October 21, 2018

Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say - Part 5

 Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Exodus 35:4-19

Second Lesson:  2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Gospel Lesson:  Matthew 6:25-34

Sermon Text:  Exodus 35:4-19

I bet that a good number of you, from the moment you heard about the sermon series we complete today, knew at least one topic that would make the list. Something many people never want to hear their preacher say is, “You have to give more!” No need to ask if you agree. You do. So do I. Why don’t we want to hear our pastor say, “You have to give more!”? Maybe you’re doing what you can to give – time, offerings, etc. – and you feel badgered.  Maybe you don’t like it because in the past, giving seemed like the only thing church talked about. The treasurer regularly stood up at meetings and after church and told people to open their wallets or skip McDonald’s once a week and then all the problems would go away. Maybe you don’t like hearing it because visitors might get a bad impression. Any of these three are legitimate points.

But you know there are other reasons. One of them is greed. We all struggle with that. We like our time/stuff/money, and our sinful hearts tell us to take care of #1 – ourselves (not God). Another is maybe that we know we could be better stewards, and, like in so many areas, we don’t like our faults or messed up priorities brought to our attention. Then we have to do something about them. Maybe we feel like we have done so much, and other people need to start pulling their weight. “Don’t preach that sermon to me.  Preach it to the schlub down the row who hardly does/gives anything.” Whatever the reason – be they good or bad ones – be honest. “You have to give more” is something we don’t like to hear in church.

Are you now expecting me to say, “But it is true!” Not necessarily. “You have to give more” – again, be it time, money, or whatever, is a command - something you’re forced to do. It sounds mandatory and not something that’s to be done willingly. Or it can be seen as some sort of fee we have to pay to enjoy the benefits of membership. And, frankly, the idea “you have to give more” is what gets a lot of congregations, a lot of pastors, and a lot of members off track and creates messes.

But this whole area of using what God’s given us in service to him and others is a very biblical concept. God talks about it through the entire Bible. He’s entrusted things to us – stuff, money, time, talents – and calls us to be faithful in using them. So we are going to talk about that. But we’ll do it in a much better, much more scriptural way than, “You have to give more!”

Hear our text – Exodus 35:4-19. What in the world does this lesson filled with odd specifics teach us about using our God-given gifts faithfully? Lots. A pastor said, “No better principles of sound stewardship for use in our congregations can be found today than in Exodus 35.” That is a bold statement. But is it true? I believe so, and think in the end, you will as well.

The context is that God had told the people to build his house, the Tabernacle. The people had been freed from Egypt and were marching to their new home. God wanted to make sure he was still their #1 priority, so he had them make a moveable church around which the worship life of the people would revolve. He already told them how big to make it and architectural issues like that. Now he talks about specifics and how his people can be involved. Those specifics still speak to us today.  Vs. 4: “Moses said to the whole Israelite community…” Did he go after rich people? Target good givers? Skip people who probably wouldn’t give much anyway? No. He addressed all of them. They all had something to offer. God wanted everyone to have the opportunity to praise him. Building/decorating this house of worship was a joint effort for the entire group.

Any different now? No. Doing ministry – being it adding on to the church, cleaning it, supporting missions, etc. is something we as a congregation do together.  It is not a rich/poor or a young/old thing. It is a whole body, we’re all Christians who want to live out our faith thing.  Maybe you are at a stage in your life when helping with mowing or Sunday school is the best way to serve.  Maybe you are on a more solid financial footing and can serve more in that way than in the past.  Maybe you are young and your thing is to push the vacuum when it is your family’s week to clean.  This ministry is our ministry – all of us.

I know a guy who’d go to the bank every 6 months and get a roll of 50 cent coins. Each Saturday, he’d give one to his 4-year-old daughter. She’d sleep with the coin in her hand.  During church the next day, she’d wait patiently until the offering.  When the plate came by, with a huge smile, she put the coin in. She was overjoyed too, in her words, “give it all to Jesus.”

Did that coin cause leadership to say, “Fellas, we have a windfall!  Start a building committee!”  No.  Her offering was $26 a year.  What good can that do?  A lot.  That father was training his daughter to be a faithful Christian steward.  Imagine every parent taught their children that lesson from early on.  Think what that congregation would look like in 30 years when those kids were leading things.  Whatever your offering is, you give it as part of the body of Christ, in service to the Lord and for the good of Church.  And the “you” in that sentence is every single one of you here – whatever class, whatever age.

Another point – God doesn’t expect the impossible. In our text, you likely noticed that some of the things God wanted used were quite pricey. There is gold, silver, and bronze, rare animal hides, dyed fabrics (no easy feat back then), precious gems, and spices/incense. Sounds like God expected the impossible.  The people were basically nomads. What gives?

Well, remember that when the Israelites left Egypt, the plagues God used were so brutal, the Egyptians were so eager for the people to leave they gave them gold, silver, gems, clothing, and animals. In asking for precious things, God was asking the people to give from what they already had.  And the other things God wanted they could scavenge from the land. Would all this take some time/sacrifice?  Certainly.  But it was not impossible. In fact, it was so doable that the people pulled it off.

