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November 10, 2019

Regifting

Preacher:
Passage: 1 Chronicles 29:10-22a
Service Type:

The internet ruined the word “blessed” for me in recent years. Around 2013 on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere, folks started posting happy things with the label #blessed. Sometimes it was genuine gratitude over something important. “Sally is finally cancer free. #blessed.” Or “Our little boy just got his first job. Feeling #blessed.” But in many cases folks used #blessed more to show off than to show gratitude. “Look at my fancy new sportscar. Feeling #blessed!” That was fine. Or it’ll be a photo of a meal to make even Martha Stewart jealous with the descriptor: “Just made this all from scratch. #blessed!” While #blessed can be used for genuine gratitude, in many cases it feels like the person is less interested in thanking God Almighty via Twitter… and more interested in showing off, only they use the notion of blessing as a thin mask of humility over what would otherwise be unabashed bragging. Slowly #blessed became even more overused, with some being #blessed for finding strawberries on sale or #blessed grabbing the last bagel at work. Eventually others got fed up with the blessed trend and retaliated with sarcastic variants. “Woke up alone after a night on the town… but next to a half-eaten bucket of KFC. #blessed.” Or “Forgot to study for midterms, but the teacher got pink eye and canceled class. #blessed.” Again, while I’m sure many blesseds were genuine thanks to God, over the years its overuse slowly smothered the word’s meaning for me, at least online. But the saddest thing was, despite the overuse and the sarcastic backlash… there’s some truth to the idea that literally everything is a #blessing.

The reason I say all that… is that in today’s scripture, I see King David of Israel… counting his blessings. In the story of 1 Chronicles, David wanted to build a Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. But told by God that this task would fall to his son Solomon instead, David throws this big ceremony to set aside funds for Solomon to later use in constructing the Temple, to get all the Israelites on board with this plan, and to worship the Lord. If you notice the big pattern across this entire scene of devoting money, time, and energy to God’s cause, you’ll also notice that at every step David is thanking God for these various blessings. As David himself sums it up: “It is in your hand to make great and give strength to all… For all things come from you, so of your own have we given you today.

Think about what it means for King David to say that at this moment. David is in his prime here. David overthrew King Saul, drove out Israel’s ancient foes, and established a secure and prosperous kingdom. It was David who conquered Jerusalem and made it Israel’s capital. At this moment, David is master over all he surveys. Yet at this high point, David’s ceremony doesn’t glorify himself at all. Instead, David says in this prayer: “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, the majesty… yours is the kingdom… you rule over all.” Normally kings in the ancient world at the height of their reign would use their authority to promote themselves. Some kings extorted priests to declaring them living gods. Other kings built great monuments to themselves. Others staged giant festivals in their own honor. But here David is celebrating the Lord and calling himself lowly. Here David isn’t building a monument to his name but rather sets aside money for someone else to use to build a monument, and even then the project’s glory goes not to David or his dynasty but to God. And here there’s a giant festival, but the center of it isn’t on how great David is but on God. Moments like this were PR goldmines for ancient kings… but David at the top of his game gives up this chance to bolster his own prestige… by instead giving all the glory to God. Why?

At the core of David’s thinking here is the idea of stewardship. In the ancient world, stewards ran the house while the owners were away, much like a house-sitter or babysitter today, only with vastly more power. The purpose of stewards is they held life-and-death power over everything in their domain, just as the master might. But stewards knew one day they’d have to return everything to the rightful owner when the master eventually came back. And so stewards oversaw their domains—whether a single home or an entire kingdom—with wisdom, reverence, and caution, knowing they’d have to account for their actions when their lord returned. David here… is acting like a steward, treating God as his master. David at the height of his power, the peak of his kingdom is essentially saying: “My kingdom? My hoards of treasure? My armies? My glory? These don’t belong to me: I don’t own them. This entire kingdom belongs to you, God. I’m simply blessed to be trusted with it by God for now. But it’s not mine, not truly. So if God wants a Temple to be built using my kingdom’s treasury now or in a few decades… who am I to stand in the way? It’s not my kingdom after all but God’s, and I’m merely looking after the place.” And what’s crazy here is that David’s stewardship posture doesn’t affect only his money but his entire life. David speaks of his upright heart and prays hoping that the commandments and decrees of God stay forever on the mind of the next king, Solomon, and in the hearts of all the people. For David knows that Solomon doesn’t belong to him, the Israelites don’t belong to him, David’s own actions don’t belong to him. They belong to the Lord, and so David offers them all back to God like a baby-sitter handing back the housekeys before leaving.

