As we continue our series, Food as medicine, I anticipate some questions. Particularly, questions on what generosity has to do with food or medicine, or with health at all. A few doctors write prescriptions for healthy meals, but a prescription for generosity would be a rare illustration of a doctor stepping way out of the medical industry box.
But similar to the gifts of faith and humility, we were created by a God who offers holistic healing. The medical industry only mentions the importance of spirituality in describing the components of a healthy lifestyle. My role as a pastor is to help you all with that missing but critical piece. Believers know that God is generous. And to be created in God’s image suggests that there is an essential building block of generosity in each of us.
Our sub-title this week flies in the face of much of the world’s view of how things work. This sub-title comes out of an ancient, seldom referenced text, found in the Book of Leviticus. The book of the law. Given the importance that litigation plays in our culture, this seems odd that some laws disappear into the darkness of a page seldom seen. Perhaps given the amount of bookshelf space needed to hold all of the laws just in our country, ancient law necessarily is rendered to the outdated section. And in many ways it is.
There is another text from Leviticus that is perhaps better known that is found in the same chapter. The law reads, “love your neighbors as you love yourself.” This particular law never grows old. Nor is this law obsolete. Even if it is seldom practiced. Even if it is rarely practiced among Christians. My point is that we can and often do lift up ancient laws that we cannot outgrow. We can never be too sophisticated or too advanced that common sense, like being kind to somebody else, becomes obsolete.
“When you harvest your fields,” we read in chapter 19 of Leviticus, “do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields.” This practice leaves behind an easily accessible area of your wheat field that others can access who cannot afford to buy grain. There is more. “Do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left.” In other words, the farmer is expected to let whatever stalks that were missed during the harvest stay unharvested.
When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left.
“Gleaning” is a term that is sometimes used for programs that reclaim unused food. Gleaning is the process of going back over a field that has been harvested to gather what was missed. There is a practical side to this. Harvesting is labor-intensive, and going back over a field is not a very good use of resources. Some of the harvest gets missed. Leave it.
There is, more importantly, a philanthropic side to this idea. There are people who are in need. Leaving the edges unharvested is an act of generosity. If the farmer needs the outer row to make ends meet, plant an extra row that is not part of the forecasted harvest. Leave it out of the calculation altogether. Plan on leaving harvest for others in need. Make this a part of how you live, so it doesn’t take a lot of extra mental gymnastics.
Make it a part of who you are rather than perform a bunch of mental gymnastics when you are trying to calculate whether you have enough left over for a coney dog or a pack of cigarettes.
The idea of tithing comes out of this line of thinking. A tithe is an amount that is set aside for generosity. In other parts of scripture, the amount is stated to be 10%. I don’t know if this is the approximate percent of a harvest that gets left in the field when a farmer follows the ancient laws, but it could be. The point of a tithe is like the harvesting law. Make this practice a part of who you are. This is easier than performing a bunch of mental gymnastics when you are trying to calculate whether you have enough left over for a coney dog or a pack of cigarettes.
The ancient text that introduces this idea is found in Deuteronomy. Another one of the first five books of the Old Testament, where the 613 laws of Moses are spelled out, illustrated, followed, broken, and rediscovered again and again. “Set aside a tithe—a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.” To set aside means just what it says. Before you count your paycheck or your SSI check, set it aside, so it doesn’t get confused with your gas money.
The text goes on to address what to do with our tithe. We are to take it to the place where God has chosen for us to worship. This is a bit more dramatic for many of us. We aren’t that certain where God has in mind. Many of us would rather choose for ourselves. But God always has a place in mind for each of us, and life is much less dramatic if we go along with it.
This text continues by explaining that when we do, one benefit is that we learn how to honor God. In last week’s message, I shared that my choice to become a vegetarian was not about my concern over eating meat. I was certain that God wanted me to learn to be obedient. My doctor was ecstatic. Perhaps this is why I have confidence in him. He seems genuine in his wanting to help me prevent illness rather than treat it afterward. Tithing is like this. It is first an act of obedience, but it ultimately leads to a tremendously better life. God’s wisdom has proven superior to our collective smarts every time.
So now I’ve done it. I’ve fallen into the ditch that many of us accuse pastors of doing. “They just want my money,” is the worn-out excuse for not getting involved in a church community. What gets missed in this exchange is the importance of God’s abundance. We tithe because we love God. And God doesn’t let us down. We anticipate a harvest that doesn’t just replace our tithe. Our tithe is multiplied.
Do you believe this? If so, you are blessed because you didn’t learn this from other people. This is a divine insight that is truly a gift. If you don’t believe that this is true, it is not because God has abandoned or given up on you. It is not too late. Don’t start by throwing money at the situation. Begin with prayer. Ask God to help you believe, and to trust in God’s absolute love.
This week’s message is not a fundraiser. Rather, my concern is for your well-being. Wholeness requires a holistic lifestyle. Food as medicine includes both physical and spiritual nourishment. I encourage you to move from the “junk food” diet that the marketplace offers to the menu that gives life. Jesus is on this life-giving menu. So is trusting in God’s abundance. You don’t have to believe me. There are thousands if not millions of testimonies from people who have discovered that God delivers.
May God show you the proof that you need to believe in what you cannot see. May the Holy Spirit of God fill you with the faith and trust that will allow you to give up your anxiousness and rest in God’s love and grace. May Jesus Christ meet you right where you are and lead you to a life of wellness.
Auditions are coming up for the musical Dusty 2.0. This delightful retelling of the story of Christmas through the eyes of Mary’s donkey will leave you laughing while reminding you that God is love. Put Christmas Eve at Asbury on your calendar. We start at 6 pm.
We worship each Sunday at 10:30 am. I believe that God is calling you to join us. Come and participate in worship, not as a spectator, but as someone who belongs to God. I lead a short Bible study in the Asbury Café at 9:30 am. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.