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Feast of Weeks
Winter Quarter: Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 3: Holy Days
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 14, 2016
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Leviticus 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31; Acts 2:1-36
We continue our studies of the celebrations of Jewish Holy Days by focusing on the second pilgrimage celebration, the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. The name is derived from the method of counting the Sabbaths from Passover. The day after the seventh Sabbath is the day of celebration – Shavuot in Hebrew, Pentecost in Greek. Obviously, this is the 50th day.
The festivals requiring a journey to Jerusalem were Passover, Pentecost, and Day of Atonement. Why? Certain sacrifices commanded by God in the scriptures had to be made in the Temple. See the readings for today.
The original basis of this celebration was agricultural, the harvest of wheat, but the festival eventually became a time to remember the giving of the Law at Sinai. Agriculturally, First Fruits or Passover was to celebrate the barley harvest. Gratitude to God for the gifts of the earth, the Covenant Law, and the relationship to Yahweh were at the core of each celebration.
People give many answers when asked, “why come to worship:”
- The need to “fill the tank” for the week ahead.
- The week just doesn’t go right if church is missed.
- Churchgoing is a habit from childhood, instilled by parents.
- Fellowship and friendship of the others in the congregation.
Although each answer is a valid reason to attend worship, the central point is missed! We worship to offer God our gratitude for life and its blessings.
In Leviticus 23:18 the text mentions a “soothing smell” to the Lord. Professor Tom Long, recently retired from Emory, tells of serving breakfast in bed to his parents on Mother’s Day. The serving of overdone eggs, burnt toast, blackened bacon he compared to our worship. Even the sins and imperfections of our lives are a “soothing smell” to the Lord when we come in love and gratitude to worship! Too often we insist worship be meaningful – the music must please us, the sermon speak to us, and the form of the service suit our tastes – all the while forgetting God is the One we worship. This context is why a child preparing breakfast in bed for parents is a fitting metaphor for our coming to church to worship.
In praying, much of our prayer is spent in petition. We are continually asking God for something for ourselves or others. The Service of Holy Communion forces us to begin with confession and move to praise of God for the divine gifts of love, mercy, and grace showered upon us. Our personal prayers need to reflect the same balance. Of course, there is a proper place for petition, but in the sequence of praying, petition follows adoration, praise, and gratitude. When our worship reflects these priorities, then we indeed offer a “soothing smell” to the Lord.
Another major factor in this lesson is the place of the land in our lives. Land is something we “own,” or is it? Certainly real estate laws and deeds assure us we do “own.” We pay real estate taxes. We include the house and land in our wills. We live and act as if “this land is your land.”
The biblical truth is different! The land belongs to the Creator, and we are placed on it as temporary stewards. How would we be graded for our stewardship of Mother Earth? The Feast of Weeks focused on the wonderful provisions God made in creating and continuing the blessings of life every day, resulting in the harvest. Think of your possessions, your life, your family, and your friendships as a gift from God to you as a steward. As Adam and Eve were placed in a garden with everything necessary for a full and contented life, so have we been. Furthermore, God wants an accounting! We want to hear the Divine voice say, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Father’s house.” Don’t you?
At the end of our scripture lesson there is a verse which almost seems out of place, an after-thought. Verse 22 is a statement of the Jewish welfare system in an agricultural time. Don’t strip the fields bare. Leave some for the poor and the aliens (immigrants CEB) in the land. Remember Ruth, the grandmother of King David, was an immigrant from Moab. When she went to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, they were both widowed. She gleaned in the fields of Boaz as a widow and an immigrant.
Recently, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a report stated child poverty reached its highest level in 20 years as of October 2014! Twenty-five percent of American children do not have enough to eat! The facts are children face a high risk of premature death from causes related to poverty: hunger, malnutrition, abuse, neglect, and violence. “The needs of our children have never been greater,” so write Drs. Glenn Flores and Bruce Lesley. With so much political shouting about welfare and immigration, our children are getting lost in the thunder and noise. The Bible has a consistent strain of care for the poor, the widowed, the fatherless – those on the fringes of society – and there is nary a word about who might deserve the help! There is an important connection between gratitude to God and generosity to others, and worship is where the connection is made by God and with God. Here is where holiness is made concrete. After all, holiness is the central focus of Leviticus!
Finally, the lesson shifts to the New Testament account of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. In the Student Book, Chuck Aaron suggests three important factors related to this Birthday of the Church.
- People were in Jerusalem from all over the world for this pilgrimage. The Diaspora of the Babylonian exile had created a scattered Jewish population. The Church began with a cosmopolitan congregation.
- Pentecost represented the emergence of Peter as the rehabilitated, forgiven leader of the Church. As the farmers depended on God’s providence for the crops, so we depend on God’s grace for forgiveness and regeneration.
- God’s gift of the Holy Spirit swept aside fear and cowardice and created a new people of God who would march across the Roman world and far beyond in space and time. The Church never gathers without gratitude to God for this inexpressible gift.
As we are the Easter people, so are we Pentecostal! Get it?
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.