But there’s a major twist here. When I read scenes like today’s, I confess my eyes often glaze over. When the Bible gets into big building projects—yea cubits by yea cubits, so many oxen sacrificed, this many gems in that crown—it’s easy for me to lose focus. There’s no cool battles, no miracles, no catchy poems, nor even any sagely proverbs. David sets aside some money, prays over the people, and throws a party. The end. At least… that’s what it may seem like at first. Here’s the twist. This story is all about King David talking about how one day someone else will build this Temple, right? But most Bible scholars—both traditionalists and modernists, religious and secular—think 1 and 2 Chronicles were written long after King David, long after the entire kingdom was swallowed up by foreign empires, after all of God’s people were taken prisoner and into exile. The folks who wrote this book down and who first read it… were Jewish refugees returning home at last after generations in exile. They faced the daunting project of rebuilding the kingdom from ruins, of turning Jerusalem from ashes back to a glorious capital, of making a Temple for the Lord Almighty where currently rubble sat. The first readers of this story had little, faced a huge project, and were plain overwhelmed. So all this pageantry, pomp and circumstance that David’s putting on here… was put to paper by and first read by believers trying to recapture that ancient glory… amid the ashes of a fallen kingdom.

And I think that’s the big lesson of our scripture today. Whether we’re King David, celebrating our #blessings at the height of our glory and joy… or whether we’re the exiles who first wrote down and read this scripture, trying to recapture that old spark after generations of exile, oppression, and uncertainty… whether the times are good or bad… we give thanks to God. As David says, whatever we have isn’t exactly ours to keep—you can’t take it with you, after all—but we can cherish all the good things in life as blessings from above, as gifts given to us that we might share them with others in turn, as reminders of God’s love. And that’s the case whether like David we’re swimming in plenty… or like the first compilers and readers of this story we’re just scraping by in scarcity… either way, God gives us the good things we do have. In plenty and in want, in glory and in struggle, the lesson is that all the good things we do have are gifts from above, reminders of God’s love, opportunities for us to rejoice and be grateful even amid a broken and imperfect world. In all these cases, we are stewards of whatever it is God has entrusted us. We are baby-sitters or housekeepers trusted with these blessings until the master returns home again, until Christ comes in true glory. In all these cases and ways, for all these reasons, whether our church is growing and thriving or whether it feels like we’re falling apart at the seams—and every congregation feels that way at times—no matter the circumstances, in every case we respond with gratitude for whatever gifts we do have from God.

Christmas is coming too soon for comfort. I realized that fact last week when folks talked about how the PW craft show is the perfect place to get holiday gifts that feel personal and heartfelt instead of commercial. Not than I’m advertising. And so as I studied this scripture, I realized the stewardship pattern King David is describing here is similar to another age-old holiday tradition: regifting. For those of you who are better people than me, regifting is where you take a present someone else gave you that you don’t really want… and you gift it to someone else! You instantly gotten rid of some junk, and you now have one less gift to shop for! In a similar but far kinder way, you can compare David’s prayer to regifting: in stewardship, in our offerings, in our giving of our time and skills to help those in need… in a sense we’re regifting. Because we take the skills, the abilities, the resources God has given us… and give them to other people… or turn around and give them back to God. And this cycle of giving back and forth—initiated by God and imitated by us—is central to the lifestyle of faith, when it comes to your pledge cards, sure… but also when it comes to visiting folks in hospitals… or to being patient when you’d rather tell someone off… or sharing the faith with neighbors or friends who are struggling. We do all these good things… because God has been so good to us first. We regift that goodness and love… as a way of passing it on to others. Because as David himself says to God here, “of your own we now give to you.” Or as our own Heidelberg Catechism states: “We are not our own but belong—body and soul, in life and death—to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” Belonging to Jesus is a statement of our soul’s salvation, yes, but it’s also a statement of ethics, of how we receive our daily lives—in both joy and sorrow—as gifts from God. So it is with every gift or kind deed: we draw upon the wellspring of love God has for us, share it with others, and so advance God’s kingdom’s cause. Praise God for that gift too. Amen.

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