Nothing has changed. Does God anywhere in the Bible say you have to give 20 hours a week here at church or give 50% of your income? No. You wouldn’t have time for family/work or money to pay bills. When God calls us as faithful stewards, he does not ask the impossible. Should we have a healthy balance between work, rest, and service, and set our budgets keeping in mind our different responsibilities? Yes. As we do those things, might we have to sacrifices to help out or give a little more? Yes. But like the people, this is an opportunity for us to honor our Lord and thank him for all he has done.

Vs. 10: “All who are skilled among are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded.” Some people didn’t have gold or gems to give.  Maybe some were too old to forage for supplies. Is there anything they could do? Yes, because all of them had God-given gifts and talents. Maybe they were carpenters who could make the Tabernacle frame. Maybe they could sew the coverings.  Maybe they could do metal work or cook for the workers. God didn’t say, “There is only one way to give and serve.” There were many options, and God encouraged them to find what they could do and serve in that way.

It’s no different now. At the congregation I used to serve, there was an old, frail lady named Wanda. My 1st Sunday there, while getting ready, Wanda showed up - 6 AM. Church started at 10:30.  Why? “I came to fold bulletins.” The previous pastor had asked her to do it, and she was happy to help. So you know, we printed 75 simple bulletins. The pastor could have done it himself in 5 minutes. Why did he ask Wanda? Because it was something she could do. Because he wanted to give her a chance to use her gift – even if it was a simple, common one – to serve God and her fellow members.

Isn’t that the way things should work? I wasn’t here when this building went up. If you were, let me know if I have this wrong, but I bet 100 different ways people served as it was erected. Some were on committees. Some decided on décor and carpet fiber. Some laid tile. Some did woodwork. Some supervised. Some prayed for the work and the workers. Some made them food. Some pushed a broom. Some encouraged those who were doing the hard work. Need I go on?

Andy wished he could give more in offerings. His job didn’t pay well, and he had a large family with health problems. I explained to Andy God wants him to take care of his family’s needs right now, and to give what he could. I also pointed out that there are other ways to show our thanks. He got the message. The next week we put up ceiling fans in church. The 1st to arrive, last to leave? Andy. Did he have a lot of money? No. Did he have know-how, time, and a passion to serve? Yes.

You are gifted, skilled, and talented. And you know better than anyone what those gifts, skills, and talents are. How will you use them to serve the Lord, here, at home, at work, and at school? How are you going to use them to bless others? How will you show your thanks for all God’s done for you? I pray you really ponder those questions throughout the week.

Let’s focus on one more thing.  Vs. 5: “Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering.” The key word? Willing. God didn’t say our phrase for today – “You have to give more!”  He didn’t want this to be something the people felt forced to do. He wanted them to want to do this, to willingly give, to praise and thank him for all he’d done, especially for saving them from the Egyptians. This was not to be a burden for them but a blessed opportunity. Anything changed? Well, why do we give our time, use our skills, and offer a % of our gifts back to God? I hope it isn’t because we feel compelled, or to avoid guilt, just to meet the budget, to get something good from God, or to impress others.  I hope whatever we offer to God we do so willingly.

And what causes that willingness in us? Focusing on what God has already given us, and I am not talking about a nice house, family, money, etc. All of those are great blessings, but let’s go to the tippy top of the list. We willingly give and serve because we have a Savior. We willingly give and serve because that Savior took every single one of our sins – be they stewardship sins or any sin – upon himself and died to pay the price for them on the cross. We willingly give and serve because God applied this forgiveness to us as he adopted us into his family through baptism and declared us to be his own. We willingly give and serve because the Lord who started our spiritual lives has kept us strong all these years. We willingly give and serve because we know our loving Lord is always willing to give us all we need and serve us in whatever way is necessary as he comforts, forgives, calms, or strengthens us. We willingly give and serve because we are honored God would use people like us who struggle and often mess up to accomplish his amazing, glorious purpose. And we willingly give and serve because we know what awaits – a home in the heaven Jesus won for us in living, dying, and rising for us.

I say it every Sunday, but I hope it hits home when I announce the offering and say, “We now gather a thank offering for our Lord.” The offering you put in the plate, time you spend scrubbing floors, the very non-noble task of changing diapers - make whatever it is a thank offering, something that comes from a heart overflowing with appreciation, a heart that wants to willingly give in service to the Lord as thanks for all his great gifts. So, let’s ban saying, “You have to give more.”  And instead, let’s place the emphasis where we have today.  We all have the opportunity to serve regardless of whatever differences we have. We all have the opportunity to serve in tangible ways as God has blessed each of us specifically.  We all have the opportunity to use our different gifts and combine with others different gifts. And we all have these opportunities because we know what our Savior has done for us and what it means. And that understanding creates in us a heart that willingly and joyfully serves. Do we have to do all this? No. Do we want to do all this? I pray so. Amen.