’s. We focus on what is good for me and not the Kingdom. The 2nd Petition of the Lord’s Prayer—Thy Kindgom come is not always on our mind. But it should be. Nor do we even consider that we can make a difference in what we say, do and give. Often time the devil deceives us in thinking no one will notice and there is no benefit to what we say, do, and give. But what we offer to the Lord is important! When our firstfruits are offered to the Lord in humility and love, He takes what we give Him and blesses others. PAUSE.

Children of the Heavenly Father, every year around Christmas a classic movie is played on our TV screens, titled “What a wonderful life” Starring Jimmy Stewart. The movie focuses on a young man by the name of George Bailey living in a small town, but with big dreams. From an early age, he wanted to get away from Bedford Falls, travel the world, and accomplish big things. But he didn’t. He started a bank business whereby he helped people in need. He gets married and has a family. But tragedy hits the bank when his uncle looses the money.

George is mad at his uncle, the world and everyone else and decides to kill himself. But God sent an angel to show what a difference he made in the lives of many in the community. Ultimately he is thankful for what he has and what a blessing his family means to him.

You too, my beloved have a family. Bound by love and filled with blessings by the Babe of Bethlehem who offers Himself as the firstfruit from the dead, so that you, me and many others will be welcomed in the family of God.

In Jesus and His relentless love; we have a wonderful life. On account of Jesus we receive blessings galore. We get to hear the Word preached, forgiveness offered and the Sacrament dished out. Here in this place we see the harvest of the firstfruits of God—given you and me and the world because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. For that we say amen and amen.

Now the peace…


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