Have you ever thought about how silly worship seems? And I could go through so many of the goofy seeming things that we do in the ritual of worship, but I just want to cut to the chase. Think about how crazy it seems that we give offerings. We go out of our way to get to church and then just give up significant proportions of our income...for free. Why? Why on earth would we go to church and take our time and give our money?
Well, first, we do it because God tells us to. So there’s that. But then think about this. When the devil tempted Jesus to put himself or even Satan ahead of God, Jesus answered in Luke 4, “Worship the Lord our God and serve him only.”
Our whole lives are to be worshiping him. So we come to church, because at worship, we represent what our whole lives. We come to show God and to remind ourselves what he is worth to us. That’s where the word comes from — the old English for showing worth — worship. We are here to do what our text says from Deuteronomy 26 says: “Bow down before the Lord.” Worship him. And if you read Deuteronomy 26, you see that the aspect of worship he’s talking about here is giving an offering.
And I know people are easily scared off when they hear a preacher talk about money, but that’s just because they’ve only heard preachers who don’t understand it, or they aren’t at all interested in what God says.
Jesus didn’t shy away from the topic and neither does Moses in our text. I’d say that puts me in pretty good company, but it’s important to understand God’s instructions for this aspect of worship, otherwise we miss what God wants to give us out of our giving.
God was very specific about their offerings in Moses’ farewell speech here. Moses was about to die and the people were about to enter the Promised Land where they would be receiving so many blessings that God had been promising. And God knew the temptation would be there to get comfortable in that, to get proud of what they had and start to take credit for what God had given them. So he gives them something to help them fight those temptations. He tells them to give offerings to their church, to their God.
And he tells them how, because even giving to God can be fraught with temptations — whether it’s the temptation to not give a trusting, first fruit gift like Moses describes because all you think you can part with is the scraps or you give a trusting, proportionate gift and start patting yourself on the back, or maybe you just are reluctant in your gift and give because you feel you “have to.” Look at how God battles that.
He tells them to bring in the first things their land produced and then he even tells them what to say as they are bringing it forward. In verses 6-10, he gives them a whole speech recounting what God has done for them — made them a nation, rescued them from Egypt, gave them the Promised Land, caused their food to grow. Then he tells them to “Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him.”
Before they gave the gift, God made them speak out what God had done. Think about that. That way — they couldn’t act like their gift was something to their credit. It was a response to God’s goodness who gave it all to them.
It was reminding them who God is, one who doesn’t need a dime from us — but who deserves everything we have and are.
But that’s so easy to forget. In Luke 4, the devil tempted Jesus to bow down to him. He still tries to get us to do that, but he disguises himself as our stuff, our work or our hobbies.
He tries to get us to do what we do for the mighty dollar or the idol named fun. Or he tries to get us to worry and stress about how “we” are going to fix things instead of trusting God’s care.
So God’s word tells us to bow down before him. I need that reminder every day. We all do. When the schedule bows to work and play and doesn’t even curtsy to God’s word…when the budget bows to needs and wants and throws scraps to the King…when the passion bows to friends and family and struggles to even share a smile about our Savior — we fail to bow down before the Lord.
And if we aren’t bowing to him, we’re battling him. We are asking for his attack. We’re asking for his wrath. We need to bow or else he will make us.
Do you know the story of the 21-gun salute? It’s a powerful ceremony, but not many think about its message or history. The concept is as old as warfare, and this particular tradition started centuries ago. Basically, it was a signal that I won’t be attacking you. It was a bow. It was a salute. You render your weapon powerless, like when you salute and point the sword to the ground, and shield your eyes with your hand — not at all an aggressive position. The gun salute started by discharging the canons harmlessly into the water so the opponent knew that they couldn’t be fired on. It was bowing to their power.
As weaponry advanced, and more shells were required to make the same point — eventually the number 21 was agreed upon as a way to show respect. So at the funeral, the nation shows respect, it bows to those who served.
When we bow before the Lord, we’re acknowledging that we could not handle his attack; we’re respecting who he is and what he has done. And so we speak out just what that is.
That’s why before we bring our offerings we speak out our confession of faith — who our God is and what he has done. We remind ourselves of our God’s work to make us his children in baptism, to rescue us from our slavery of sin with the blood of His Son, to give us all we have and make us what we are.
And then, with those truths on our lips and in our hearts, we bring our offering. That’s our salute. We put our ammunition at his feet. Isn’t that what money is? It’s our ability to take care of ourselves, to accomplish our will, to do what we want. So we say, “No, God, it’s yours. I trust you. I am at your service.”
I’d love to see you at his service this Sunday where together we can “Bow before the Lord.”
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.