“Exodus: A Generous People” by Rev. Cody Sandahl – October 30, 2016

Rev. Cody Sandahl
Rev. Cody Sandahl
"Exodus: A Generous People" by Rev. Cody Sandahl - October 30, 2016
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Introduction

We are still looking at how God shaped the Israelites in the book of Exodus and how God shapes us today. Last week we saw how God supplied the Israelites with miraculous bread, and we heard how we can have the “I wish/I can’t” mindset or the “I have/I can” mindset. This week we are seeing the Israelites when they’re actually doing something right – they’re giving everything needed for the traveling Sanctuary they’ll use during their journey through the desert. There aren’t a lot of texts where the Israelites are doing what God asks, so hey, let’s celebrate this one.

Exodus 25:2, 35:4-9, 20-29

2Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me.

4Moses said to all the congregation of the Israelites: This is the thing that the Lord has commanded: 5Take from among you an offering to the Lord; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering: gold, silver, and bronze;6blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen; goats’ hair, 7tanned rams’ skins, and fine leather; acacia wood, 8oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 9and onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece.

20Then all the congregation of the Israelites withdrew from the presence of Moses. 21And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the sacred vestments. 22So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and pendants, all sorts of gold objects, everyone bringing an offering of gold to the Lord. 23And everyone who possessed blue or purple or crimson yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or fine leather, brought them. 24Everyone who could make an offering of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s offering; and everyone who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work, brought it. 25All the skillful women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linen; 26all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. 27And the leaders brought onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece, 28and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. 29All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

Surprising Generosity

Have you ever experienced surprising generosity? I certainly have. I once experienced generosity from an entity known for hoarding piles of cash. You couldn’t pry a penny from its cold, dead, fingers. I speak, of course, of the University of Texas. My alma mater.

The university sent letters to people who were close to graduating early that a $1000 tuition refund would be available to people who finished ahead of time with a certain GPA and who had never dropped class. I would qualify if I finished next semester. But I needed an extra class – I picked a physics class for fun. But right before the deadline I decided to drop the class since I wasn’t having fun. And even though dropping the class would disqualify me from the tuition refund, I still wanted to graduate early. So I bought the economics textbook on Thursday morning, read it Thursday night, took the economics placement exam on Friday, tested out of economics to get enough credits to graduate, and then returned the textbook to the bookstore on Saturday for a full refund. Now that’s economics!

To my surprise, though, I still received the tuition refund. Now this was surprising for two reasons: first, I theoretically had disqualified myself by dropping that class. Second, I was on a full scholarship already and hadn’t paid the tuition they were now refunding me. So technically, the money grubbing University of Texas paid me to go their college. That is very surprising generosity.

Have you ever experienced surprising generosity?

Usually what makes generosity surprising is the heart of the giver. For instance, I am still a University of Texas fan, but when it comes to money I am very willing to say that they have a closed heart. They have more money than everyone but Harvard and Yale, but they always need more. Their normally closed heart made that generosity very surprising.

Speaking of heart, did you notice how often the word “heart” appeared in our text today? Six times. “From all whose hearts prompt them to give…” “whoever is of a generous heart…” “everyone whose heart was stirred…” “all who were of a willing heart…” “all the women whose hearts move them…” “all the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing.”

Apparently the heart is very important when talking about generosity. And not just in the Old Testament. In our first text today, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” And it’s not just from Paul, Jesus says in Matthew 6, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Afraid to Lose

The heart is inextricably intertwined with generosity. But it is intertwined in two ways. The first way is what Paul is talking about – reluctance, guilt, fear. The University of Texas isn’t often generous because it’s constantly afraid of losing what it has. What are you afraid of losing? Your retirement? Respect? Friends? Family? Your time? Your mind? Your illusion of control? Whatever you’re afraid of losing, that’s a limit on your generosity.

That’s not even to say that’s a bad thing. I, for example, am highly unlikely to be a missionary in rural Mongolia given the reality of my family. Well, that and the fact that I don’t like Bactrian camels.

So some of the things we’re afraid of losing – some of our limits – are OK. We should be invested in our families. But there are times when God asks me to do things that are inconvenient for my family. He’s not sending me to Mongolia, but there are plenty of errands God sends me on that don’t perfectly line up with my family’s schedule. It takes wisdom to figure out when it’s good to limit what I’m doing so I can focus on my family and when God’s task outweighs my family’s preferences.

What are your limits? What are you afraid of losing? Where do you need to overcome a boundary or use wisdom to figure out when to place God’s direction before your preferences? That’s the first part of how the heart is intertwined with generosity. Our fear of loss.

Passion to Do Something

The second way the heart is intertwined with generosity is seen in v21 – “and they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the sacred vestments.” They had a purpose. They had a reason. They wanted to see the tent of meeting rise up. They wanted a Sanctuary that pointed to the Living God. They wanted worship that drew them into the presence of the Great I Am. And so they gave. Some brought jewelry. Some brought fabrics. Some brought animals. Some brought wood. Some brought their able hands. Some brought oil and spices. V29 says, “all the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing…brought anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses.” Whatever they had, they brought it because they had a passion for what they were building together.

And did you notice that they didn’t even rank the gifts in order of importance? Yeah, some people had gold and silver and bronze. But others had rams’ skins. Yeah, some people could give money, but others could spin the goats’ hair – side note, our offering plates are NOT goat hair approved. No distinction is made between the two. The women who could sew are given just as much space here as the people who brought jewelry. Blythe – take this to our quilters and crafters, this should be their rallying Scripture!

