“The people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.” – 2 Chronicles 31:5
One Thanksgiving I decided I was going to make my favorite dish from scratch: green bean casserole. It was a silly idea, because green bean casserole, of all dishes, was not designed to be homemade. It’s four cans dumped into a 9x13 pan and covered with another can. But sometimes I like to do silly things.
I made a pot of Martha Stewart’s cream of mushroom soup, complete with a pound and a half of cremini mushrooms. I snapped the ends off fresh green beans and blanched them. I sliced onions as thin as my unskillful hands would let me, and painstakingly floured and fried them a few rings at a time. It was a lot of work, but I did it with joy, thinking about the people I was cooking for.
There is something beautiful about sharing our best with one another. Making a dish from scratch. Picking out a bottle that’s nicer than the occasion calls for. Letting a friend in on our secret chocolate stash. In the bible it’s called the “first fruits.” It’s the cream of the crop, the top shelf, the good stuff. And the people of Israel had the practice of giving it to God.
Our theme for this year’s pledge campaign is “Pitch In.” Like the meals that we share throughout the year, everything at Bethany is made from the gifts we give, the things we choose to share.
When we give to Bethany, we’re not handing our money over to a faceless corporation. We’re making a gift to the people in the pews beside us. We’re saying, “I’m giving this gift so you can hear beautiful music. I’m giving this gift so that your child can go to Sunday School. I’m giving this gift so that we can serve food to hungry neighbors, or teach a refugee child English, or experience a call from the Living God.”
Our pledge campaign this year is ambitious. We hope to receive pledges of $60,000. This money will go toward continuing our service and justice work with The Night Ministry, The Crib, Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches and Refugee One. It will go to an expanded children’s program including Sunday School, Parents’ Night Out, and Faith at Home Workshops. It will go to opportunities for spiritual exploration: for worship, and small groups, and retreats.
It will also honor the long-time pitching in that Dean Arnold has done as our church treasurer, as we seek to hire a part-time financial administrator who can take over some of the important work he has been doing on our behalf for many years.
So let’s give each other our best, our first fruits. As you consider making a pledge for 2019, I hope you’ll think of the others with whom you share this community. What difference could your gift make in their lives? What would you give them, if you could give them anything?
The miracle of a pitch-in, is that we each bring just one dish, but we get to share a feast! What dish will you bring this year? What first fruits can you offer to make Bethany a welcoming and vibrant spiritual home for the neighbors we already know and the ones who are coming to join us?