Lay Reader = 1 Chronicles 29:1-11
1King David said to the whole assembly, “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great; for the temple will not be for mortals but for the Lord God. 2So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones, and marble in abundance. 3Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God: 4three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house, 5and for all the work to be done by artisans, gold for the things of gold and silver for the things of silver. Who then will offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the Lord?” 6Then the leaders of ancestral houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of the thousands and of the hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work. 7They gave for the service of the house of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze, and one hundred thousand talents of iron. 8Whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord, into the care of Jehiel the Gershonite. 9Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with single mind they had offered freely to the Lord; King David also rejoiced greatly.
10Then David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly; David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever. 11Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
We are still in our series about finding our love languages in life and worship. The goal is to figure out how we best receive love from others and from God. That helps us seek that love and communicate our love toward God. And we also want to figure out how the other people in our life best receive love so we can speak their love language.
Last week Carol talked about the incredible potential for both positive and negative physical touch, and she expressed how we can claim the positive side. This week we are looking at gifts. As I’ve shared before, this one is the bottom of my personal bucket, so I’m not 100% sure that I know what I’m talking about with this one. But we shall journey ahead nonetheless!
Our text today contains one of my secret favorite characters in the whole Bible. You’re all familiar with him. Bezalel. Very famous, right? Just by show of hands – does anyone already know who Bezalel is? The pickings seem pretty slim.
Bezalel was like the original Renaissance Man. We’ll hear how many different forms of craft and industry he is an expert in – gold, silver, bronze, stone, carving, artistic design, you name it – Bezalel can do it with excellence. So as a geek and general Jack of All Trades myself, Bezalel is like my patron saint.
Bezalel is commissioned by God himself to lead the team of artisans constructing the traveling tent of God – the Tabernacle. This takes place after Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and achieved freedom from the Egyptians. Now that they’re free, God wants them to worship. And he wants them to worship in style.
1The Lord spoke to Moses: 2See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, 4to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. 6Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7the tent of meeting, and the ark of the covenant, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, 8the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand, 10and the finely worked vestments, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the holy place. They shall do just as I have commanded you.
God Has Given Us Gifts
Well the day finally arrived. I had prepared for this – unknowingly to be fair, but prepared for this for years. As a pastor we get asked a lot of questions. Some of them are deep. Some of them are insightful. Some of them are about life. Others about faith. But today was the DAY that I got the question I had been waiting for.
A question about economics!
Earlier in my life I had a strong interest in economics, and I voluntarily read a ton of books on the subject. This paid off in college when I realized I could graduate one semester early if I added a single class to my semester. Rather than taking a class, I found out I could take a placement exam for some classes. I saw intro to economics on the list. Bought the textbook. Skimmed it overnight. Returned the book. Took the exam the next day. 97 out of 100. Score one for self-directed reading.
I tell you this just so that you can at least glimpse how excited I was to finally get a faith question that involved economics. Are you with me?
And here it is: What’s the difference between capitalism, communism and the Old Testament texts about the Jubilee Year? Glorious question, isn’t it?
If you don’t know what the Jubilee Year is, go look it up. But here’s the answer to that economics question. At the 30,000 foot level, in capitalism individuals generally own things. In communism, the state generally owns things. In the Old Testament, God owns things and we’re just stewards or tenants.
And that’s interesting. In capitalism, I can say “this is mine.” In communism, “this is ours.” And in the Old Testament, “this is God’s.” Make sense?
Why does that matter?
If we embrace God’s vision of economics – that everything ultimately belongs to God, the Creator – then every good thing in your life is a gift from God. It is a visual representation of God’s love for you. Every good thing in your life is evidence of God’s grace, acceptance, love, and just plain thoughtfulness toward you. If you ever wonder, “Does God love me?” The evidence is embedded within your life.
If James 1 is correct, that “every good and perfect gift is from above,” then let us count the ways! This is useful for everyone, but necessary if your love language is receiving gifts. Take some time to count your blessings. Take some time to write down the good things in your life – even the tiny things. Each thing on that list is a gift from God. A visible, tangible example of God’s love for you. Give that a shot this week to notice and receive God’s love. If you feel love by receiving gifts in your earthly relationships, take some time to notice the gifts God gives you as well.
