Sermon Notes

May 2nd 2018

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson May 6, 2018

Giving from a Generous Heart — Exodus 35:20-29/2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (NRSV/MSG)

35 20 Then all the congregation of the Israelites withdrew from the presence of Moses. 21 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. 22 So 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. 23 And everyone who possessed blue or purple or crimson yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or fine leather, brought them. 24 Everyone 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. 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linen; 26 all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. 27 And the leaders brought onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece, 28 and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. 29 All 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.

9 6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

INTRODUCTION

This week’s lesson explores the importance of generous giving as an indication of covenant relationship with God. In Exodus, the children of Israel willingly bring gifts in order to construct the tabernacle. In 2 Corinthians early Christians joyously bring gifts to support the struggling Church in Jerusalem. Although separated by over a thousand years, the sentiment of each biblical passage is the same: the people of God give without restraint because they recognize God’s steadfast mercy and generosity towards them. Both instances of giving underscore stewardship unencumbered by selfish motive or expectation of reciprocity. The faithful give as an outgrowth of a theological awareness that their lives are a Divine gift. That gift requires an attitude of gratitude and is accompanied by benevolence.

BACKGROUND ON THE LESSON

In Exodus 20 – 24 God gives the Ten Commandments to Israel along with other civil, criminal and covenantal laws. In Exodus 25 – 31, God calls Moses up to the summit of Mount Sinai, and provides him with detailed instructions on building the ark of the covenant, constructing the tabernacle, and the two individuals who are called to lead the design and development phases for crafting all of the furniture, accessories, linens and sacred implements for the tabernacle.

However, while Moses is talking with God, the children of Israel become impatient while waiting for him. They abandon God and begin worshipping the golden calf that Aaron makes. Thus, God’s plans for the construction of the tabernacle is sidelined by Israel’s idolatrous behavior and subsequent punishment, plagues and Divine pronouncements. Moses intercedes for the people, and God forgives their sin and renews covenant with Israel declaring Divine abounding steadfast love and faithfulness towards Israel, despite their idolatrous ways.

It is out of the context of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God’s forgiveness, and Divine covenant renewal, that Moses assembles all of Israel together and again instructs them to prepare for making the tabernacle. In Exodus 35: 4-19 Moses says God commands that Israel should bring gifts of metal, fine linen, leather skins, wood, oil, spices, incense, and precious stones and gems for the construction of the tabernacle. Moses also invites all of those skilled in carpentry, woodworking, metallurgy, herbalism, sewing and embroidery to join the construction efforts as subcontractors and artists. In essence, Moses says the people need to obediently get to work.

