Formations 11.21.2021: Giving Thanks by Giving Back

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Today’s passage describes a ritual of thanksgiving that the Israelites are to perform once they have entered the promised land. They are to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the priest and recount the story of how God has provided for God’s people in history and to the present day. Then they are to celebrate God’s blessings alongside not only the Levites but also the resident aliens who are their neighbors.

It’s significant that one biblical aspect of giving thanks is to give back, to share with others a portion of the bounty that God has given us. If there’s one thing that we can take away from passages like the one we study today, it’s the theme that God’s blessings are meant to be shared, not hoarded.

When nearly everyone is a farmer, sharing the bounty of God is a bit more straightforward than it is for us today. I’m not dependent on the abundance of my crops for my well-being or the well-being of my family; I take home a paycheck that’s the same amount every month. What, then, constitutes “first fruits” for people like me? What are some practical ways that people like me can honor the spirit of Deuteronomy 26 and include others in my Thanksgiving?

A few years ago, Cat Johnson of Shareable penned several great suggestions for doing just that:

Share food. Invite people to your Thanksgiving that you’d like to know better. Or throw a Thanksgiving concert in your home. Many people give back at Thanksgiving by volunteering to deliver meals on wheels or to help at a soup kitchen. Consider hosting a Thanksgiving potluck or attending a community meal to meet your neighbors and share in the abundance of the holiday.

Share skills and stuff. We all have skills that could benefit others, be it in carpentry, coding, gardening, graphic design, or some other pursuit. One way to give back is to offer those skills. Another is to consider those who are likely to struggle the most this holiday season. Could you prepare personal care bags for the homeless with toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and other personal items? Could you help at a homeless shelter. Maybe there are other organizations in your area where you could pitch in. Use Thanksgiving to springboard into year-round volunteer work with nonprofits and community programs.

Practice gratitude. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to teach your children about gratitude and involve them in projects meant to give back something to their neighbors in need. Finally, Johnson says, we can take time this Thanksgiving to think, feel, and express gratitude.

As we do these things, we will make connections between the ancient ritual in Deuteronomy 26 and our own ways of thanking God for the blessings we enjoy.

Cat Johnson, “How to Have a Shareable Thanksgiving,” Shareable.net <https://www.shareable.net/hacking-the-commons-how-to-start-a-hackerspace/>.

Discussion

• Why do you think Deuteronomy required the Israelites to include the Levites in their thanksgiving meals? Why were they commanded to include the resident aliens?
• What stories can we tell of God’s guidance, protection, and provision?
• What can we do this year to remember that God’s blessings are to be shared, not hoarded?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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