Something is out of place here… Something is out of order. Things aren’t where they’re supposed to be. On this first Sunday in Lent, in this season where we spend our time remembering the wilderness of the Israelites and the wilderness of Christ, and in this season where we are reminded to repent, to return in faithfulness to our God, why are we reading Deuteronomy 26:1-11?
These words attributed to Moses are some of his final words to a people who have not yet made it to the promised land. While still in the wilderness they are on the verge of entering into the place God has promised them. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to read this towards the end of Lent, not on the very first Sunday? We’re just arriving in wilderness, why read about the exit from wilderness?
Further, is this text theologically appropriate? Too often Deuteronomy is limited to the Biblical genre Law without giving enough recognition to the layers of theology present in the text. This is one of those theological portions. But is it even good theology? Is this bargaining?Is it kind of sound like the health and wealth or prosperity Gospel? “God’s bringing you to the promised land, but before you get there you need to make sure that you’re going to give God the first fruits!” Is there a hint of “We’ll give you our tithe so long as you bless us with the promised land?”
And what if you or your people are actually in wilderness? What if it’s not a voluntary journey into the wilderness to give something up or take something on for a season? What if you or your people struggle to see the promises of God before them? Wouldn’t this be the last passage they’d want to have their pastor preach to them? When you’re actually in the confusion, chaos, and hurt of the wilderness, hearing that everything is going to be ok - that God is in control - rarely helps. When you’ve spent a generation wandering you might be past the point of thinking God is going to show up.
How do you preach this to parishioners on the verge or in the middle of a divorce with a spouse they don’t want to leave? What if their children, the ones they’ve unswervingly loved since birth, have left the home, taken up with less-than-desirable-company, and aren’t speaking to mom and dad? How do you preach that the fulfillment of God’s promises are close to them? What about those who may have been trying to conceive a child for years with no success? Children who lose their unrecognizable parents to nasty diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia? How can we preach this impending promise of God to them?
Preacher, is this text out of place? Well maybe. But maybe that’s the point. Should you preach this text on the first Sunday in Lent? Absolutely! The point of Lent isn’t being in the right place, it’s actually more about being displaced. But more than that, lent is about faithfulness! Moses’ final words to the Israelites are not so much words of prosperity - “if you stay faithful, God will bless you” - as they are indicative of Moses’ unwavering faithfulness in the faithfulness of God! Moses believes the words God has spoken to him. Moses believes God is faithful. And the Israelites are encouraged to trust in the faithfulness of YHWH.
So in this season of Lent do we trust in the faithfulness of God. As we were reminded last Wednesday, we are but dust and to dust we will return. Our faith is placed not in ourselves, but in the one who keeps promises, who delivers. On this first Sunday in Lent, as we are just setting out on this wilderness journey, remember to put your faith in the one who will also bring you out of this wilderness. And remember that when we’re brought out of this wilderness our first responsibility is not to take care of Number 1, but to care for the other; offering first to God, then to those who are without; as verses 12-13 continue, the orphans, widows, and aliens.