Exodus 35:4-10, 20-21; 39:43

September 23, 2001


Terry L. Brensinger, Ph.D., Pastor, The Grantham Church

I must have been in 2nd or 3rd grade on the day in question. My parents were returning from a night away, and they had asked if we–my sister, brother and I–could have supper ready when they arrived. Did we ever make supper. We planned more courses than I could count at that time–appetizers, salads, bread, vegetables, potatoes, meat, and, as you might very well imagine, a vast assortment of desserts. We spent the entire day cooking that meal and beautifully setting the table. Then, when we heard mom and dad opening the front door, Carol, Barry and I hid behind the sofa and chairs with an escalating sense of anticipation. We knew that mom and dad expected grilled cheese sandwiches or worse. Swept away by the possibilities and excitement of the occasion, we had prepared a banquet instead.

Here in Exodus 35-39, the Israelites face a God-given task. They have been living in the desert since their departure from Egypt, and they are at this point asked to involve themselves in God’s work. He, after all, has delivered them, protected them, fed them, and welcomed them. Now, its their turn: “Build the tabernacle, ark of the covenant, and all of the furnishings.” They are instructed, if you will, to build a portable “church” around which and in which they could worship the Lord. Note how they respond to the task.

First, those who participated in the project did so on a voluntary basis. Seven times in chapters 35 and 36 we are told that people freely chose to contribute. All those whose hearts were willing. All those whose spirits were stirred. These are the ones who did the work. There is no hint anywhere in the story of coercion–no gimmicks, no carrots, no threats, no subliminal manipulation. These people participated because they wanted to. They were caught up in the excitement and anticipation of the project and joined the team.

Secondly, the participants contributed to the project in a wide variety of ways. Many, for example, brought an assortment of materials–they offered their resources. Some donated valuable metals like gold and silver. Others brought leather and linens. Still others gave oil, spices, incense, wood and precious stones. People gave their material goods to further the task facing the community. Some of the goods were extremely costly. Others less so. There was something for everyone to bring, everyone, that is, “whose heart was willing.”

In addition to resources, the people of Israel offered their talents–literally, “all who are wise of heart” came and did the work. People contributed their skills. Some, including Bezalel and Oholiab, supervised the project. They were experienced and capable leaders, and every project needs people with such qualifications. Others spun fabric, crafted metal, cut stones, and fashioned wood. Skilled left-brained Israelites helped make precise and tedious measurements. Right-brained Israelites handled such tasks as embroidering materials and devising artistic designs. Some of the jobs were no doubt exciting–crafting the cherubim out of hammered gold, or making the breastplates that the priests wore. Other jobs must have been rather mundane, or to borrow a term so popular among our teenagers, boring. Cutting hundreds of wooden pegs to hold the tabernacle together. Preparing loops of material to attach to the curtains. Why, common sense requires us to imagine an even wider variety of less noteworthy tasks that, though unmentioned in the text, must have been done. Some people probably prepared food for the workers. Materials needed to be transported. And clean up? Just picture the saw dust blowing in every direction. There were jobs to do, and everyone “whose heart was stirred” volunteered.

Resources. Skills. And time. I do not pretend to know precisely how long the job took, but completing this assignment required a time commitment. If you go through the exhilarating and uplifting task of examining dates in the books of Exodus and Numbers, you discover that the Israelites spent several months working on this project. Planning, preparing, performing. Everyone “whose heart was willing, whose spirit was stirred,” volunteered their time.

Finally, in addition to contributing their resources, skills, and time voluntarily, the Israelites did so generously. They gave liberally. The scene described in 36:2-7 is nearly impossible to grasp. The people “whose hearts were stirred” began bringing their gifts, and they did so each morning. Before long, the materials–some very costly–started to pile up. Much more was gathered than the project required! Soon, the people were instructed to stop bringing their offerings. In fact, a sense of enthusiasm and ownership for the project so overwhelmed the people that, like rushing water held back by a dam, they had to be restrained from bringing their gifts. There simply was no place to put everything.

The Israelites faced a God-given task. In response, they shared their resources, their skills, and their time. And they did so, willingly and generously. And notice how this particular story ends: The Israelites had done all of the work just as the Lord had commanded Moses. When Moses saw that they had done all the work just as the Lord had commanded, he blessed them. (39:42-43) A God-given task. A supportive response. A blessing.

