I never thought I’d enjoy gardening. I do. I’m a hobbyist at best. It all started a couple of years ago after I had hip replacement surgery. I had hip issues for years and decided it was time to have it replaced. After the replacement, many church members referred to me as “their new hip pastor.” Even if it took a surgeon’s scalpel to earn that title, I’ll take it. My days of running up and down a basketball court were done. Planting flowers had become an escape.
When I scoped out our new church parsonage in the Morningside neighborhood in Atlanta, the first thing I noticed were four empty flower beds. Before we had put one piece of furniture in our house, I had plants in the ground. I had spent hours on my knees digging and mixing in the soil conditioner. I had debated what kind of designs to use for each bed. Maybe the obsession was a product of needing to care about something that was alive and healthy in a way that my old hip couldn’t be for years. Who knows?
My two children would help me water the flowers in the heat of June evenings. They’d turn the hose on me and point out the prisms of rainbows in the walls of water. We’d admire the flowers as they grew: daisies, black-eyed-susans, begonias. One Saturday, my mother was planning to stay at our house. We had prepared the bedroom downstairs for her. We included some of her favorite artwork and pictures of the family. As a parent with young children, you want to make a space where grandmothers like coming over!
After we had finished putting on fresh bedsheets for my mother, my three year old Bethany says to me, “I want to pick some flowers for Nana. For her room.” I said, “That’s a nice idea.” We walked outside and I showed her the lantana which had run wild.
“Let’s cut Nana some of the yellow flowers,” I said.
She said, “No. I want to cut her these” pointing to the daisies.
The white daisies were, to me, the most beautiful flowers in the garden and there were few. I didn’t want to cut them after putting in so much sweat to grow them.
“Oh, not those, sweetie. Let’s not cut those. Those are too pretty and we don’t have many of those growing.”
And Bethany looked at me with scissors in hand, “But dad, these are the prettiest ones. I love Nana. She needs the best ones in her room.”
Nana loved the daises on her night stand.
Bethany reminded me that giving our best is the most appropriate way of expressing our gratitude. There are too many times to count when my mother has been there to change diapers, give baths, treat them to frozen yogurt while Blair and I took a breather. Lantana is pretty in its own way, but it’s no daisy. Or in the words of Val Kilmer in Tombstone, ‘You’re no daisy at all.’
Bethany knew my mom deserved our best.
This Sunday, we are discussing Deuteronomy 26. In this passage, we are learning about giving our best for God. Moses is providing instructions to the Israelites as they prepare to enter into the Promised Land. He writes:
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord you God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord you God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
For centuries, the Hebrew people had been enslaved in Egypt. They had no claim to the land or to the harvest of the land. What had been denied them so long was about to be given to them. After having suffered the oppression under the Egyptians, they were about to inherit a land flowing with milk and honey.
As a way of saying thanks to God, Moses instructs the people to give the best of their harvest back to God at their place of worship. They were to give the shiniest apples, the most plump grapes. God deserved their best and it became a symbol to the people of God’s faithfulness to them in the past. This act of offering their first fruits was a renunciation of any ownership of their hopeful circumstances. This land flowing with milk and honey was an act of their gracious God.
In fact, when the people were to present their first fruits to the Lord they also recited these words to the priests with their basket of fruit in hand:
“When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” (Deuteronomy 26:6,7).
Notice this declaration was specific and rooted in their past. The reason they gave their best was because God had given God’s best in their deliverance. Giving their best was a reminder of a God who continued to be gracious to them.
The Biblical practice of giving the first fruits has relevance today. What would happen if we gave to God by remembering a specific time God had delivered us? What if every time we made a financial offering to God, we did so remembering when God helped us when we didn’t feel we deserved it?
That’s the reason we give. Jesus was the once-and-for-all sacrifice. God gave us God’s best in giving his only Son Jesus.
When I struggle to think about giving money to God because I think this money is the fruit of my hard work, I need to remember my daughter’s words about giving our best. God has given us God’s best. How might we give our best for God?