Exodus 36:2-7 & 2 Corinthians 8:1-5
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 14, 2021 – Stewardship Dedication Day
At a carnival a strong man was dazzling the crowd with deeds of muscular might. He bent a steel rod with his bare hands and lifted a couple sitting on a bench above his head. Next he took a lemon, wrapped his fist around it, and squeezed the juice out until no more drops fell. He then announced he’d give a $100 to anyone who could squeeze another drop. A couple of burly men jumped up to give it a try; and, though they strained until their eyes turned red, they couldn’t extract any more juice. Then a small man, with pipe-cleaner-thin arms, asked for a chance. Folks chuckled as the smirking strong man tossed him the lemon. He clenched the fruit, squeezed it…and juice gushed out! Stunned, the strong man handed him a $100 bill and, looking him up and down, exclaimed, “How did someone like you do that?” The man shrugged modestly and said, “I’m a Presbyterian elder and run my church’s annual pledge drive.”
Actually, on this pledge Sunday, no one is going to put the squeeze on anyone. For there is no need!
People in love go bonkers and their generosity runs rampant. You see it in romantic couples that can’t do enough for each other or in doting parents who love to spoil their kids with lavish gifts. No giving seems inordinate when those you adore bless you inordinately!
Though not all of us, many of us here adore God for blessing us inordinately. However little money we may have, our appreciation of His extravagant generosity toward us makes us want to be extravagantly generous toward Him. Bonkers with love, we try to spoil the God we know is un-spoilable. In that way, we show ourselves descendants of some Israelites in the days of Moses and of some Macedonians in the days of Paul.
Those ancient Israelites were so grateful for God’s grace, as he kept forgiving them and staying with them despite their faithlessness, that they couldn’t do enough for Him. As artisans constructed a place where God would dwell in the midst of them, many gave – in a “freewill offering” (that is, without anyone putting the squeeze on anyone) – such an abundance of donated building material that the workers felt overwhelmed by all the stuff piling up around them. So they pleaded with Moses to “restrain” the people from giving any more!
This staggering generosity arose unbidden as an uninhibited expression of thanksgiving for God’s patient perseverance and enduring presence. Going bonkers in showing gratitude struck them, not as inordinate, but as fitting to the inordinate greatness of God’s grace.
That same attitude captured some Christians 1200 years later. The Apostle Paul was raising money to help the needy in Jerusalem. He made a financial appeal to the Greek Christians in a city called Corinth. To inspire them to give, Paul pointed out the example of some fellow Greek Christians in a region called Macedonia (home of Philippi, Thessalonica and Beroea).
The Christians in Macedonia had been enduring “a severe ordeal of affliction”. The Roman overlords had impoverished their region by extracting from it most of its natural wealth, notably its minerals and timber. Worse still, enemies of the faith were harshly persecuting the Christians there. Yet, though no one would expect largesse from those so poverty-stricken, in a miracle of loving liberality, these poor folks “begged” for the privilege to participate in the fundraising effort. Out of their abundant joy over their undeserved, gratuitously given riches in Christ, they desired to deliver to the Jerusalem needy a “wealth of generosity” by sharing sacrificially, “even beyond their means” the Bible says. These poor folks were happy to go without in order to provide for those in grave danger of want. Because they felt so full in Christ, they didn’t worry about suffering deprivation from self-denial for the sake of loving others. They were just eager to show how much they appreciated God’s more-than-enough grace to them!
The Macedonians remind me of an African boy who in loving gratitude brought a missionary a string of fish he’d caught. The missionary marveled for he recognized that the fish came from a far-off lake that could only be reached by crossing thick jungles and daunting terrain. He exclaimed to the boy, “You travelled a long way and with much trouble to get me these delicious fish!” The boy then beamed and exclaimed in return: “Hard walk, part of the gift!” The costs he paid to spoil someone he adored made his tribute to the man all the more potent in doing justice to the love and gratitude he had for someone who’d given him so much.
So too, to do justice to the love and gratitude we have for the God who’s given us so much, we do well – in the stewardship of our money and of our entire life – to put forth what matches our appreciation for what He has put into our heart, relationships and community.
Do you love God enough to spoil Him with an extravagant “Thank you”?