We at the Grantham Church have a God-given task as well. It’s a task that we have been thinking about together, and will continue to think about well into the future. In short, God has invited us to establish further his kingdom in this community. To build, not a wooden tabernacle and ark ornamented with gold and precious stones, but a temple of flesh and bone inhabited by God’s spirit. That’s why I am here. I didn’t simply grow tired of teaching, nor did anyone at the college force me to leave. I am here because of a sense of God’s calling, a passion to help this congregation fulfill its purposes. For that to happen, your supportive response is needed.

To begin with, I hope and pray that many of you will serve willingly and voluntarily–“all of those whose hearts are stirred.” For the Israelites, the plans for their assignment were spelled out, and the needs made known. People didn’t just arbitrarily bring whatever they wanted, nor did they design and build the tabernacle according to their own personal preferences. There were specific things that needed to be done, and the community was made aware of them. When confronted with the needs, people willingly responded.

That’s precisely how I envision our work here together at the Grantham Church. We have a God-given job, and there are plenty of things to do. As those become known, I pray that more and more of your hearts will be stirred within you. I hope you will have a sense of excitement and anticipation that moves you into new areas of ministry yourselves. No manipulation. No coercion. Instead, a God-given passion to volunteer, to get involved.

Secondly, as God moves among us, I hope to see a congregation that increasingly shares its resources, skills and time. To be sure, many of you already are doing that, and I am thankful. But as our sense of purpose and mission develops, new opportunities will also emerge.

We’ll need willing people to share their resources. It takes material gifts to carry on and expand our work here at the church. Some of those funds, of course, go to cover the maintenance and expenses associated with this facility. We have a building, just like we individually own houses, and our facility needs to be heated, painted, and cleaned. But the overwhelming majority of the material gifts that come into the Grantham Church go to purposes far beyond maintaining these bricks. Internally, we provide a wide range of ministries that address the needs of all ages–children, teens, young adults, mid-lifers and senior citizens. These ministries require personnel and supplies. We carry on an extensive deacon ministry. If someone here has a tangible need, we want to step in and meet it whenever possible. We want to care for each other, and that often requires the sharing of our resources.
Our calling, however, involves us in ministries beyond ourselves. Money given to the Grantham Church supports our clubs program, which seeks in part to welcome children from the wider community into our midst. We help fund the planting of new churches, whether nearby in Cumberland County, or far away in Atlanta or Miami. We directly support leadership training programs that identify potential pastors and help them cover the costs of a seminary education. I myself benefitted from such a program, and so did others of you. We support missionaries around the world, and help struggling churches regain their health. We give to New Hope Ministries and similar organizations who help meet the needs of the poor and the homeless. We even are prepared to reach out on the spur of the moment to destitute people who happen to walk through our doors.

Just a few weeks ago, a complete stranger named Jim walked into my office. He told me his story, a story that left him virtually penniless but eager to move on. He asked if I might feed him and provide a few nights lodging to help him get his feet back on the ground. After talking with him for quite a while and making a few phone calls–we don’t spend your offerings carelessly–I took him out for dinner and secured a room for him. Jim, by the way, came back a week later. He’d found work, and he enthusiastically gave me a picture that’s at least for now in my office. Your gifts enabled me to help this lonely man, and to share the Gospel of Christ with him in both verbal and tangible ways.

There are of course a lot of demands on all of our individual resources. People everywhere are asking for our support. Let me share a simple principle that has served my family well over the years. I agree with John Wesley, who once said that he didn’t believe in tithing. Wesley reasoned that tithing originated in the Old Testament and was for Jews. In the New Testament, the question is not “How much should I give to God?,” but rather “How much can I rightly keep for myself?” Generosity, not law, is the guiding force. The principle I learned long ago is this. I give no less than 10% of what I earn to my local church. My family and I attend here and benefit from the ministries that this church provides. We are warmed by our furnaces and cooled by our air conditioners. We use the paper towels in these restrooms, and we believe in this congregation’s mission. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel–we’ll support the same missionaries and participate in our common outreach ministries. We want to offer our resources to this church. After sharing this 10% with our local church, we give to a wide variety of people outside the church–a student on a short-term service project, a family in crisis, or a para-church ministry that we believe in. We want, in principle, to contribute more and more as our means allow. Again, generosity, not law, is the guiding force.