INTO THE LESSON

20-21 So everyone in the community of Israel left the presence of Moses. Then they came back, every one whose heart was roused, whose spirit was freely responsive, bringing offerings to God for building the Tent of Meeting, furnishing it for worship and making the holy vestments.
The people leave from the gathered meeting after hearing God’s command concerning the building of the tabernacle. Notice, the text does not say that God compelled the people to give or work. Instead, Moses says the Lord invited all those with generous hearts to give as they are led to do so, and work as their gifts allowed them to do so. Their giving and service while invited, is not compulsory. The people have a choice. And the beautiful aspect of these verses is that people begin to come back and freely bring offerings for the construction of the Tent of Meeting, or tabernacle. The text says their hearts were roused or stirred, and the people had willing hearts and willing spirits. The offerings sanctioned in verses 4-9 are now freely presented to God for building the tabernacle, making its furniture and sewing priestly garments.
22They came, both men and women, all the willing spirits among them, offering brooches, earrings, rings, necklaces—anything made of gold—offering up their gold jewelry to God. And anyone who had blue, purple, and scarlet fabrics; fine linen; goats’ hair; tanned leather; and dolphin skins brought them. Everyone who wanted to offer up silver or bronze as a gift to God brought it. Everyone who had acacia wood that could be used in the work, brought it. All the women skilled at weaving brought their weavings of blue and purple and scarlet fabrics and their fine linens. And all the women who were gifted in spinning, spun the goats’ hair. 27-29 The leaders brought onyx and other precious stones for setting in the Ephod and the Breastpiece. They also brought spices and olive oil for lamp oil, anointing oil, and incense. Every man and woman in Israel whose heart moved them freely to bring something for the work that God through Moses had commanded them to make, brought it, a voluntary offering for God.
In verses 22-29 it is evident that an extravagant outpouring occurs by a religious community renewed by its restored relationship with God. Because they understand that they have been redeemed not once, but twice, the people offer everything they can to the Lord. According to Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann, the writer of Exodus uses two literary conventions to underscore the overwhelming stewardship of the people of Israel. First, the people’s financial offerings are motivated by deep religious conviction. The people’s hearts are overwhelmingly stirred, roused and moved to extravagant giving because they are convicted by their state of liberation and status within covenant relationship. Second, the writers use of all indicates the people’s offering is comprehensive. The willing offer God their all, and all of the willing make offerings to God. The all inclusive nature of all is reflected in:
1. The kind of persons who give (v.22, 23, 25-27, 29). All of Israel, including men and women, leaders and non-leaders, skilled workers and non-skilled workers present offerings to God for the tabernacle construction. Those who are unskilled give monetary and material offerings. The skilled workers will give of their natural gifts and talents.
2. The categories of the gifts. Regardless of status, all of the people give various types of monetary and raw materials for constructing the tabernacle. Personal jewelry, fine fabrics and linens, precious metals, precious stones, spices, herbs, olive oil, and found objects (wood) were presented. The skilled workers give the talents of sewing, piece-work, metallurgy, upholstery, carpentry, and herbal infusion among other talents. In later verses of this chapter, Bezalel and Oholiab will strengthen the talents of skilled workers by teaching them and refining artistic techniques.
3. The sacrificial nature of the gifts. Given that Israel has just been delivered from Egypt through the Red Sea, everything that they have is precious. Due to the precarious journey that lay ahead of the freed Israelite slaves, they had to be discriminating in selecting belongings for their departure. They only brought the best and most valuable of items. Jewelry, fabrics, linens, stones, incense and small carved wooden objects were likely the best they had, and all that they had. Therefore, their giving reflects the sacrificial nature of their offerings.

Although these offerings are likely very costly to the people of Israel. Yet, they give to the construction of the tabernacle anyway. Clearly, this community is energized by their remembrance of what God has done for them, to them, in them and in spite of them. Their extravagant stewardship reflects an understanding that all they are, and all they have comes from the Lord. Further, according to Brueggemann, it is probable that the Israelites thought generous giving towards construction of the sanctuary would facilitate God’s enduring presence, allow atonement for the golden calf idolatry, enable sharing from the quality goods that the Egyptians gave to them, (Exodus 3:21-22; 11:2-3) and finally, allow them to replace the perceived absence of God in Egypt with a visible representation of God’s habitation.

2 Corinthians 9 6-7 Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.8 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.
In the second pericope of this lesson, Paul encourages early Christians living in Achaia to generously give to the struggling Church in Jerusalem. In 9: 1-5 Paul says the Corinthians should give bountifully and voluntarily to others because:
(1) The Corinthians must fulfill their responsibilities. The Church at Corinth had previously committed themselves to giving a monetary donation to the Jerusalem Church. However, they have not met their obligation. Paul writes to ensure they will do as they pledged.
(2) The Corinthians must live up to their reputation as generous givers, ensuring they bring honor to both their community and Paul, as opposed to shame.
(3) The Corinthians have the monetary resources; much more than the Macedonian Christians who have already given out of their poverty to the Church in Jerusalem.

In verses 6-8, Paul says the Corinthian Christians should give generously because when they do, so they reflect God’s audacious generosity. Like Moses says to Israel in Exodus, Paul says each individual should carefully reflect on their giving. The Corinthians must consider giving as a natural outgrowth of their relationship with God, and an extension of God’s love towards them. God will delight in those persons who relish in the opportunity to bless others. Their giving, is in fact a tangible way of worshipping God. Further, if the Corinthians give generously, God will match their generosity with an abundance that they can not imagine. After all, everything the Corinthians have comes from God. The God that provided them with monetary and material substance, can easily replace the money the Corinthians give to the Jerusalem Church.

1) See Walter Brueggemann, The book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary and Reflection,” in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003) p. 495.

2) Ibid., p. 496.

3) Ibid., p. 496-497.

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