Sermon: The Generous God

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to 1 Chronicles 29, beginning in verse 1. 1 Chronicles 29. First Chronicles is in the Old Testament – 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, then Ezra and Nehemiah. 1 Chronicles 29, beginning in verse 1. While you are finding it, let me set the stage a little bit. This true story takes place at the end of the reign of King David. He is speaking before the whole assembled people of Israel for the last time, handing over the reigns of state to his son, Solomon, and working to make provisions for Solomon to build a temple to the Lord. 1 Chronicles 29, verses 1-20. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule,

Your Holy Spirit our teacher,

and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

Then King David said to the whole assembly, “my son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, for this palatial structure is not for man, but for the Lord God. With all my resources, I have provided for the temple of my God – gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron, and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble – all of these in large quantities. Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God, I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple: three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen. Now who will consecrate themselves to the Lord today?”

Then the leaders of the families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. They gave toward the work on the temple 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. Anyone who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple of the Lord in the custody of Jehiel the Gershonite. The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. And David the king also rejoiced greatly.

David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

“Praise be to you, Lord,

the God of our father Israel,

from everlasting to everlasting.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power,

and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

for everything in heaven and earth is yours.

Yours, Lord, is the kingdom

and you are exalted as head over all.

Wealth and honor come from you;

you are the ruler of all things.

In your hands are power and strength,

to exalt and give strength to all.

Now, our God, we give you thanks

and praise your glorious name.

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your holy names comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. Now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts on the hearts of your people forever and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes, and decrees and to do everything to build this palatial structure for which I have provided.”

Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their ancestors; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)

The average Christian in this country gives 2.5% of their income to God’s work through the church. Not 10%, 2.5%. If every person in this country claiming Christian faith would tithe, the American church could, by itself, provide basic health care and education for all the literally billions of poor people in the world  and have $70billion left over for evangelistic missions. Ron Sider, who gathered this data, calls this the ‘Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.’ The richest country in the world, with the vast majority still claiming Christian faith, and children still starve, people still die of preventable diseases without aid or hearing the gospel. In the words of Lee Aswegen, “the money is there, it is just still in our wallets.’

This week and next, we will be looking at the biblical call to generosity. It is a call rooted, not in law or guilt, but in the love and generosity of God. Everything comes for you, David says, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

This morning, as we reflect on this event at the end of David’s life, I believe God is teaching us about leadership, about generosity, and about legacy. Leadership, Generosity, and Legacy.

David leads by example. For years, David’s heart longed to build a temple to the Lord. The worship of God still took place in a tent – in the tabernacle. David wanted to build a permanent, beautiful place to worship the Lord God. He used his power and resources as king to help gather materials for the construction of the temple. In verse 2, David says he amassed large quantities of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, onyx, precious stones, and marble. However, even after all that work, there was not enough to build the temple in a way that would honor God.

So what does David do? As king, he could have raised some more taxes. He doesn’t. He could have pulled out the book of the Law – Leviticus 27, among other places – and reminded each member of the nation that God commanded them to give the first ten percent of what comes in to God. We call this a ‘tithe,’ meaning ‘tenth,’ because God’s people were called to give the first tenth back to God. But he doesn’t.

Instead, David leads by example. He says, Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God, I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple. David gives first. He calls for the people to give for the sake of God’s work and he begins with himself. He gives abundantly – something like 100 tons of gold and 250 tons of silver. David gives and then invites the people of Israel to follow his example and give abundantly – to consecrate themselves to the Lord.

That is leadership. The ancients would have called it ethos, but we might also use the word ‘integrity.’ David says, I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. David has integrity. He leads by asking the people to follow what he is already doing. He leads by example and they followed. 

David leads by example. At one point this year, we spent a couple month in a row running short on giving. As consistory wrestled with how to respond – greater communication, greater accountability – we also recognized the wisdom of David’s leadership. If we were going to ask the people of God to give abundantly for the work of God, it must begin with the leaders. We must set an example. So we did. Every member of consistory, Olga and I included, has committed to increasing our giving to work of God in this congregation. We, too, are trying to lead by example.

David leads and the people of God follow. He lays out all he has done to prepare to build the temple of God and says, Now who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord today? I do not want us to get bogged down with the number conversions, but the response is significant. We are told, The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given willingly and wholeheartedly to the Lord. And David the king also rejoiced greatly.

