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Deuteronomy 14 and 16: Let's Rejoice, and Everyone's Invited!

Have you ever found out that there’s a party happening, but you’re not invited? If you think back to high school, were you ever the last to be picked for a given sports team? Most of us can think of a time from when we were younger where there were in-jokes made we knew nothing about, or we experienced the hurt of our friends going off in little groups and leaving us out. Feeling left out can be horrible and, for some, utterly devastating. Looking back, I can see that I might have been a bit irritating at high school. I was generally bright and towards the top of the class, but I was also good at sports and definitely never the person left to the last in a team. I was even first bat for my house in cricket. (Cricket is somewhat like baseball, but with more rules!. Growing up, I didn’t really experienced much of that sense of exclusion until the first term of my second year at seminary. For some reason, my Old Testament lecturer agreed for me to join the second year Hebrew class despite not having taken the first year. I knew I would need to work hard to catch-up, but for the first time in my life, I found myself in a class where I was the worst by miles. We’d go round the small class and be asked to read things out loud. My heart would race and I would fill with panic–the letters kept jumping around on the page–which, if you’ve ever read Hebrew, is particularly unhelpful. My usual confidence was gone, and I felt excluded and on the outside in comparison to everyone else; they all knew so much more than I did and it really showed.

What we see in the two passages at which we’re looking this week is a beautiful picture of worship that is pragmatic and includes everyone , even those on the margins. No one in these passages is going to need to be in remedial Hebrew or made to feel unworthy. All are welcome.

Read Deuteronomy 14:22-29
We heard in last week’s study about the way the laws surrounding sacrifice and eating meat were adapted for a new way of life in the Promised Land. Given that they would no longer be living within close proximity to the central place of worship and sacrifice, laws were adapted to enable people to eat meat without breaking the rules. This week, the pragmatism is all about how to take your tithe with you when the journey will be a long one. Can you imagine gathering up the sheep or goats that you’re supposed to be bringing, and then herding them all the way, walking with them day and night, hoping that they don’t wander off or that someone else doesn’t take a liking to them? What a headache! So rather than that, the instructions are much more sensible: sell the livestock and bring the money instead–travel light, less stress and much more manageable. And let’s not forget that this is good thinking for the wider society as well. It might well have become tempting for those in the borderlands to see how neighboring peoples worshiped and think that it looked far easier to adopt their religious customs than herding sheep for miles and miles. Deuteronomy’s practical instruction ensures those who settle right at the far edges of the territory don’t have an excuse not to join God’s people in worship all together.

What’s really, really important here though, and the thing that Deuteronomy is more interested in above everything, is the heart of the worshiper. It is not fundamentally about the goats and the sheep, and this passage reinforces that: it’s about motivation. Do you realize how much God has done for you? He’s rescued you from slavery and brought you to a new land where you can live and grow crops and raise livestock. Therefore, remember what He has done for you and give back to Him in grateful thanks out of all that He has given to you. Deuteronomy’s passionate plea is to remember whose you are and to respond accordingly. Don’t get led astray by the gods of the land, who are really no gods at all; don’t get deceived by worshiping practices that will lead your heart off track; don’t forget to honor God by showing kindness to the poor and vulnerable because, remember, that you too were poor and in need of being rescued. This is what God means when He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Read Deuteronomy 16:9-12
If Deuteronomy 14 makes it possible for all to come to worship regardless of circumstance, Deuteronomy 16 lays out even more clearly that all means all , even the marginalized and those that might naturally be on the outside . This passage says to be sure to include everyone in the festival celebration, even those who wouldn’t have the protection and covering of a patriarch: widows, orphans, resident foreigners and so on. Often we can think that serving the poor is an activity for a Tuesday evening or a Friday night when we can go out to a soup kitchen, or donate food to a food bank or charity. Yet what this shows is the inclusion of the poor and marginalized happens right in the middle of worship. Those who would otherwise go without are within the celebration and given a share along with everyone else.

What I love about these verses from Deuteronomy 16 is that, as we rejoice, we do so with everyone included . No one is picked last for this team. No one is made to feel unable, unqualified or undeserving. There’s not an entrance exam to pass or a reservation fee to pay before you can join in. Yet it’s also more than that. Those that would have been excluded are to be especially cared for, and those who have more are to work to make sure that no one is left out. So if you have ever felt excluded, unloved or unworthy, know that God sets a feast and you are especially invited to be a part of it.

Questions for Reflection
  • Do you have memories of feeling excluded, marginalized or not part of the popular group? Spend some time bringing that memory to God and ask Him for His help with healing the memory and the pain.
  • What common emphases do you see in these two passages from Deuteronomy? Why does God so often remind his people to include those on the outside?
  • What difference is there between charitable giving, and the picture of togetherness and inclusion that we see in Deuteronomy 16:9-12? What are the challenges of the latter? How might Jesus be calling us to act?
  • Have there been times in your life when you’ve done a ‘good deed’ so that it would be noticed and not because you’ve particularly wanted to do it?
  • What could worship look like that ensured that no one was excluded because of their background or their circumstances?
  • How could you show more of this spirit of generous inclusion in your daily life?

A Prayer for this Week
Heavenly Father, thank You that You care for each one of Your children with more love than we can possibly imagine, and thank You that this includes me too. Help me to allow You more and more into my heart, so that I will continue to be transformed by Your loving grace, that my heart will be more like Your heart, and I will see others more and more through Your eyes. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran
Chaplain to the Bishops of Canterbury
The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran
The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran is the Chaplain to the Bishop of Dover in the Diocese of Canterbury and Local Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She grew up in Bristol, England, and then earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Music and English Literature from the University of Lancaster. She worked as a youth and children’s minister at a large evangelical church near London before getting her Master’s of Divinity from St. John’s College, Nottingham. Jenny completed her Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies and Practical Theology at the University of Nottingham. The title of her dissertation is A reading of Deuteronomy as a model of continuity, adaptation and innovation for contemporary discussions of Anglican liturgy . While working on her thesis, she served in various parish roles in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham and as Chaplain and Professor of Practical Theology at St. John’s. Jenny is married to Dan, who is also a priest in the Church of England, and they have two young children.