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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                               Sermon # 1190

November 16, 2014 - Stewardship Sunday                                        Exodus 36:1-7

Dr. Ed Pettus                                                                                      Mark 6:30-44

 

“God’s Abundant Provision”

 

The Bible is filled with stories of God’s abundant provision.  These two stories, from Exodus and Mark, signify two different means by which God provides.  Let’s start with Exodus where Moses is calling on the people to bring a variety of goods to assist in building the tabernacle.  I don’t know of any other passage of scripture where the leader says, "don't bring any more gifts."  Acts records that the early church did have enough for everyone, even more than the disciples could manage by themselves, but they never said, "Stop, that's enough!"  I don't know of any church or denomination in the history of the church that has said, "We have enough."    I cannot imagine Pat Robertson coming on TV and telling 700 Club members not to give for the next year.  I cannot imagine any Presbyterian denomination saying, "We have so much money we don't need your per capita giving for next year."

It makes you wonder what in the world did Moses do to get such a response from God’s people.  Was Moses a great motivational speaker?  Did he have some sure fire stewardship sermon that no one could resist? 

The first thing he did was to get everybody together and he said, "These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do."  Is that all I or the session have to do is get up in front of the church and say, "Here is what God commands, now do it?"  What he tells them is to work six days then honor the Sabbath on the seventh. 

In Exodus 35:2 he reminds them of the commandments,

of the Sabbath command,

of the six days of creation,

of the work and rest commanded by God. 

 

Then he says, "Take from among you an offering to the Lord; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and fine leather; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece." (Exodus 35:5-9).   Take all of that and build the tabernacle.  And that is what they did! 

 

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. (Exodus 35:20-29)

 

If it were commanded today it might sound like this: Go home and bring back your checkbook, your computer, your jewelry, your car, your TV, your DVD player, and bring your talents, your energy, your time, your gifts, your faithfulness, your obedience, your life -- bring it all to God, for the glory of God.  What is amazing about all of this in Exodus is the source of it all – it is God who provides.  In Exodus 36:2 we read, “the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work.”  The Lord is the source of the skills and he is the one who stirs our hearts.  I believe that entire verse and this entire story is rooted in the providence of God who gives skills and resources and stirs hearts. 

 

It is the Lord who brings the word, who moves the heart, who stirs the commitment, who gives the gifts and the skills, who makes the spirit willing, who provides the need, who grants the grace, who forgives the sin, who loves the undeserving, who delivers, who commands, who leads, who heals.  We are the ones whom God addresses and summons to come in generosity and we are called to make a decision about our life of stewardship.  This is the understanding Peter has in 1 Peter 4,

“The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (vs. 7-11).

 

God has given the gifts that we have received and he gives the strength we need all so that God may be glorified.  In Peter’s exhortation we are called to love one another, be hospitable, and manage the manifold grace of God.  That manifold grace includes our service, our words, and everything we have received.  This is why it is so important for us to practice good stewardship, because everything we have, from the smallest possession to our very lives, are gifts from God.  We can pray that our hearts might be stirred and moved in such a way that evokes a renewed commitment. 

Can we imagine a Church where so much is shared with and in the Church that there is too much, leftovers, more money than we can use, more servants than we can find work to do, more mission, enough helpers, a place where there might first be very little to work with, but when God gets done with us there is more than we could imagine.

 

It is possible.  It is possible because we see great possibilities in our next story. The disciples had been busy going out to witness and minister, and when they returned they were telling Jesus all the exploits of their journey.  Jesus immediately invites them to rest from their labor.  They retreat to a deserted place where they might rest, but they cannot get away from the crowds.  Many of the people saw them and by the time they got to the deserted place it was no longer deserted.  The crowd had gathered. 

 

Jesus sees the crowd and has compassion for them.  Compassion leads to teaching them many things.  Compassion will always lead to acts of ministry and care.  Sometimes retreats get interrupted by more important matters, by deeper needs, by those needing a shepherd.  An already wearied group of disciples must have been exhausted by the time they tell Jesus to send the people away.  “Send them away so they may go into the surrounding villages and buy something to eat” (Mark 6:36). 

 

Jesus has just spent the better part of the day teaching this crowd, feeding a different kind of hunger.  There is hunger and there is food, both the literal fish and loaves and metaphorical wisdom and bread, these images dominant this story.  We might interpret how those images are treated in two possible ways -- one as an assumption of scarcity and another as an assumption of abundance.  Jesus’ words are eaten by a people hungry for truth.  Truth is rare in the world.  In Jesus there is an abundance of compassion and truth.  We know this because Jesus is the Truth.  The people lived in a world of scarcity, both in truth and in food.  This is the concern for our lives as well; do we live from a perspective of scarcity in the world or from a perspective of abundance in God’s kingdom? 

 

Too often we assume there is not enough.  We must compete to get our share and worse, someone else's share as well, because we earned it or we are entitled to it or we deserve it.  This is certainly a message we receive from the world.  But, in God’s economy, there is abundance.  In abundance we do not have an attitude of entitlement, but one of compassion that leads to truth and feasting.  There is, in God’s kingdom, always enough and then some, cups that overflow.  

 

Now, we cannot deny the realities that sometimes things run out; sometimes businesses close; sometimes it’s over.  But that is not how we should come into any situation.  Believers are able to have an attitude supported by the God of abundant resources and power.  The disciples act out of an assumption of scarcity.   They want Jesus to send the people away so they may buy food.  In a system of scarcity, only those with the capacity to buy can eat.  I think we are fed an assumption of scarcity every day through many sources but one in particular is advertising.  Advertisers work on the assumption that we live in scarcity.  We need more and we need their product and we need it now.  Messages are no longer about how good a product might be, but mostly about how terrible our life is without a car that will bring us joy or a drink that will calm our souls. 

Jesus operates out of an assumption of abundance and so orders the disciples, "you give them something to eat."  While the disciples want to put all the responsibility for finding food on the crowd, Jesus puts it back on the disciples.  And instead of buying food, Jesus tells the disciples to give them something to eat. 

            The disciples do not learn very quickly and think that they have to find money to buy food.  So Jesus says, “How many loaves do you have?”  This is the simple task of seeing what is already available.  There are five loaves and two fish.  Is that not scarcity in the presence of five thousand hungry people?   Of course, the disciples think so.  Jesus takes what little they have and uses four key verbs: he took, he blessed, he broke, and he gave.  This is the language of sacrament.  It is the language that feeds spiritually and, in this case, physically as well.  The story leaves a lot of wonder for us.  We start with five loaves and two fish and we end with twelve baskets of food.  We started with fear in scarcity and ended with the witness of abundance.  God is good. 

 

            In both of our stories God has given out of his abundance.  He gives skills, he stirs hearts, he gives truth, and he provides food.  We might not think we have enough.  We might struggle with our own attitudes of scarcity.  I know about fixed incomes; I know about joints that don’t move like they used to.  I know about doing all we can.  I know that times are difficult and we are not getting any younger.  But what I also know is that God is still God and God works in mysterious ways that can lead to something miraculous in his will and in his grace.  I know and we know that God’s abundant provision enables us to work and minister from an attitude of abundance. 

            In the end, we are able to live from an attitude of abundance because Christ has given the fullness of life through his death and resurrection.   In Christ we have the fullness of God given in Exodus 36 and Mark 6 and all over the Bible and all over our church and lives and world.  In Jesus Christ there is more than enough.  In Jesus Christ we have a great promise – the promise of God’s abundant provision.  Let us continue to live in that abundance – faithfully and obediently – to the glory of God.  Amen.