Meg Peery McLaughlin
Too Much Generosity!
October 17, 2021
Exodus 35; 36: 2-7
This Fall we’ve spent a good bit of time in the book of Exodus.
The book begins with God’s people enslaved;
and Moses hearing the call to set them free,
as he is given the very name of God: I AM WHO I AM, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.
Even when nothing is normal around us, we can trust God to be God.
We heard how after God had delivered the people from slavery,
after they’d been fed in the wilderness with manna
and they had received the law, the 10 best ways to live,
the people were still hungry for more—
they wanted to see God so they made that Golden Calf.
God helped Moses understand that though we can’t see God’s face,
we can indeed see and know God in hindsight.
We see the wake God leaves in our lives. Just take a look over your shoulder,
and there you’ll see goodness and mercy following you all the days of your life.
Today we have a part of Exodus that we rarely hear.
God’s honest truth, I have no memory of reading it.
So here’s the lead up:
After the whole Golden Calf situation when the original ten commandments are smashed, God gives them to the people again. Thank heavens for second chances, right?
And as if that’s not enough grace:
God says that God wants to dwell with the people,
and asks that a tabernacle be built.
A special place that can go with the people wherever they may be.
I like to think of it like a mobile home for God.
Listen to this part of God’s story, our story.
4 Moses said to all the congregation of the Israelites: This is the thing that the Lord has commanded: 5 Take from among you an offering to the Lord; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering.
10 All who are skillful among you shall come and make all that the Lord has commanded: the tabernacle, 11 its tent and its covering, the ark, the mercy seat, the table with the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand for the light.
20 Then all the congregation 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. 22 So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and rings and pendants, all sorts of gold objects, everyone bringing an offering of gold to the Lord. 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. 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.
2 Moses then called two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; 3 and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary.
The people still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4 so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; 7 for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Have you ever received a gift that was just too much?
A gift that was such treasure it was almost too precious to hold?
You opened a check and said, I could never accept this.
Ever had someone say to you:
Let me treat you to this trip.
Or, I am willing to donate my kidney. Tell me who to call.
Or, you never have to pay me back.
When have you been overwhelmed by too much generosity?
When has it buckled your knees or taken your breath away?
I am humbled to have known that feeling,
but I didn’t know there was a story about it in scripture.
This is an amazing chapter in the story of God’s people,
our spiritual ancestors.
Moses has to say to them:
Your giving, your generosity, your heart. Just hold it.
It’s too much.
A friend asked me what scripture I was preaching this weekend.
And he stopped me and said,
You’re going to preach that story during stewardship season?
Are you crazy? You know it ends with an instruction to stop giving, right?
I don’t remember which stewardship campaign it was back in Virginia.
I just remember seeing the draft of the glossy brochure and having to sit down
because I was chuckling so hard.
Like any stewardship committee worth their salt,
the team had sought out church members to ask why they give,
to gather short stories of why folks were generous in that particular place?
There were lovely quotes in nice fonts that spoke
about how the church had shown up for Sally when she was having chemo,
how impactful Godly play had been for Jess’s kid
what years of partnership with our Kenyan siblings meant for David’s life.
Most of these little text boxes were full of short paragraphs of powerful testimony.
You could tell our communications director had to edit to make the stories fit.
She did a great job.
Then I got to Robert Berry’s quote. I love Robert.
He was, and still is, a pillar at that church. Retired attorney.
Deeply faithful man. At church every Sunday.
His answer was just 7 words. No story, no inspiration, no feeling even, just:
“Because it’s the right thing to do.” That’s all it said.
I give because it’s the right thing to do.
Now, no one wants to argue with an attorney,
especially one who has spent his entire career at the Pentagon,
but Robert, I wonder if there is a deeper why.
Is it just about being right? being good?
Or is it about …. being grateful?
When Moses was asking for gifts, he didn’t have a glossy brochure.
He didn’t preach a sermon about tithing,
or preach a sermon at all for that matter.
He didn’t lay out the budget for the tabernacle construction project,
and he sure didn’t have one of those cool 3-D renderings.