First Chronicles 29 is the true story of incredible giving – over and above standard tithing. Why did this happen? Why did David and the leaders of Israel give abundantly to the work of God?

Was it because of David’s excellent leadership? That’s not what he says. Was it because these were the wealthy people in the community and they could afford to give more? That is not what David says. Was it because the economy was going well and everything had more to spare? That is not what David says.

Instead, David says the heart of generosity is the character of God. Listen to this,

David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

“Praise be to you, Lord,

the God of our father Israel,

from everlasting to everlasting.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power,

and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

for everything in heaven and earth is yours.

Yours, Lord, is the kingdom

and you are exalted as head over all.

Wealth and honor come from you;

you are the ruler of all things.

In your hands are power and strength,

to exalt and give strength to all.

Now, our God, we give you thanks

and praise your glorious name.

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

Generosity is rooted in the generosity of God. What sets hearts free to give? But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

They gave because they knew God was generous. They knew that everything belongs to God and all that they had came from his hand, so they did not need to hold on it too tightly or scrape and hoard as if God was stingy would not take care of them. They knew God was generous, so they could be too.

Yet if we are honest, most of us are less like David and the people of Israel and more like monkeys.

There is a story of a tribe in Africa that was looking to capture some monkeys in their area. The best way they found was to hollow out a gourd and cut a small hole in its side. They put a few beans inside, tied the gourd to a tree, and waited. The next day, inevitably, they had caught a monkey.

You see, the hole in the side of the gourd was large enough for the monkey’s hand to go through, but when it grabbed the beans, its fist was too big to get back out. As long as it held on to the beans, it was trapped. But if the monkey let go of the beans, it would be free. But it wouldn’t. Fist clenched around those few small beans, it was trapped.

When we clench our fist around our resources – our time, our attention, our money – we are like those monkeys – trapped. But it can be so hard to let go. If we believe that these beans are all we have, if we believe the world is like ‘hungry, hungry hippos’ and we better grab as many marbles as we can before they are all gone – if that is how we see the world, we will keep our fists clutched tightly on those beans and never let go.

We will live trapped by fear and insecurity. But if we believe God is generous, then everything changes. A generous God means we can let go of those beans, we can give freely and generously because, as David says, Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

If it is true that God is not stingy, but a God of abundance, if it is true that we need not worry about our life, what we eat, what we will drink or what we will wear, because the God who made the lilies of the field with such beauty and who makes sure the birds of the air are fed will certainly provide for you, if it is true that God has given us life and being and preserves us by his providence, then our hearts are free to give, because God has given us everything.

If it is true, that he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? If God gives and gives abundantly – life, food, shelter, clothing, salvation – if we live in a world of abundance, then we can give with confidence in our abundant God to care for our needs. We can let go of those beans and give them away, because they were never truly ours to begin with. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your holy name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.

Our passage this morning contains David’s last words recorded in the book of Chronicles. It teaches us about leadership with integrity and a life of generosity rooted in the generosity of God. But it also teaches us about legacy.

David gave for the next generation. These are the last words we hear from him in the book of Chronicles. After this, David passes the kingdom to Solomon and dies. But David knew this already. He longed to build the temple for the Lord God, but God told him he would not build it. Solomon would.

David gives know he will not see the fruit of his giving. He gives to provide for the next generation – his ‘young and inexperienced’ son Solomon, who has a great task before him – to build a temple not for man, but for God.

David gives for what he will not see in his lifetime. He gives of himself, pours out his life, even at the end of it, for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Each of us can give. There is no age limit upon giving and serving Christ. Some of what we give and some of what our life will mean in the kingdom of God we will not live to see. We rarely live to see our legacy in full bloom. Instead, we give and we serve now, trusting that the God who began the work in us, will bring it to completion, someday.

Earlier this week, I sat around those round tables in the basement with friends, remembering Ken LeHew. We spoke of his love for God and the ease with which he spoke of the Lord to others. But most of all, we spoke of Ken’s eagerness to serve and give himself for others. At 75, he gave himself daily for God’s work. Classis President, Preaching Elder, Regional Synod respresentative, father, husband, friend. Ken did not live to see all that his giving would bring about. He gave himself for work, for a harvest, he would not live to see.

My hope for each of us, as we live generously serving a generous God, is that our lives and resources given to God will not come into full bloom until long after we are gone, when future generations continue to call on the name of the Lord and a full harvest is brought in to the kingdom of God.

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