A Personal Liturgy of Thanksgiving
Dueteronomy 26:5-10 (Moffatt Bible) 5Then you must testify before the Eternal your God, 'My father was a wandering Aramaean, who went down to reside in Egypt, with a small house-hold, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and numerous, 6the Egyptians treated us harshly, oppressed us, crushed us down in slavery, 7but we created to the Eternal, the God of our fathers, and the Eternal heard our cry and saw our affliction and toil and oppression; 8then the Eternal brought us out of Egypt by sheer strength and main force, with awful terrors, with signal acts; 9he has brought us to this place and given us this country, which abounds in milk and honey. 10Here, then, I bring some of the first produce to the land which though hast given me, O Eternal.'
These verses are the liturgy farmers were to recite when they brought their first fruit offerings to the temple.1 This was no ordinary offering. It was a thank offering to God for keeping the promise, for giving the promised land.2
Each generation was to recite the prayer. This helped people understand the wonderful things the Lord did before they were born.3
Many people do not care for liturgy. Some people feel liturgy is wrong, because it stifles the leading of the Spirit. Not all liturgy is bad. From this liturgy, we can learn about God. We gain a glimpse into how God cares for people, ways we can remember to serve out of gratitude, not grudgingly, how to treat others, and what is unique about God and salvation.
Firs, we will think about what we can learn from this text about how God treats God's people. Verse 8 outlines the history of salvation from Egypt. The children of Israel were brought out of Egypt by the working of the Lord. Some of the ways God used to deliver his people include the following:
What can we learn from this liturgy?
You can benefit from writing your own personal liturgy. Before giving an offering, before serving God, you can recite your own, short, personal testimony.
For some of us, our testimony might read, “I had addictions problems. My meaningful relationships were ruined by alcohol. God performed a miracle. So I give tithe and a little time in gratitude.”
Others in this congregation might have a slightly different testimony. Something along the lines of this. “I was a slave to heterosexuality. I wasted years trying to be straight, living in a straight marriage, and having kids. My life was a miserable lie, as I tried to buy God's love. Now, I am honest, and open. And I feel completely loved and accepted by God.”
This liturgy can help us understand how to treat people. It reminded the children of Israel they were once poor and mistreated, so they would not be arrogant and oppressive. We also need to remember where we have come from. When we think of where we were before we knew God, before we had any understanding of God's grace, we can more easily love and accept struggling young people, with all of their attitude, gays and lesbians caught up in the evil of ex-gay ministries, and homophobic Christians. In some ways, possibly in many ways, we were once like them. By the grace of God, they too can be changed. As we recite our liturgy, we can better love those who still don't get God's radical, relentless grace. We need to accept those who are not as prosperous as we are. The unemployed, the underemployed, the poor are not cast aside. When we do not remember our previous life, we tend to become proud, unthankful, careless, and oppressive.9 Pride and oppression hurt people, and those attitudes harm the cause of Christ.
The liturgy and the offering were essentially a Thanksgiving service. Remember Thanksgiving. The time we – or at least I – stuff myself with turkey and fine food. Guess who gets the gifts – not our God. Compare that with how Israel celebrated Thanksgiving. They gave God gifts.10 Perhaps, my Thanksgiving would be better, more memorable if I also gave God gifts.
This liturgy helps us understand what is unique about God and how our lives are changed by God.
The children of Israel had problems worshiping other gods. They worshiped Baal. Clearly, the God of Israel did things for them that Baal did not do. Baal was just a fertility god and a storm god. His life was cyclic,11 little better than the changing seasons. Baal lived and died. His death resulted in the seasons of drought. When Baal returned to life, the rains came.12 Baal did not deliver the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt.
We look to the cycles of life for protection, rather than God. Our faith is placed in education, in careers, in bank accounts, in human rights legislation, in political leaders, in possessions, and in the stock market. Those things, while good, do not make a radical change in our eternal destiny; God does.
Most importantly, when we think of the liturgy, we can learn about salvation. Just as Jacob, the wandering Aramaean, we have little we can offer our God. Salvation is not based on skill, merit, wealth, marital status, reproductive prowess, sexual orientation, or gender identification. The inheritance of eternal life, like the promised land, is a gift given by God to God's children.
And that gift is yours. Walk away from church today with the understanding that God loves you just as you are, and your life will be radically transformed. Deuteronomy 26:11 “And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you” (KJV).
Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter, thank you for reminding us who You are, who we are, and what You have done for us, in us, and through us. You are a superior God. Speak through the liturgy of our lives to touch people with the thrilling mystery of your love. Amen.
1Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. (Philadelphia: Jewish Pub. Society, 1996), 237.
2A. Cohen, ed. The Soncino Chumash: The Five Books of Moses with Haphtoroth. (London: Soncino Press, 1993), 1117.
4Nosson Scherman, et. al., eds. The Stone Edition Tanach. (Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah Pub., 1996), 486
5Scherman, et. al., 486.
6Finnish Jennings Dake. Dake's Annotated Reference Bible. (Lawrence, Georgia: Dake Bible Sales, 1981), 225.
9Adam Clarke. Clarke's Commentary. Vol. 1 (Nashville, Abingdon, n.d.), 805.
10J. Vernon McGee. Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. Vol. 1. (Pasadena, California: Thru The Bible Radio, 1981), 595.
11Michael David Coogan. Stories from Ancient Canaan. (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1978), 76.