As the Grantham Church carries out its God-given task, we need people to contribute their resources willingly. No one here is trying to get rich. We’re not stock-piling large amounts of funds. We are simply trying faithfully to carry out the work that God has called us to do.

In addition to resources, we’ll need people to volunteer their skills. The range of jobs here at the church is wide, and the skills needed are diverse. Some of the jobs are more exciting and visible than others, and some require specific competencies. All, however, are vitally important to the ongoing work of this congregation. We need people to lead small groups and commissions, direct choirs, teach classes, read Scripture, prepare food, mow grass, trim bushes, visit the sick, stuff mail boxes, write letters, chaperone youth group trips, and on and on. At this very moment, we need a person to serve as coordinator of pre-school Sunday School and others to help with Children’s Church on a rotating basis. There are many roles in a church like this, and there is an important job for everyone.

Two things in particular trouble me this morning with respect to the sharing of our skills. First, the Grantham Church has a history of trying to do things well, and that’s generally commendable. I’m concerned, however, if our desire to do things well leads to a sense of professionalism that prevents numbers of you from getting involved. “I can’t possibly teach a class in a church attended by so many college professors. I can’t play the piano nearly as good as so and so.” I don’t want you to be someone else, and I don’t want any of you to fear making a mistake. Bring your skills, your talents, whatever they might be, and join in the work.

Further, please don’t expect the staff and leaders of this congregation to always know exactly what your gifts and interests are. We are working at that, and I believe that one of our primary jobs as leaders of the congregation involves discerning the various gifts that many of you have and using them wisely. However, when “your hearts are willing and your spirit stirred,” let us know. Come forward. Don’t always wait to be asked, as nice as it might be to be asked. There have been occasions here when staff people have spent countless hours trying to recruit people for positions that have been announced to the congregation multiple times. Finally, after asking several people to fill the role, someone responds, “I’d love to do that!” If your heart is willing, let that willingness be made known.
Beyond offering resources and skills, when the hearts of God’s people are stirred, they willingly offer their time. Time is a precious commodity, perhaps even more so than money for some of us. We never seem to have quite enough of it. Responsibilities at work, activities at school, and demands at home. Everyone and everything constantly clamors for our time. As Kevin Jenkins comments:

This is the age of the half-read page, the
quick hash and the mad dash, the
bright lights with the nerves tight. The
plane’s hot with a brief stop. The lamp
tan in a brief span. The big shot is a good
spot and the brain strain and the heart
pain, and the catnaps and the spring snaps
and the fun’s done.

No margins. No space. No time.

This is one area, I think, where we need to be particularly careful. Serving the Lord and building his church takes time. Don’t schedule yourselves so thin that your involvement in the church is relegated to the cracks and crevices. If this congregation is to be your family, and if our work together is to be done, it will take time and commitment. For some of us, that will require making hard choices, and it might involve helping our children to learn to make those same choices. They don’t have to be involved in everything–don’t pass on the same hyperactivity that many of us struggle with. When your heart is stirred, be sure that there is time with which to respond.

God’s people join in his work willingly. They share their resources, skills and time. Finally, when the hearts of people are stirred, they respond generously. Can you imagine a repeat of the scene described in Exodus 36:2-7? People bringing their gifts so liberally and with such enthusiasm that the leaders instruct them to slow down! The ushers stopping half-way back the aisles. Pastors and commission leaders saying to someone: “You simply cannot do one more thing here at the church. You are involved enough already.” Actually I have had to say that to a few people and should say it to a few more! People generously contributing to the work of the Lord, not out of guilt or because of coercion, but out of passion. Joining the team. Sensing personal ownership for the task. Embracing the mission.

That was quite a meal that Carol, Barry and I prepared for my mom and dad all those years ago. I still remember the pies and would love a slice of one right now. We faced a task and threw ourselves into it. We walked to Clauser’s Market and bought some of the ingredients with our own money. We pooled our skills, even though I had few to offer back then. And we gave our time–an entire Saturday, our free day!!–to do the job. But I’ll never forget the expression on my parents’ faces when they walked through the door. Carol, Barry and I were blessed.