Receiving Gifts

Genesis 12:1-9

Abram’s family moves to Canaan

12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you.2 I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,
    those who curse you I will curse;
        all the families of the earth
            will be blessed because of you.”

4 Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.5 Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. 8 From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshipped in the Lord’s name. 9 Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went.

 

1 Corinthians 11:23-34

23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. 24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” 25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” 26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.

27 This is why those who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord inappropriately will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood. 28 Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way.29 Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment.30 Because of this, many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died. 31 But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. 32 However, we are disciplined by the Lord when we are judged so that we won’t be judged and condemned along with the whole world. 33 For these reasons, my brothers and sisters, when you get together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If some of you are hungry, they should eat at home so that getting together doesn’t lead to judgment. I will give directions about the other things when I come.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

Sometime early in my marriage to Marianne I remember going over to my brother’s apartment. At the time he was either engaged or recently married. On each of the four dinning room chairs was a big bow. I asked my brother what was up with the bows, after all the bows were attached to generic Ikea chairs and my brother is not noted for his decorating sense. He told me that they were all from flowers that he had gotten his fiancée/wife, Sarah. I remember feeling a little worried, after all there were not any bows adorning the chairs in my apartment. In fact, I am pretty sure at that point in our relationship my mother had bought more flowers (one bouquet) for Marianne than I had.

Now, I would like to think that there were several good reasons for this omission on my part. First, Marianne and I dated long distance, and so much our time building our relationship looked different than typical couples. Second, flowers have never been appealing to me because they never seem to last, and I like gifts that last. Finally, and probably most importantly, giving gifts is not necessarily my strong point. I know I had given her one or two tokens of my affection, but not many, it was just not something I thought a lot about. Fortunately, neither Marianne nor I, have “Receiving Gifts” as our primary love language, but there is still a lot we can learn from my mistake.

In his book, “Five Love Languages”, Gary Chapman observes that, “If you discover that your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts, then perhaps you will understand that purchasing gifts for him or her is the best investment you can make.” It is easy for practical thinkers like me to see little value in something like a bunch of flowers that last for a short while and are gone. We fail to appreciate that even while the tangible benefits of the flowers (smell and beauty) might fade, the memory of the flowers and the love they demonstrate remain.

It might seem odd that in a sermon about receiving gifts that we read the passage today from Genesis. At first reading, it might just seem like the story of a journey, that Abram, Sarai, and Lot are taking as they move through the wilderness to a land that God is promising them. What I want to focus on is the actions of Abram during the journey. He pauses at different points along the way to build an altar and give thanks to God. These altars are physical signs and reminders of the relationship between God and Abram. Abram has promised to love and follow God and God has promised to love and bless Abram. Along the way, Abram uses these altars as a physical sign and reminder of that relationship. “Gifts are visual symbols of love,” Chapman writes. His words seem to echo the words of Augustine who described sacraments as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” We use these same words when we bless rings at weddings. The wedding ring is perhaps the most obvious reminder we can have of the value of gifts and tangible objects as ways to demonstrate our love and commitment to someone.

Communion is one of two sacraments in the United Methodist Church and is also a way that we use physical gifts, bread and juice, to demonstrate the grace and love that is shown to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul reminds the early church in Corinth of this in his letter which we read today. He wants them to understand and fully appreciate the gifts that they are being given. After all, what is important in a gift is not what you give, but the meaning behind it. A Juliet Rose bloom sold for $15 million in 2006, but most parents would agree that dandelions picked by our kids in the backyard are just as meaningful, if not more, when it comes to demonstrating how much they love us. The value of a small bit of bread and a tablespoon of juice is minimal on its own. It gains its meaning and power when we remember the story behind it and how Christ used these simple gifts to demonstrate his love for us, even as he prepared to lay down his life. The power and the meaning of communion is rooted in the fact that when we take the bread and juice we can taste and know the love of God.

If Communion is a reminder of God’s love for us, then our offerings are meant as a reminder of our love for God. Just like we have little need for a few dandelions that our kids picked, they are meaningful because of the giver, so too is it with our offerings. God, who created everything, does not need our tithes and offerings, they are meaningful because of what they represent to us. What do we hope to demonstrate with our gifts? What do our offerings say about our love for God? When we talk about tithing, the giving of ten percent of our income to God, we use the number of ten percent not because God needs this exact amount but because it does serve as a powerful way of expressing the place that God has in our hearts and lives. Our offerings are an outward sign of the inward love we have for God and for what God has done in our hearts and lives.

While we talk about numbers like ten percent, it is important to remember that giving and receiving gifts cannot be reduced to just numbers. When we give gifts, we are encouraged to think about the meaning behind the gift and what we are trying to demonstrate, specifically our love. Whether it is our love for God, our spouse, our family, or someone else, our gifts are just one way that we try to communicate that love. It is also important to think about how that message is being received. A gift of flowers, while perhaps a touching demonstration of affection is of much less value to a person who has allergies. What Chapman reminds us is that gift giving gains its value both from the intentions of the giver and the desires of the receiver.

Today, we are going to celebrate communion and be reminded of the love that God has for us. It is a chance for us to also think about how we demonstrate our love for God and for each other. What are the things we can be doing to remind ourselves of the relationships that we have and treasure? Who are in the people in our lives who value gifts as a way to touch and know that they are loved? How can we use simple objects as tokens of the very deep and very real feelings that we have? These are all the challenges that face us as we seek to get better in how we love each other and how we love God.

 

Questions to Ponder:

What do you love most about giving and receiving gifts?

What are some gifts you have that are still meaningful to you today?

Who is someone you know who loves to receive gifts?

What are ways that we can be reminded of the gift of love that God has for us and the love that we have for God?

 

Prayer:

God, your love for us never ends. Even when we stumble and fall, you are still there. Help us to be reminded of this love and to treasure it. Through acts like communion help us to know that your grace is available to us without price. Help us also to find ways to give to others that through our gifts we might be able to demonstrate our love for them. Amen