A Good Gift
God gave Bezalel “the divine spirit, ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft.” And God gave him an able assistant in Oholiab. And God gave Bezalel an army of other skilled craftsmen. And God gave him a purpose – a reason to use every ounce, every gram, every iota of ability within. Those are all gifts from God.
And how did Bezalel use those gifts? How did Bezalel communicate his love toward God? What was Bezalel’s gift to God? He put thought into all the tiny little details. To “the table and its utensils,” the lampstand, the clothes of the priests, what kind of oil and incense to use. Let’s put this into context. Can you imagine an interior decorator coming into your house and telling you, “I have a brilliant idea for your utensils. It will really make the table pop!” That’s too small to care about, right? But Bezalel cared about the table and its utensils.
He put thought into every little detail. And that’s the definition of a good gift. A good gift should be a physical embodiment of your thoughtfulness toward someone. Let me say that again. A good gift should be a physical embodiment of your thoughtfulness toward someone.
When my parents come to town, one of the most thoughtful gifts they give us is a night away. Every parent would appreciate that, but given how little Charlie lets us sleep it’s a literal God-send. That’s a physical embodiment of thoughtfulness.
At one of my previous churches, one of the staff members lost a close relative, but they couldn’t afford to fly back to the funeral. The church paid for a round trip ticket. That wasn’t necessary, but it was thoughtful. That’s a good gift.
You see, something like an end-of-year bonus says, “we appreciate your performance at work.” But buying a plane ticket to a funeral says, “we love you.” Do you see the difference?
A bit of a smaller example, my nephew just had a birthday and he’s in the dinosaur phase. I got him a pack of dinosaurs, but I made sure it had a booklet telling what they’re called and a few fun facts about each one. My nephew will like it, and it saves my brother and his wife from having to Google dinosaurs. That’s a little more thoughtful.
What are some thoughtful gifts you have received or given? Good gifts are physical embodiments of thoughtfulness.
I asked people on Facebook to chime in on that one. One person highlighted how his grandmother showed up on his birthday – not just with any cake, but with his absolute favorite, homemade cake. That’s thoughtful.
That thoughtfulness is also what separates “receiving gifts” as a love language from “materialism” as a mindset. As a love language, gifts are valuable as an expression of someone’s thoughtfulness, not just an accumulation of stuff. Someone who has gifts as their love language would probably value a really thoughtful gift more than a larger gift card. Or someone who who has gifts as their love language would probably still be pleased if you give them a very thoughtful gift, but they already have it. It’s not about the “thing,” it’s about the heart behind the gift. Materialism says, “I want more cakes than anyone else!” The love language of gifts says, “Thank you for being thoughtful enough to bring my favorite cake, Grandma!”
If there’s someone in your life who appreciates gifts, how can you give them a physical embodiment of your thoughtfulness? That’s a good gift.
Giving to God
So that’s the life end of things, but what about in worship? How can we give God a good gift? What does it look like to embody thoughtfulness toward God?
I think Bezalel gives us one great example – being detailed and excellent however you serve God. But our first text today gives us another great example.
David really, really wanted to build God’s Temple. Bezalel and his crew of crafty Israelites built the Tabernacle – the glorious tent for worshiping God. But that tent was necessary for a people wandering in the desert. It was mobile. Now that the Israelites have cities and have the Land, they can build something more permanent.
But God told David that he wouldn’t get to build the Temple. David’s son Solomon would succeed him as king and Solomon would build the Temple. But David is a crafty fellow. Not crafty like Bezalel. Not crafty like our quilters. Crafty like a fox.
So he decides to come up with the plan. He starts storing up supplies. He gives lavishly to the project himself. He does everything short of laying the foundation. But it’s not enough. So in our first text, David gathers the people and shares his vision for the Temple. He points out that Solomon is going to be a very young king – a lot on his plate. David points out how much he has personally invested in the Temple project. And then he makes the big ask: “who then will offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the Lord?” Not a tax. Not an obligation. A freewill offering.