What stirs your heart to action? What passion moves you? What could God ask you to do that would excite you? There are some in our congregation who are passionate for raising up the next generation, but they don’t feel like they can be teachers or leaders. So they bring dinner for the youth on Sunday night. Or they help lead the kids down to Sunday school and help whoever’s teaching that week with logistics. Or they mentor a youth 1-on-1. Or someone just gave money to redo the carpet in the youth room. There are so many ways to let the passions of your heart spill out into your actions.

What could God ask you to do that would excite you? That passion, that vision, that’s the second way the heart is intertwined with generosity. When we move past what we’re afraid to lose because we are passionate to do something or to see something happen – that’s a generous heart.

Passion at FPCL

Last year at this time, I shared three things I’m passionate about that I hoped to see at our church in the coming year. I am passionate about helping people grow their spirits closer to Christ. I am passionate about making a positive and lasting impact on our local community. I am passionate about sharing and celebrating our stories – from the past and the present.

And what a year we’ve had on those fronts! At one point this year we had all of our Bible studies and classes running at the same time, and we were averaging 60 people a week. That’s one out of every three people who attend on Sunday. That’s more than double what we saw just a couple years ago. Wow! God is on the move! We are helping people grow their spirits closer to Christ. If you want to grab onto that spiritual growth, let me know or check our website for all the options.

We have REALLY made an impact on our local community. Let me tell you about one particular young girl. If memory serves, she is a 5th grader now. She’s at one of the low income elementary schools, and she comes every week during the school year to the tutoring we offer. She, like all the students we tutor, doesn’t have transportation, so we pick her up and drop her off each week. Heading into this school year, her family, like many, couldn’t afford school supplies. But luckily our church provides several families with backpacks loaded with everything you need for the school year. Stuffed to the gills. Sometimes stuffed past the gills. At the end of last school year, she was envious of her 5th grade friends who received bicycles and helmets that we provided with some other churches in our area in partnership with the school. She told her tutor that she hopes we do that again now that she’s in 5th grade! Sometimes food is an issue for her family, so we were excited to see her and her family at the last free Community Meal we offered in September. Maybe they’ll be among the HUNDREDS of people we will deliver meals to on Thanksgiving or who join us at the church for a meal. Her family will probably be on the Giving Tree this Christmas so they can actually have some gifts under their tree – which wouldn’t happen otherwise. If you take a name off the tree this year so you can buy them Christmas gifts, it might be her.

Sisters and brothers, that’s a REAL and LASTING IMPACT on her life! And there are so many other stories like hers. Working with other Presbyterian churches we helped immigrants learn English. We gave away flu vaccines. We helped a Vietnamese new church development. We sponsored two missionaries in India. And I guarantee you there are several people sitting in this room wondering why I didn’t mention THEIR ministry – I could have kept going. If yours didn’t get mentioned it’s because you didn’t bribe me with dark chocolate! Just kidding. I am passionate about how we are impacting our local community. I hope you are, too. Do you want to make an impact through one of these ministries? Let me know.

Finally, I am passionate about telling the stories. We’ve told a lot of them, but let me focus on one area in particular. I cannot tell you how honored I am when someone takes the risk to invite their friend or their neighbor or their coworker to something we’re doing. I’ve seen people bringing friends to worship. I’ve seen people bringing friends to serve with them at Thanksgiving or the Community Dinner. I’ve seen people invite friends to a Bible study or class. I know that is one of the hardest things to do, and I am grateful for the trust you place in what’s going on here when you invite someone. I’ve told a lot of stories about how arrogant I was growing up, so it takes a lot to humble me. That humbles me.

But that’s also something I hope to see even more next year. I know that inviting someone to worship is hard and a bit scary – what if they look at you like you’re a four headed monster? But our leaders just approved making the free Community Dinner a monthly thing – last Tuesday of the month. What if you signed up to serve in March and asked someone to come serve meals to the hungry and lonely with you? Would that be as scary? If you are passionate about spiritual growth as I am, if you are passionate about impacting our local community as I am, if you are passionate about telling the story of what God is doing as I am, pick a month. Sign up. And invite someone to join you. That’s the challenge for next year. Maybe it’s not the Community Dinner, maybe it’s something else you’re passionate about. That’s OK. There are a lot of ways to be generous, to be passionate, to be all-in for what God is doing.

Another way to be generous happens next week on our Commitment Sunday. Hopefully you received a letter and a pledge card asking for you to estimate what financial resources you’re investing in what God is doing here at FPCL. Next week we are going to dedicate those pledges in our worship service. Those pledges don’t define what we’re going to do in Christ’s name – we figure that out in prayer and conversation together. Instead, those pledges help determine the scale of what we’re going to do in Christ’s name. Are we going to do more in Christ’s name next year or less? Bigger and broader, or smaller and narrower? There’s a season for both of those. It can’t always be bigger and broader. Sometimes you need to narrow down. What season are we in? That’s what your pledges, your estimates of giving, tell us. The Community Dinner is expanding to monthly regardless of what season we’re in – we’re going to make that bigger and broader. We feel it is critical for our church and our community. But what about everything else? What season are we in? I hope we’re in a bigger and broader season, because I think we’re just scratching the surface of how we can make a difference in Christ’s name. But as Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Let us know next week what season we’re in. We’ll be faithful in a bigger and broader season, and we’ll be faithful in a narrower season. Bigger and broader is just a lot more fun.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, generosity is an expression of our hearts. When we overcome what we’re afraid to lose because we are passionate about doing something in God’s name, our generosity enables Jesus to change people’s lives. That can be gold and silver. That can be sewing or building. That can be inviting someone new or deepening a relationship. Like the Israelites, we can bring whatever we have to offer to be used for the work of the Lord. Amen.