This Week’s Lectionary Passage:  Deuteronomy 26: 1-11
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God,5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

They say that possession is 9/10ths of the law.  When you have worked hard and earned your due, it is yours.  But did you see the news story the last couple of weeks where the guy in Dallas claimed possession of a mansion for just $16? Did he own it?  Did he possess it?  Well, for awhile the little-known Texas law of adverse possession said that he did.  After all, possession is 9/10ths of the law.  So, the promise here is that God is giving you an inheritance, an inheritance to possess.  You possess it, you settle into it, and its yours.  Doesn’t that sound great–sort of an American dream on steroids or something?

But read on…”possession” comes with responsibility.  We’re supposed to give back.  The meaning of possession here is not holding, not putting away for safe-keeping, and certainly not hoarding what we have for a rainy day.  Possession comes with responsibility.  Possession is not holding, but being entrusted with with something.  God gives and then we are called to give in return.  The gifts that we are given are not “ours” the way we think of “ours”; they are what has been entrusted to us to use in putting to into play the vision of God.

Oh, this is not good.  I mean, I work hard.  I own this little house in The Heights.  (Well, OK, I don’t really “own” it.  By my calculation, I own about half of it and share the pride of ownership with CitiMortgage.  But, really, that’s just semantics, right?)  The point is, I own it.  Really?  So, my family resources had nothing to do with it?  So, the fact that I had the gift of an education, which provided me a good job, which provided me a good living had nothing to do with it?  So, the point that I have been so incredibly fortunate in my life is lost on me?  I own it.  It is mine.

No, see, we may own it in the way that the world defines ownership.  But the real truth is that God has entrusted us with what we have, that God has given us the gift of what fills our lives, that God has already done the 9/10ths.  We can call it law or we can call it a gift.  God is waiting on our response.  (Yeah, I know that tenth thing is the same as the prescribed tithe.  The truth is , I’m really talking about something more.  Just let it go for now. )  The response to which we are called is not limited to what we give back; it is not some sort of prescribed off-the-top tenth.  It is more.  It is realizing from where we come and to whom we journey.  It is seeing that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean, a sojourner, an immigrant of sorts (yeah, I know, that’s a live one), and one in whose steps we tread.  It is realizing that, really, nothing that we hold is ours.  What we possess is only what we are willing to share.  That is the way God works.  God gives us the wherewithal to share, to live in community, to love.  God gives us this incredible bounty.  But it is not mine.  I do not own it.  It is ours.  And only when we realize that we hold it together will we truly possess it.

So on this Journey to the Cross, look at what you hold and look at what you truly possess.

Grace and Peace,


A Receiving Spirit

So how do you foster a receiving spirit in this Season of Giving? By nature, our consumer-driven society are not ordinarily givers–at least not in the true sense. Oh, don’t get me wrong…all of us give to that small number of carefully-picked non-profits (including our church) each year. And this is definitely the season that our charitable giving jumps way up. Perhaps it’s the little bit of Santa in all of us; perhaps it’s the colder weather that makes us realize how fortunate we are to be warm and dry and comfortable and nested in the midst of those who love us when there are those that are cold and alone living right there with us; and (let’s face it) perhaps it’s part of our year-end tax planning–whatever it is that drives us to give, we’ll take it!

So, once again, how do you foster a receiving spirit in this Season of Giving? If you’re really honest with yourself, giving is easier than receiving. Giving means that you are the one in control. Giving means that you are the one choosing what, how much, and even whether or not to give at all. But how well do we receive? How well do we let someone else choose the wrong style of decorative item for our home, spend way too much (or way too little) for our taste, or give a gift that we were not expecting and for which we had no reciprocating item to give. I’ve gotten better at that. I give what I can. Others do too! Things don’t have to even out. Give them that–that is a gift too!

Truthfully, this is the most incredible gift of this season–the lesson of receiving. Bishop William Willimon says that “This strange story tells us how to be receivers. The first word of the church, a people born out of so odd a nativity is that we are receivers before we are givers. Discipleship teaches us the art of seeing our lives as gifts. That’s tough, because I would rather see myself as a giver. I want power–to stand on my own, take charge, set things to right, perhaps to help those who have nothing. I don’t like picturing myself as dependent, needy, empty-handed.”[i] But, once again, wasn’t that how God came that night–dependent, needy, empty-handed? God came as a helpless, vulnerable baby to show us how to receive what the world offers and when we enter that paradoxical mystery, we will find and receive what God offers.

So go forth and receive in humility and vulnerability and immense grace! That is the greatest gift you can give!

Grace and Peace,

[i] William Willimon, “The God We Hardly Knew”, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, (Plough Publishing, 2001), Dec. 14.