Sermon 2.4.18 Epiphany 4

Pastor Walther / 1 Chronicles 29:10-20 / Joyful and Generous / Epiphany 4 / Feb 4, 2018

    It’s easy to be generous when it costs us nothing. Does that make sense? For example, have you ever dreamed about winning the lottery and thinking what you would do with all that money? In those fantasies, I dream about what fun it would be to give money to St. Paul to help out with our budget, or maybe start a new mission or maybe give to Fox Valley Lutheran High School with their new building project or to Martin Luther College or the Seminary to help train pastors and teachers. I must confess those daydreams kind of make me feel good about myself to think about what I might do if I would possibly have money. But is it joyful generosity if it isn’t real, or if it costs us nothing? Can they cash in an “I’m thinking of you” card?

    When David and his people had the opportunity to raise the money needed for building the temple, they didn’t run away from that opportunity. They didn’t just think about giving, but they welcomed it with joyful generosity. When David made his gift for the building of God’s temple, a temple he would never see but which his son would build, he gave three thousand talents of gold and ten thousand talents of silver. That was 110 tons of gold and 260 tons of silver, about five billion dollars. Some scholars say that David gave his entire personal treasury for the future building of the temple. What motivated David and his people to be so generous? Our text shows us that joyful generosity is gospel driven.   

    You see what is in David’s heart in his beautiful prayer. First, David acknowledges that he isn’t really giving something to the Lord. He is only giving something back. Everything he had belonged to the Lord. God made him king. God made him wealthy. God gave him 110 tons of gold and 260 tons of silver. God gave him all this wealth and David wanted to express his thanksgiving. Giving all this back to God to build God’s house was more rewarding than building another palace, or a seaside resort, or a palace on top of a mountain. 

     David’s heart was responding to God’s grace in his life and so this was more rewarding than the money itself. In our text you hear David ask, “Who am I?” Where would David be without the grace of God? He would still be a shepherd tending the flocks, because the youngest son in the family never really got to be his own boss. He just tended the sheep. Where would David be without the grace of God? He would still be the adulterer who stole Bathsheba from his faithful soldier and he would still be the murderer who put him on the front lines to be killed. Where would David be without the grace of God? Where would David be if God had not sent the prophet, Nathan, to bring him to repentance? David would have lived his life in dark despair and with no hope of heaven. He would have had nothing and he would have been nothing but for the grace of God in his life. He would have come to the end of his life and had no future in sight.

    Where would you be without the grace of God in your life? The answer is that you would be in the same place that millions of people around you are in right now. You would be living your life without any real purpose in life at all, besides maybe to simply exist or survive. You would be trying to be somebody by making a name for yourself. You would be checking your Facebook or instagram every ten minutes to see if someone likes you. You would be looking back on all the mistakes in your life, all the sins you’ve committed, and have no relief for a guilty conscience. You would come to the end of your life, terrified in your soul, because you wouldn’t know what was coming next. Where would we be without God’s grace in our life?  

    Instead God has called us to faith in Jesus and given us a hope we never deserved. Jesus once said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). He has made you to be kings and priests in his kingdom. He has taken away your guilt and your despair. He gives you the joy of being God’s children. He has redeemed you and made you his own. There is nothing that he withholds from you.

    The interesting thing is what Jesus says after that comment to the disciples.  Because he has given us the kingdom, He says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” This goes against the grain of our society who always wants more. But for people like David and Christians like you and me, giving to help others is more rewarding than spending money on yourself. It’s more rewarding to donate to the food pantry than it is to buy a new set of clothes. It’s more rewarding to provide a scholarship to a student than to drive a new car. It’s more rewarding to make sure that missionaries can go to China than it is to take a cruise in the Caribbean. Why? Because the generosity of God’s grace opens a well of joyful generosity in our hearts that will never run dry.  Joyful generosity is a response to God’s generosity of grace, and it always prioritizes the kingdom of God and the spread of the gospel.  

    When it comes to Christian giving, motivation is the most important thing. It’s even more important than how much we give. Did you see that in David’s prayer? Notice that David doesn’t talk about how much the people gave, but why they gave. They gave with integrity, with a single-minded devotion for the gospel. He thanks God for that and prays that God would always keep this desire in their hearts.

    Many years later, Jesus would worship in the temple that King Herod built. This was the same Herod who was killing all the infants in Bethlehem just to try and kill Jesus. He built a magnificent temple that was one of the wonders of the world at the time.  People today still go look at the ruins! You could say outwardly he was a very generous man. But why would he do this? Well, King Herod was actually a very selfish man who only thought about himself and HIS kingdom, not God’s kingdom. Why would he build a temple to the Lord, then? Because he wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people. There was not an ounce of integrity in his heart and his “generosity” was not pleasing to God at all.

    David’s gifts for the temple along with the gifts of God’s people were given willingly and with honest intent. They were given with joy and not for personal gain or personal feelings. In fact, David would never reap the benefits of his generosity in his lifetime. He would never walk into this wonderful new temple, this house of God, and gaze upon its beauty. Yet he wrote a psalm for its dedication (Psalm 33). He even must have imagined what it would be like just to see this wonderful temple when he wrote these words in Psalm 27: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” 

    We are so used to giving to receive something out of the deal. Maybe a thank you. Maybe good feelings. Maybe seeing our money be put to good use. David didn’t get anything. If David was not going to get anything out of the gift that he gave to the Lord, then what was he giving it for? David was providing for the future of his church. David knew that God’s house was going to be a place where the truth of the gospel would be proclaimed for future generations, at least hopefully. He wanted this for his son, Solomon, and prayed that God would keep him devoted fully in his heart to God’s purposes and God’s mission. He wanted a place where people would come from distant lands to learn of the only true and living God. He wanted future generations to come to this temple and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to find comfort in the promise of a Savior.

    Isn’t this why you give to the Lord’s work as well? You see a purpose for your life and the wealth that God has given you that far surpasses self-gratification. Your gifts to our congregation have a kingdom focus. Your gifts support the pastors that visit people when they are dying and comfort them with the gospel. Your gifts support the outreach to our community. Your gifts support our Sunday school, which is a hidden jewel of evangelism at our church. It is often looked over but don’t downplay our Sunday school program. Our Sunday school is one of the best places where children who never grew up as Christians or in a Christian family are learning about Jesus for the first time and studying his Word so they can be strong in their faith.  When our children from our Christian day school here at St. Paul go to Sunday school, they get to actively share their faith with these other children as they grow in God’s word. Your gifts support that incredibly important ministry. Just going to Sunday school supports the ministry. You support the mission efforts of our synod. Did you know that there are over 300 people in different countries around the world who are asking our synod to train them to be pastors?  How do we get the means to do that? Through our offerings!

    We can accomplish so much together for God’s kingdom if this spirit of joyful generosity saturates our hearts, the way it did for David and his people.  Hearing the message of God’s love in God’s Word is what instills that joyful generosity. 

    There was an elderly woman who lived in a nursing home for many years. Her name was Carol. The sale of her family farm had supported her, but eventually even that money ran out. Then one day her church received a check for $500 from her lawyer on her behalf. He explained in the letter that this was the last gift the church would receive from her. He also said, “If you talk to her about this, she may not even know that I have done this, but I know how important her church is to her and that she would want her church to receive the last of her estate.” Even her lawyer knew her priorities and how much joy Carol found in giving to the Lord!

    Joyful generosity is gospel driven. It responds to the generosity of God’s grace and it focuses on the spread of God’s kingdom. Pray that God would give us such a heart! Amen.