All Moses said was “Let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering,”
and the congregation went wild.
The women and men went back to the tents,
collected their gold, their bronze, and their silver, and brought it all to Moses.
Those who had the gift of weaving wove rich tapestries.
Those who had the gift of woodworking began construction.
The people gave and gave and gave; morning, noon, and night;
offering their treasures, their talents, their very selves.
If some stewardship committee were to ask these ancestors why?
I wonder what they’d say.
I wonder, if they would just point,
point to the tabernacle, the divine mobile home,
that place where God promised to dwell with them.
Maybe their quote would be even shorter than Robert’s:
we give because God lives with us, for us
we give because we’re grateful for that.
Grateful that God chooses to dwell with us.
I suppose you could say this a story of the very first capital campaign,
but it’s also a stunning picture
of what it can look like to be grateful for a God who promises
to abide with us.
Sandy Alexander told me what a number of local parents did this week on campus,
in the wake of the 2nd and 3rd suicides just this Fall.
Sandy didn’t say it like this, but I say those parents… they built a tabernacle.
And though it was never branded as a sanctuary of faith,
God was dwelling there. I just know it.
For an afternoon, moms and dads, dogs and cats, set up a make-shift home.
There were tables with drinks and cookies.
There were moms offering hugs and dogs offering wet kisses
They abided with these students.
They reminded these young people that they are not alone
though their grief is deep and their anxiety high.
And let me say this, as your pastor, suicide is not a crime.
One doesn’t commit suicide, one dies by suicide.
Suicide does not and cannot separate anyone from the love of God.
Nothing can do that. Not death, even when it is chosen.
Not depression, not shame. Nothing.
Suicide is one of many things that wakes us up to a prevailing need.
Yes, of course a need for resourcing mental health,
but also a need of this gospel truth:
that the God of unconditional love dwells with us
in the light, in the dark, at our highest… and at our lowest.
And that is what this story is about, is it not?
That promise of God abiding…….and our response to it?
God had promised to dwell with God’s people in the tabernacle,
so Moses said “come on y’all bring an offering”
And the people responded and kept on responding
out of deepest gratitude for this deepest grace,
so much so that Moses says alright, enough now. Too much.
That’s the story. It was too much.
My clergy friend, remember, he thought I was losing my marbles to preach it to you now, but he is not cynical or anxious. He’s just in the know, actually.
Because – when asked what motivates people to give –
gratitude does not rank very high for any generation these days.
According to the research ,
if you really want to have a “successful” stewardship appeal,
you need to show people how their gifts will deliver the programming they want.
An NPR story concluded that many folks, millennials especially, will not give out of a sense of obligation. They will only give to that which makes the world a better place.
These are all broad strokes, but the research states pretty clearly that people don’t give simply because they are grateful for what God has given to them.
For many of us, we will only give if we know the plan,
catch the vision, see the difference our gifts will make.
That’s why our stewardship committee sent us the glossy brochure,
the number for the budget, the quotes about impact.
And frankly I care about all that too when I calculate my pledge.
But you know what I have decided?
I’ve decided this story matters.
I’m not going to worry if gratitude is a successful stewardship strategy or not; because it is a faithful practice and very biblical discipline.
So whether it will “work” or not,
whether I have lost my marbles or not,
I want us to hold onto this story this stewardship season.
of people being generous because that is what God is.
This picture of gratitude
that results in the response getting way out of hand.
I want to hold fast to this grace and gratitude;
this too-muchness that can happen when we hold those together.
As Christians, we know that the story of God’s overflowing generosity did not stop with the Exodus narrative.
God decided to make that tabernacle home permanent.
As my friend Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner has said,
In Jesus Christ, God went “all in” in order to show creation the profound,
generous depths of God’s love,
precisely so that we could go “all out”
and participate in the ways God is transforming this world .
So, friends, let’s go crazy and remember this story.
And like Moses let me say:
let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering.
Who knows? Maybe next Sunday, on Commitment Sunday,
I might have to announce that University Presbyterian Church needs to stop.
“No, no. You have given too much. Your generosity is too overwhelming. Enough!” Wouldn’t that be something?