Trick or treating begins at 6 pm tonight. I hope you have already purchased the candy that you’ll be giving out. If you plan on going after church, I promise you all there will be is the yucky candy.
I love trick or treating, and I especially love the post trick or treating ritual. The kids spill out their haul – their bucket of candy – onto the kitchen table. Then they begin to sort it. We all did it. I personally would put M & M’s, Snickers, Hershey bars, Kit Kats, and all the chocolate treasures in the first-class candy pile. Then, in the second class pile were the Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie pops, red licorice, Butterfingers, and Sweet Tarts. Then, the third class pile had the loser candy: the Dum Dum suckers, peppermints, butterscotch candies, and heaven forbid, any apples. The third class candy pile is the one you always let your parents choose from.
Even though our text from Deuteronomy has no direct connection to Halloween, it does begin with the commandment to the landowner to be generous with the first fruits of his harvest. The “first class candy pile”, as it were.
The passage we’ll focus on is our Deuteronomy text. However, both the 1 Corinthians and the Deuteronomy texts are examples of what scholars term narrative creeds. It’s a particular literary form of a story which became fixed over time and played an important role in the life of the worship. Our Kerygma students know this from this week’s homework.
A narrative creed is not like what we might think of as a Creed. It’s not really like the Apostles’ creed or the Nicene creed that we know so well. A narrative creed is not a statement of dogma or doctrine. It’s not about intellectual beliefs, per se.
A narrative creed is about telling God’s story and its truth for our lives. The few short verses in Deuteronomy tells the story of God’s astonishing power and action on behalf of an oppressed people through God’s mighty deliverance out of Egypt.
So, the instructions according to the text were this: when the Israelite land owner first harvested the land he was told to do three things: (1) Bring the first fruits to the priest; (2) Declare his faith; and (3) Celebrate with the Levites and aliens who also reside in the land.
The first action was to bring the first fruits to the priest.
Being God’s people required offering to God the best of one’s wealth. The most valuable produce. God’s people were to share from what they treasured, not from their leftovers. Giving from the least valuable pile isn’t a sacrifice. That’s the stuff that doesn’t mean much to us anyway. God’s command was to bring to the priest the first-fruits as a way of proclaiming God’s faithfulness, and showing their appreciation for God’s generosity. My husband remembers his dad writing the first check for their tithe to the church before he paid the other bills. Their gift was their starting point.
Stewardship season each autumn is not a contemporary idea; it’s not the church’s way of getting money out of us all annually. (It might feel like the NPR donation drive), but in fact the act of pledging and giving a portion from our income to God hearkens back 2500 years to this very act of bringing forth the first fruits of the harvest. This repetitive act was commanded to serve as a reminder to the people then, and now, that God is the Giver of our blessings. And, that the gifts and blessings we have are meant to be shared, especially to serve those who cannot care for themselves. Scripture is consistent about God’s requirement to share what we have with those who do not have enough.
The second action in this story is the instruction to declare to the priest, as the gift was posited at his feet, one’s own story of faith.
Wonderfully, when reciting the creed the narrator begins with “I statements” but then shifts to using “We and Us.”
“My father was a wandering Aramean…,” the creed begins. My father, Jacob, he says, was an alien, a stranger, an immigrant himself. Jacob and our people lived in Egypt under the rule of the Pharaoh. Then the creedal narrative shifts, saying, “The Egyptians treated us harshly; we cried; God heard us; the Lord brought us out of Egypt and brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey.” And SO now I bring these offerings from that land back to God.
The one declaring his faith claims this story as his very own. “Here I stand in the promised land giving God thanks for all God has done in my family’s life.” Each time we recite the story of liberation it becomes our story. Each time we tell it to our children, it becomes their story. That’s why we teach the biblical stories to our children each week in Pathways Sunday school. That’s why Jews teach their children the stories of God each week. Being Jewish and being Christian-being people shaped by Scripture– means that we are storytellers. Our own stories of faith are connected to God’s larger narrative of liberation of God’s people.
After bringing in the offering, and declaring his faith by reciting the creed,
the final action in the narrative is the commandment for celebration. The community is to end with a common meal sharing all they had brought as offerings to God. They were to put on a party!
This party however includes, with special invitation, the stranger and the alien. BUT WHY? Because, the narrative creed will not let us forget– “You were once aliens yourselves. You were oppressed and enslaved. You were once no people and now you are my people. You cried and I heard you. I brought you out. You wandered in the desert, but I gave you your own land.” Now, do not forget from where you came. Empathy for the stranger is rooted in the memory of being strangers and aliens ourselves.
There’s a parable about a village on a seacoast. The village had a lighthouse. One day there were strangers lost in the waters, in need of saving. The people of the village saved them, brought the strangers into their community, and showed them hospitality. Eventually, the strangers became part of the community enjoying all the benefits of the land themselves. One day another group of strangers were lost in the waters and needed saving. But the ones who were formerly strangers themselves did not want to save the ones in need. They did not want to share what they had acquired and have their comfortable lives disrupted. They forgot that mercy had been extended to them.
We extend compassion to the Outsider because we too are from a long line of Outsiders. We all are outsiders in some form or fashion. We’ve all felt at one time or another that we were on the outside looking in.
Our compassion and generosity, according the Lord’s command, is to be rooted in the memory of what God has done for our ancestors and does for us today.
In the next few moments, we get to condense the time, the gap, between the story in Deuteronomy and what we do today in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
When we celebrate the Lord’s supper, we are taking our place in the history of faith.
We are reenacting the story by bringing our fruit of the harvest -the bread and the wine– and we offer them to God so that these common elements for life might be blessed.
In this meal, we reenact the story of Jesus eating around table with his disciples.
In this meal, we reenact the story of the early believers who took their place around the table, some of them telling first hand accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
In this meal, we reenact the story by give our offerings to be shared with all.
We declare the story of our faith in Jesus by praying over the elements. And when we pray, the prayer is to include thanking God for bringing the people, our people, out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
The Apostle Paul, in the 1 Corinthians passage, also recited a narrative creed. The passage tells THE story of Jesus that shaped Paul’s life. It changed him forever. It was a story told to him by others who actually had been with Jesus; Paul did not meet Jesus personally. In fact, Paul as a zealous Jew, persecuted the early followers of Jesus deeming them apostate. But Paul tells the believers in the church at Corinth that the story of Jesus not only changed his life, but the power of that story shaped his entire future.
The past can actually become the present. That’s what our rituals and our creeds can do. They bring another reality into our lives NOW. The story of God comes alive when we meet together here each week. We certainly have to use our liturgical imaginations, as Walter Brueggemann puts it. Our rituals, our words and actions in worship become the means that help us re-member the past, and to connect ourselves to it.
By celebrating God’s saving love shown in the Exodus out of slavery in Egypt,
and God’s saving love through the liberating grace in Jesus Christ, we bridge the gap between the past and the present.
The God who brought forth the people from their captivity is the same God we see in Jesus Christ.
The God we see in Jesus Christ is the same God alive today through the Holy Spirit who is present with us always.
This is the same God who asks you, What holds you in bondage? What keeps you from liberation? The same God who set the Israelites free, is invested in you living a life of freedom today. This is our story of liberation: the people cry out, God hears, and God responds.
The authors of the scriptures were so wise. They knew very well that the stories would shape generations of God’s people; the narrative creeds would tether us to the saints who have gone before us, AND to those saints who come after us. The writers knew that these stories would ensure that we, the people of God, would understand ourselves to be the same precious ones whom God delivered with a mighty hand two millennia ago, and who keeps on delivering today.