And it says, they “made their freewill offerings” and “then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with single mind they had offered freely to the Lord.”
That’s worth repeating. “with single mind they had offered freely to the Lord.”
When the people of God come together with a single mind, and when they freely give their best to that Godly purpose, the impossible can happen. That’s a good gift to God.
But this text also caused me to ask the question: “where are we, as the people of God, coming together with a single mind?” What’s our uniting, overarching vision? What has God called us to do and be? We still haven’t answered that. And it’s been nagging at me this whole year.
I just went through my spiritual journal notes from the last year, and it surprised me to see the same image popping up over and over and over again.
You already know that I like to talk about trees when I talk about our faith. Our logo is a tree. Our mission is to be Rooted, Growing, and Branching Out. If you come to the upcoming new member class or one of the pastor’s breakfasts, you’ll hear about being spiritual Redwoods. Now, don’t mistake my tree imagery for an ability to grow anything – just ask my wife. I’m great with technology but not with plants.
But that organic imagery makes sense to me for our faith. Because everyone’s spiritual journey, like every tree, looks a little different. You may be really Rooted with relationships, and you may be Branching Out to serve others all over the place, but maybe you aren’t Growing spiritually. Someone else might have a beautiful trunk of spiritual Growth and deep and abiding Rooted relationships, but maybe it’s all internal and they haven’t been Branching Out to serve. You get the idea.
But the image that keeps coming to me this year as I think about what we are called to do and be is a shelterwood. The shelterwood method uses the strength of mature trees to provide a safe, nurturing place for new trees to grow. As the new trees grow stronger, more and more space is made for them to receive light and face weather conditions on their own.
What would it look like for First Pres Littleton to be a shelterwood for our neighborhood. Not our whole city – our neighborhood right here. How could our mature, strong grove of trees allow new trees to spring up in a safe and nurturing environment? And how could we provide those new trees with a way to grow and thrive on their own? That’s the image that keeps coming to me.
And here’s where that gets interesting. We talk about wanting to grow, right? Reach multiple generations? Wouldn’t it be energizing if Palm Sunday was our average? That’s like 40-50% bigger than average right now.
But if we want to grow because we want more people here, that’s materialistic. That’s like wanting more gifts because we want more stuff. Same result if we want to grow by any means necessary without having a plan for why or what happens next once someone comes here. That’s vanity, not vision.
But if we are a shelterwood, perhaps that’s different. Then we’re not saying, “Come to First Pres Littleton because we want you here.” Instead we’re saying “Come to First Pres Littleton because we can help.” We can help you belong. We can help you believe. We can help you be loving. If you want to belong…if you want to believe…if you want to be loving…we can give you a protected and nurturing space to do that. That seems different – and better – to me. That seems like a vision.
That seems like a gift to God, not a gift for ourselves. That seems like an embodiment of thoughtfulness toward our neighbors, not a numbers game. How does being a shelterwood sound to you?
Sisters and brothers, a good gift is an embodiment of thoughtfulness. Of the eighteen gift stories people shared with me on Facebook, almost all of them were low cost. A 5-year-old daughter buying a $2.50 “diamond” to replace the one that fell out of her mother’s ring. Writing a poem or song for someone’s birthday. A high school child choosing to buy her parents a little gift while on a band trip. The perfect meal. Showing up at just the right time.
Embodiments of thoughtfulness don’t have to be debt-inducing. They have to be thought-provoking. They have to say “I loved you when I thought of this,” not “I loved you when I spent this much.”
Who in your life could use a tangible, physical embodiment of thoughtfulness? That’s gifts in life.
In worship, how can you, or how can we as a church, be an embodiment of thoughtfulness toward God? Whatever it is, I believe it is time for us to dream dreams bigger than ourselves, because God’s vision is so much bigger than us.
I threw out the idea of being a shelterwood for our neighborhood. Being a grove of spiritual Redwoods reaching out to help a new grove take root. That’s what God is placing on my heart. What is he placing on your heart? Amen.