Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Today is the fourth week of our stewardship series titled “Managing God’s Gifts.”  This week our focus is “Managing God’s Gift of Money.”  I realize, of course, that any talk of money can be a dreaded topic for preacher and hearers alike.  However, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it.  The Bible says that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7, ESV).[1]  The Greek word for “cheerful” is hilaron, from which we derive the English word “hilarious.”  God loves a hilarious giver!  Because of how gracious he is, God also loves a grumpy giver, but God doesn’t want you to be grumpy.

So what does a cheerful giver look like?  Well, we have a beautiful example of that in our Old Testament lesson today.  God gave the prophet Moses instructions to build the Tabernacle, which was a big, beautiful tent for worshiping the Lord.  Think of it as a portable church with everything necessary for the Lord’s divine service: an altar for animal sacrifices, an altar for incense, lampstands, a bathing pool for ritual cleansing, two heavy curtains, the Ark of the Covenant, and vestments for the priests.  Everything was supposed to be made out of gold, silver, bronze, colored thread, and precious gems.  It was quite an expensive undertaking.  But God was worth it!  The Tabernacle would be the meeting place between heaven and earth, where God’s people could come to worship him and receive the forgiveness of sins.

But how were they going to pay for it all and do it all?  God had a plan.  He commanded Moses to ask the people for a freewill offering, and he filled several artists and skilled craftsmen with the Holy Spirit, so they could work the intricate designs and massive metallurgy.  And do you know what happened?  It worked!

God moved the people’s hearts, and they gave God their best.  They donated their jewelry—necklaces, earrings, rings, and arm bands—to be melted down for the gold.  They gave their finest wool and yarn for the weaving of the curtain.  “And they came, everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments” (Ex. 35:21).  They gave so much that Moses actually had to beg the people to STOP giving because the workers had more than enough to finish the work!  Did you catch what I said?  MOSES HAD TO TELL THE PEOPLE TO STOP GIVING!

Can you imagine how wonderful it would be if the pastor of a congregation had to beg his people to stop giving?  The video would go viral on YouTube!  As it is, many pastors and church treasurers have to do an annual song and dance about how giving is down and the church has to cut back its programs and ministries.  Wouldn’t it be better if we had so many offerings, we didn’t know what to do with it?!  Imagine the kind of ministry and mission impact we could have on our community in a situation like that.  Imagine the souls saved and lives changed!

What made the Israelites so generous?  What motivated them to give and to give and to keep on giving?  Well, it’s very simple actually: God’s amazing grace.  You see, the children of Israel were stubborn sinners like us.  Moses’ repeatedly called them a “stiff-necked people” (Ex. 32:9; 33:3-9).  Despite everything God did for them—rescuing them from slavery, punishing Egypt with the Ten Plagues, splitting the waters of the Red Sea so they could cross on dry land, giving them water from the rock and the miraculous manna (bread from heaven)—the Israelites kept on complaining, doubting, and worshiping idols.

In fact, while Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and God’s instructions for building the Tabernacle (the special tent for holding church services), the people of Israel were down below worshiping a golden calf with dancing and orgies (Exodus 32).  Even Moses’ brother Aaron got in on the action, taking up a collection of earrings to melt down and fashion the hideous idol.

When Moses came down the mountain, he was so furious that he threw down the stone tablets and broke the Ten Commandments.  Then he ground down the golden calf into powder and made the people drink it, tasting the bitterness of their sins.

As you might well imagine, God was angry too.  After everything he did for Israel—“I am the LORD your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2)—they couldn’t even keep the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).  As a result, the LORD threatened to wipe out the entire nation—to kill them in the desert and put an end to their idolatry right then and there!  But Moses stepped into the breach and prayed that God would forgive them instead (Ps. 106:23).  So God turned away his anger and had mercy on them (Exodus 33-34).

So because of God’s amazing grace, they demonstrated amazing generosity when the time came for a do over.  This time, instead of taking up a collection for a golden calf, Moses gathered an offering for the LORD.  And the Holy Spirit moved their hearts to give above and beyond what was needed.  Because of God’s grace, the entire nation was full of hilarious givers.

God desires the same thing of you and me.  He has rescued us from sin, death, and the power of the evil.  He has freed us from slavery to sin.  And he has given us the greatest gift of all: his Son Jesus.  So now “each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

God loves a cheerful giver.  However, who was the most cheerful giver of all?  The Lord Jesus Christ!  Over and over again the Bible speaks of his humility and generosity.  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).  Christ was rich, but he became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich, not in money, but in grace.  In the most famous passage on Christ’s humility, Philippians 2, Paul writes:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:5-11).

Jesus gave up everything for you and your salvation.  He made himself nothing!

Now he asks what we are willing to give in return.  “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12).  That is, “How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?” (Ps. 116:12, NIV).  Strictly speaking, you can’t.  You will never be able to repay God because you can’t out-give God.  He is the heavenly Father who delights in giving his children good gifts, especially the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Everything we “have” comes from God and really belongs to him (Jas. 1:17).  “The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (Ps. 95:5).

To be quite frank, God doesn’t need your money.  It’s already his.  We are not owners.  We are managers—stewards—of God’s money.  As a good manager, God wants you to give to his mission because your neighbor needs to hear the Gospel.  And God wants you to give to the kingdom work of the local Church because you need it.  You need to to hear the Good News that Jesus died for your sins and rose again to give you eternal life.  And you need to step out in faith and demonstrate that you are not addicted to money, that you truly “fear, love and trust in God above all things” (SC, 1st Commandment).  Giving an offering to the Lord is an act of worship, an demonstration of faith, a way to show that you have decided to serve God and not money (Luke 16:13).  No wonder, then, that Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Being a cheerful giver isn’t about a dollar amount or even a percentage.  Being a cheerful giver is about faith and trust that God is good enough and big enough to take care of your needs if you give him your first and best—and not just the leftovers.

Remember that when you put something in the offering plate or donate online at our secure website, you’re not just giving to the Church.  You’re giving to God.  You’re giving to his mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and help people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.  You’re not just paying to keep the lights on.  You’re support the ministry of Word and Sacrament so that the Word is preached and souls are saved.  Your prayers and offerings help us to baptize people, teach the faith, reach out to our community with the love of Jesus, and ensure that Epiphany is here for future generations of believers.  You simply cannot put a price tag on that.

God loves a cheerful giver.  When you look in the mirror, do you see a cheerful giver?  When God looks at your heart, does he see a cheerful giver?  I cannot answer that question for you.  Only you can answer that question honestly in prayer.

Here’s what I do know: God is the ultimate, most cheerful giver.  “For God so loved the world, he gave…”  “For God so loved the world, he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NAS).  Jesus emptied himself and gave everything for you—even his life on the cross.  Now what will you give to him?  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of T the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.