Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Harvest Home is the oldest continuing tradition in our congregation. It hearkens back to the day when most of the members of our congregation made their living through agriculture.
This celebration is an opportunity to give thanks for the harvest; share a meal together; and give a special offering from the fruits of the harvest. The folks who began this tradition of Harvest Home understood the deep biblical connection between God’s provision to us and our gifts to him. The Bible says:
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.
From slaves in a foreign land to nomadic wanderers in the Sinai desert God set his people free; provided for them in the desert; and was about to lead them into the Promised Land.
Out of the bounty of their very first harvest in that place, the Lord instructed them to take the first fruits of that harvest and give it to him as an offering at the tabernacle.
That tangible, tactile offering—the first-fruits of the harvest that they held in their hand—would be an enduring sign to them that the Lord is the God of kept promises who protects and provides for his people and leads them safely home.
The offering they gave was to be a first-fruits offering—that is, before they gathered for themselves, before they stored something up for the year to come, before they helped others, they were to give their offering to the Lord at the tabernacle.
The tabernacle was the particular place where the Lord manifested himself to the people—where he heard their prayers and received the sacrifices of the priest and spoke his words and forgave their sins. It was where God made his gracious presence known in a way that could be laid hold of by faith.
Those are the biblical roots of our very own Harvest Home celebration and our offerings still serve the same purpose.
Though most of us no longer make our living from agriculture, we are all fed, and clothed, and sheltered by the God of creation from the fruits of the harvest-- to say nothing of the countless other ways that the same Lord generously provides for our daily needs.
And so when we give our offering we are saying the same thing that the Israelites were saying: that the LORD is our God who keeps his promises to provide for and protect his people and lead us home. That is why…
We bring our offering here to the church and give it to the Lord first—before any other bill or obligation—before any other charity—because we know that without the Lord’s provision no one’s needs would be met. That’s what every offering is, especially our Harvest Home offering—a tangible, tactile confession that the Lord provides. The Bible says:
You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.
When the Israelites gave their first fruits from the harvest in the Promised Land, there was more to it than simply handing off their offering. Each of them not only gave their offering—they made a confession of faith in conjunction with it: that they were the personal recipients of the Lord’s faithfulness: I declare that I have come into the Promised Land.
So it is for us. That we have in our hands an offering to give the Lord is only because the Lord has already so generously filled our hands with his abundant blessings. And even if we no longer say something out loud when we give our offering there should be no doubt in our minds: a confession is being made when we put our offering in the plate.
Here’s the question: Is that confession given with our offering one of confidence and trust and gladness in the Lord’s provision-- or is it one of doubt and worry expressed in our unwillingness to let go of what we hold in our hand. It ought to be one of confidence and trust for the Lord has seen our need and come to our aid and he can be counted on to keep his promises in the days to come. That is what the Israelites confessed. The Bible says that:
You shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor.
When the Israelites brought their offering to the Lord at the tabernacle they made a confession of faith along with it and that confession had two parts: their great need and the Lord’s gracious provision.
They recounted their sad history as a people: their poverty as wandering tribesman with no real place to call home and their dependence on God’s provision and then they recalled their slavery in Egypt and all of the humiliations and indignities that went along with it. Even though it was painful to bring to mind the things of the past it was necessary for them to remember where they came from.
Each Lord’s Day we do the same. We confess that we are sinners—that we were born under Satan’s dominion, alienated from God—that death is the result of our distance from God. We confess that the good things we receive are not what are due us, but examples of God’s mercy upon those who cannot help themselves.
We make this confession so that we never forget just how great is our need- and how far we have come- by the mercy and grace of the Lord who sees his people’s need and comes to their rescue. The Bible says that:
We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
After they confessed their great need and where they had come from, they confessed the Lord’s great provision and the good place he had brought them to.
They remembered the signs and wonders that accompanied their deliverance—how the Lord’s hand protected them from the judgment that fell upon their enemies—how God raised up for them deliverer in Moses—how the Lord brought them out of slavery and certain death through the waters of the Red Sea that drowned their enemies behind them.
And in re-telling the story of their salvation they confessed that it was the LORD—Jehovah—Yahweh—that delivered them and set them free and brought them to the Promised Land.
So it is for us. Our salvation story is the story of our helplessness in the face of enemies much more powerful than Egyptians—our enslavement much more encompassing than making bricks. The LORD saw our slavery to sin and death—he saw the power of our satanic foe—and he had mercy on us.
He raised up a Savior for us in the person of his own Son Jesus Christ who by the might of his outstretched arms upon the cross set us free and drowned our enemies in the waters of Holy Baptism. And as his redeemed people he has graciously provided for all our needs of body and soul.
This is the work of the LORD—Jehovah, Yahweh--not some generic God up in the skies who goes by many names—but the LORD: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the God of our fathers and the God of our salvation and the God of the Harvest.
That is the confession we make when we bring our offerings to the Lord. Our offerings are not just act of obedience—though they are that. They are not just a duty—though they are that. They are a tangible, tactile confession of what is true about us in our great need and what is true about the LORD in his great provision and as we bring them to the Lord they become the location and substance of our worship just as they were for the Israelites. The Bible says:
Behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.
The first fruits offering that the Israelites brought to the Lord at the tabernacle was not just a confession of their faith—it was an act of worship that flowed from their faith.
As with God’s people in every time and place, our worship is comprised of hearing God’s Word and responding to God’s word in prayer—there is singing praises and confessing our sins—there is receiving the benefits of salvation upon this altar in the shed blood of the Lamb of God—and there is the giving of an offering.
No less than any of the other facets of worship, our offering is an expression of our reverence for God and an act of adoration for all he done for us. In fact, it is one of the most revealing acts of worship.
Our parents can drag us to church and our spouse can guilt us into coming. It’s not too hard to stand and sit with everyone else. We can pray the Lord’s Prayer and listen to a sermon and not have a clue what we just said and heard. But when we give an offering—that costs us something and there has to be at least some thought involved.
And so what does our offering reveal? Does it show that we understand that all we have is a gift from God? Does it manifest our wonder and awe at the greatness of God’s spiritual and material provision? Or does it reveal the poverty—not of God’s gifts, but of our love?
Our offerings, if they are truly that, will always be an opportunity for us to rejoice in the greatness of God’s goodness towards us and others. The Bible says:
You shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.
The first fruits offering that the people of God brought from the first harvest in the Promised Land was a joyous opportunity for them to confess their faith and worship the LORD for it meant that their faith was not misplaced but that their Savior God had kept all of his promises to them—setting them free and providing for all their needs of body and soul.
The LORD was glorified and magnified by the offerings they brought but those offerings also benefited those around them. Their place of worship and their priests were supported so that the Good News of salvation could be told to others and their own sins forgiven. The poor and the needy and those far from home were also supported by these first-fruit offerings.
So it is today. When we give our offering it is a joyous confession and act of worship for all that the Lord has done for us. God is glorified and magnified as we give our offerings to him. But there is even more.
Our offerings support the Gospel ministry in their place so that our children can be baptized and we can be absolved and receive the fruits of salvation at this altar. And there is still more. Our offerings support the work of the Gospel throughout the world and care for those in need.
On this Harvest Home celebration we are blessed to give thanks to the Lord for his gracious provision and offer him the first-fruits of all that he has given to us as a confession of our faith in his goodness and an act of worship that glorifies him and serves others. May God grant us the gift of joy as we do so! Amen.