"So, Moses gave a command, and the word was proclaimed throughout the camp: 'No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.' So, the people were restrained from bringing, for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work." (Exodus 36:6-7, NRSV)
The Children of Israel were fleeing captivity in Egypt for the Promised Land. They needed a reminder of God's presence throughout the long journey toward their new home. God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle for God to inhabit. This portable tent-like structure would be a constant presence wherever they set up camp as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The story of its construction is a lesson in what it means to be a generous community.
God gave Moses the specifications for the tabernacle, and the work was to begin. What happened next was amazing. First, the most skilled artisans volunteered to do the construction. This contribution was a sacrifice as it took the craftsmen away from the work that earned them a living. Then all the people freely offered gold, silver, brass, furs, and jewels—items plundered as they fled Pharaoh's oppression in Egypt. But it wasn't just a one-time offering. They continued to give. Every day they brought more material to the artisans and craftsmen who were constructing the tabernacle.
As a result, the artisans told Moses they had a problem. There was no way they could use all the gifts brought for the project because of the amount. I have some observations about this story:
The motivation to give came from grateful hearts. God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and gratitude filled their hearts for this gracious intervention.
These were freewill offerings—that is, offerings not given "reluctantly or under compulsion," as described in 2 Corinthians 9:7.
The quality of the gifts represented the very best the people had to give. Only the finest materials would suffice for the tabernacle—God's dwelling!
The amount the people gave was overwhelming. As people discovered the joy of being a part of something bigger than themselves, they couldn't help but share as much as possible!
As we continue to develop the disciplines of generosity here at First United Methodist Church, these observations will help us evaluate our progress. Does gratitude to God motivate our giving? Are our offerings freely and joyfully given? Do we offer our very best? Do we give regularly and generously? Creating a culture of generosity is only possible through willing participation from you and me!