Category Archives: worship

Firstfruits of my mother’s tomato patch

I am my mother’s son in many ways. One is a love for tomatoes, especially vine-ripened ones from the garden. I remember my mother watching the first tomato turn red each season and her joy as she bore it into the house to savor it at our next meal.

Ethel in gardenThinking of mother and the firstfruits of her tomato patch, helps me understand the biblical texts instructing Israel to offer the first part of each harvest as an act of worship to God (eg. Exodus 23:19; Deut. 26:2,10; 2 Chron. 31:4-5; Nehemiah 10:35).

Why did God insist on an offering from the first portion of the harvest? The offering went to feed those who had no harvest: the poor and the priests and Levites. Wouldn’t a dollar from the back of the wallet help them just as much as a dollar from the front?

Then I think of my mother and begin to understand. There would be a huge emotional difference between my mother giving a friend some of her first batch of tomatoes and giving some tomatoes late in the season. The amount could be the same in both cases, but a lot more of my mother’s heart would be in those first tomatoes! Offering to God our firstfruits makes it much more real on an emotional, even visceral, level just how precious God is to us. We may say that God has first place in our life; but giving our firstfruits makes us feel that God is important.

A story illustrates a further reason to prioritize our giving to God. A Sunday School teacher brought a pan of brownies into her class. She gave each student a slip of paper labeled “light bill,” “groceries,” “entertainment,” and so on. Then she picked up the pan and began calling out those things. One by one the students redeemed their slips of paper for a fresh brownie. But the brownies ran out while one student still held his slip of paper. “God,” the teacher called, and the student came forward, hoping she had one more brownie hidden somewhere. But all she could do was scrape the crumbs from the pan into his napkin. She explained, “The brownies represent our money. If we don’t give God’s share first, God might not get anything except the crumbs.”

Firstfruits giving not only impacts our heart but also our priorities. If we give our money to everything else first, it shows that God is less important than all those other things.

Missing the main event in our worship

During our Call to Worship on Sunday we recited parts of Psalm 147, marveling at our limitless and loving God. Then I remarked that the God of the Psalmist is our God and is here among us.

How much are you and I aware of God’s presence and responding to the Spirit of God during our worship services? Do we interact with God, carrying on a running conversation about what we were seeing and hearing? Or is God’s presence just a fact to which we give mental assent, something without immediate impact?

I am reminded of the story of a little boy who lived out in the country in the early 1900’s. He had never seen a traveling circus, and one was coming to his town. The lad asked his father for permission to go and his dad said that he could, providing his chores were done early.

The morning arrived. His chores finished, the boy asked his father for money so he could go to the circus. His dad reached down in his overalls and pulled out a silver coin or two, the most money the boy had ever had. Off the little wide-eyed fellow went.

As he approached the town, he saw people lining the streets. Peering through the line, he got his first glimpse of the parade. There were animals in cages and marching bands.

Finally, a clown was seen bringing up the rear of the parade. The little boy was so excited that when the clown passed, he reached in his pocket and handed him the precious coins. Thinking he had seen the circus when he had only seen the parade, the little boy turned around and went home.

Sometimes we come to church like this little boy. We come, but all we get is the parade — the parade of singing, prayers, and preaching. We peer through our pews at all the activity and then turn to go home, thinking we’ve experienced it all. But we’ve missed the main event — a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who offers to form our lives, moving us away from the things in this world that drag us down and toward the breathtaking life of the Age to Come.

Full-throated singing

Full-hearted (and full-throated!) singing in the midst of the gathered congregation has been a strong joy all through my life.

As we sing our full person is involved — our whole being is opened up to God. Our mind is engaged as we repeat the words and dwell on the song-writer’s themes. Our body is involved as lungs and voice join to turn words into sound and as the song’s rhythm affects us. Emotions also become engaged as the mood and atmosphere of the tune touches us.

Our social dimension is also fully brought into play as we sing: as I hear the response of the one next to me of the goodness and mercy and faithfulness of God, that joy and faith rubs off and raises my fervency a notch or two, which in turn affects my neighbor, resulting in a glorious crescendo of joy and praise!

All through Scripture as God’s people express their praise and worship it often takes the form of singing. What about persons who feel unable to sing? Thankfully our praise doesn’t have to be perfect music. Even noise qualifies! Eight times in the Psalms we are told to make a “joyful noise” or “shout joyfully.”

On January 31, a fifth-Sunday of the month, we at Trissels will enjoy an extended opportunity for singing. Our service that morning will be a hymn-sing. Tim I. Mumbauer, our Minister of Music, tells us that the first section of the service will focus on our communication with God in prayer, both our listening and speaking. The second section will examine God’s love for us as a church and individuals and our response of love in return. In addition to selecting songs on those themes, Tim invites us to think of Scripture passages to read and perhaps even something to share for 2-5 minutes on one of the themes.

The highlight of the service, though, will be us as a congregation lifting our voices in unison, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19), building up our faith and love and awareness of our God!