Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sermon: 1 Chronicles 29: 1-20

It’s a momentous day in the nation’s history. An important time in the life of the country. It has been anticipated for so long; preparations have been made. Crowds have gathered in the capital for a great celebration. It’s a day that will never be forgotten.

You might think I’m talking about the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, this very weekend. It’s right and proper to celebrate her long reign over us, and to give thanks to God for his faithfulness for sixty years of the Queen ruling. But I’m actually thinking about the circumstances surrounding our first reading, from 1 Chronicles.

It’s a book you might not be so familiar with, coming near the end of the Old Testament history section. 1 & 2 Chronicles are a history lesson for the exiles returning from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem. The two books tell the story of how they got into the mess in the first place - how the kingdom of Israel was established, how promising everything looked, and how it all withered and fell away, starting with the reign of Solomon and the other kings.

Our reading, though, comes at the end of David’s life and reign. David has been king for forty years, finally in the city of Jerusalem. He lives in a palace, but the ark of the covenant (the symbol of God’s presence among his people) still stays in the tabernacle - the tent it travelled through the wilderness with the children of Israel after they came out of Egypt and journeyed to the promised land.

David wanted to build the temple - the stone building where Gods presence would rest in the heart of the city - but God said no, that Solomon would build it. So David has made the plans, the directions for building the temple are completed, and David gathers the whole nation together for a Gift Day.

It might be useful to have the chapter open in front of you, to follow the action. Firstly, David gives his gift to the temple: gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, onyx and precious stones, and marble. The King takes the lead in giving such treasure to the work of the Lord’s house. He’s not like a back seat driver, telling others how to do it but not doing it himself - he takes the lead, he shows that he is in control of his money (not the other way round!), and so he shows his wallet who is boss.

It’s then that he can issue the challenge, as he asks the people of God: ‘Who then will offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the Lord?’ (5) It’s not a compulsory thing; it’s an invitation, to willingly offer gifts to the Lord. The people respond in generosity, with more gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and precious stones.

Do you see their reaction in verse 9? ‘Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with single mind they had offered freely to the LORD; King David also rejoiced greatly.’ There is joy as we give to the Lord’s work, it leads to rejoicing. Let’s hope that it is with joy that we also come to give our offering this Gift Day.

You see, we’re still giving to the work of the Lord, to the building of the temple. There is now no physical temple, no building we can point to as our temple. The temple is being built in us and all around us - just as we’ve been learning from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: ‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.’ (Eph 2:19-22)

Occasionally on my travels, I come across a church where there’s some renovations happening. Several months ago, I had discovered Boho church (Bo ho as I thought), where they were building an extension. At the gate, there was the warning sign showing the need for a hard hat, because the place was a building site. In a sense, every church needs a sign like that, reminding us that we’re still a work in progress, there’s more to be done, we’re in the building trade, building the Lord’s dwelling, the Lord’s temple.

Our gifts today will go towards the building work of the Lord. May they be offered willingly and cause rejoicing, as we see progress in the Lord’s work.

The thing about Gift Days, though, is that we can become fixated with the amount raised - whether it’s more than last year; whether it’s enough. Just in case we’re tempted to fall into that way of thinking, David helps us get our focus back to where it really matters - not on the gift, but on the gracious giver of all gifts. He does this by his powerful prayer, using some words that might just be familiar: ‘Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours... For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.’

It’s not that we’re so great or good or generous. Rather, David celebrates that God owns all things, and graciously gives us everything that we have. So whatever we have already belongs to God - we are just stewards of it - so it’s only right that we use it to honour God, and give to him.

It’s a bit like the boy who can buy mummy a birthday present because mummy has already given him his pocket money. We can only give because God has first given to us. It’s the very essence of grace - God gives us what we don’t deserve; it calls for us to willingly respond with praise and thanksgiving.

You see, David’s gift that day wasn’t his way of saying “right God, I’ve bought your favour now, you’ll have to do what I want.” We can’t buy God; we can’t pay our way to heaven. Instead, the God of grace makes the first move. He gives us life and strength and every good gift. He sent the Lord Jesus into the world to die for our sins on the cross, to clear the way to welcome us home, to bring us into his cosmic temple building project. He gives us the gift of faith to receive his promises and believe them.

The giver of all things doesn’t need our money; but he graciously invites us to give to his work. The Lord of all wants us to respond with joy, by giving not just our money, but by giving up our lives as living sacrifices, giving all of us for his work, for his praise and glory.

It was an important day in the nation’s history. David and the people celebrated the gifts given that day to build the Jerusalem temple. During Solomon’s reign, the temple was built, and people came to hear the wisdom of Jerusalem’s King. Eventually, though, that temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The returning exiles tried again, but with less success.

The temple of the Lord is being built here and now, and across the world, as men and women, boys and girls hear the good news about Jesus and are added to the temple, the Lord’s dwelling. This temple will never be destroyed. You’re invited to be part of this great building project - will you receive God’s grace, and then give your all? Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on the parish's Gift Day, on 3rd June 2012.

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