Sunday, May 01, 2011

First Fruits

Exodus 31: 1-11
James 1: 16-18

We are all craftsmen, and craftswomen. There are things that we all do that are done every day, or are done on special occasions. Things that we take care to do well, because doing it well is important. Little things matter to craftspeople-like when you change a tire; you put the nuts into the hubcap so that they are kept together and lost less easily. Like the people at the Dairy Queen who can do that signature curlicue of soft serve at the top of the cone.

We are all craftspeople at something. Most likely many things. Things that we come to be known for. I’ve had a couple of conversations with Doug about the ethics of hunting; about taking only what is needed, and within the law, and how to act in the woods both to not scare off game and to not get yourself shot. I would say that he is a craftsman at hunting, and Seth is fast becoming one, as well. Some seasons he already outshoots his dad!

We are all craftspeople at many things. Everyone has their own way of doing laundry, of folding, and of how clothes are arranged in drawers. Those of us who have gardens have a certain rhythm of the seasons, whether we grow from seed or go buy already spouted plants. Some of us are good with flowers, some with vegetables.

Pizza guys take great pride in their style of stacking toppings, or preparing them-Grotto’s dices their onions very fine, Original Italian Pizza slices them.

My mom makes enchiladas in a very specific way, in the style she was taught by her family and her culture when she was young, and a long time ago, when the right spices weren’t as available all over the country as they are now, and before the advent of the internet, she used to have her brother send us the ingredients, sometimes including even the tortillas!

Families are taught down through the generations how to slice a turkey at Thanksgiving. Donna and I learned from that great food authority, Alton Brown on the Food Network, to cut off the whole breast at the bone, and then slice it into serving sizes. Some cut the serving size off the whole bird.

All of these things that we think are important, we do well. But have you ever thought that the things we do well might be a gift from God, a talent given by God?
Think of the pizza maker. To us, perhaps it is just a pizza. And we choose it just because we like it, we find it to be cooked well. We like the sauce, or the amount of toppings. But it’s a pizza, it isn’t rocket science, to us. To the pizza maker, though, it is. It is worthy of great care-the sauce has to be just right, the toppings have to be just so, the oven has to be at just the right temperature. But could it be that God has given the pizza maker gifts and talents do this? And with these gifts and graces, he is able to feed his family, provide a roof over their heads, and give joy to the people in his community? Could it be that making a good pizza is a gift from God?

What about gardening? What about hunting? Could the ability to do these well and good be gifts from God?

In the Exodus story for today, God calls out a specific craftsman, Bezalel, and an assistant, Oholiab, charges them with the creation of all of the worship hardware for the tent of worship. He gives Bezalel nothing less than the divine spirit, and he is to create for the people of Israel all of the candlesticks, the bookstands, the incense burners, the clothing of the priests, and the Ark of the Covenant itself, according to the designs and instructions God began giving back in Exodus 21. Now, if they have been charged to create all this stuff by God and for the Glory of God, then sure, it makes sense that they would be given the Spirit of God to do the iron work, the metalwork, the woodcarving, and the fine stitching.

But James tells us that every generous act of giving, and every perfect gift, is from God. We become the first fruits of God’s creation.

First fruits. Us. We are what is to be given back to God in thanks for the bounty of the earth. Not the first few zucchini that we grow that year. Not the first cut off the turkey, not the first diaper off the line up at the P&G plant. Us.

Since we ourselves are not to be sacrificed at an altar, then the meaning of first fruits changes, for James. Our whole lives are to be offered up as an offering to God in gratitude. It sort of changes how we do our homework each night, doesn’t it? It sort of changes how we practice our music?

The idea that all we do can be given as an offering to God changes our whole way of doing things. All of a sudden, the things we have been given care over, from mowing lawns to raising children, become holy. They become sacramental.

A friend of mine, who was once a Seminary president, told me once that he found it beneficial to see his desk as a communion altar, and that everything that crossed it was as important to God, and that it was his duty to make sure that every administrative task, every paper signed, be seen as just as important as the bread and wine at communion.

We are not all seminary presidents. But each time those of us who are nurses give meds, we can see it as offering the Lord’s Supper. Each time we finish working on a car, we can pass the keys to the owner over a communion table.

We are called by God, just like Bezalel and Oholiab, to elevate our talents and craftsmanship, in all that we do, to the level of offerings to God.

By offering our talents, gifts and graces to God, we are giving glory to God, and witness as well. By taking good care of what we are giving, and using it with dignity and grace and generosity, we show that God is good, and important to us.

And perhaps, if we see something as simple as making soup as an offering to God worthy of our best, I’d be willing to bet the soup tastes better!

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