Exodus 35:1-29 – Real Worship Isn’t Boring

Gathering to Build the Temple by Yoram Raanan

Moses gathered together the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do:

Do your work for six days, but the seventh day should be holy to you, a Sabbath of complete rest for the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath will be put to death. Don’t start a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath day.

Moses said to the whole Israelite community, This is what the Lord has commanded: Collect gift offerings for the Lord from all of you. Whoever freely wants to give should bring the Lord’s gift offerings: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and deep red yarns; fine linen; goats’ hair; rams’ skins dyed red; beaded leather; acacia wood; the oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet-smelling incense; gemstones; and gems for setting in the priest’s vest and in the priest’s chest pendant.

All of you who are skilled in crafts should come forward and make everything that the Lord has commanded: the dwelling, its tent and its covering, its clasps, its boards, its bars, its posts, and its bases, the chest with its poles and its cover, the veil for a screen, the table with its poles and all its equipment, the bread of the presence, the lampstand for light with its equipment and its lamps, the oil for the light, the incense altar with its poles, the anointing oil and the sweet-smelling incense, the entrance screen for the dwelling’s entrance, the altar for entirely burned offerings with its copper grate, its poles, and all its equipment, the washbasin with its stand, the courtyard’s drapes, its posts, and its bases, and the screen for the courtyard gate, the dwelling’s tent pegs and the courtyard’s tent pegs, and their cords, the woven clothing for ministering in the sanctuary, and the holy clothes for Aaron the priest and his sons for their service as priests.

The whole Israelite community left Moses. Everyone who was excited and eager to participate brought the Lord’s gift offerings to be used for building the meeting tent and all its furnishings and for the holy clothes. Both men and women came forward. Everyone who was eager to participate brought pins, earrings, rings, and necklaces, all sorts of gold objects. Everyone raised an uplifted offering of gold to the Lord. And everyone who had blue or purple or deep red yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or rams’ skins dyed red or beaded leather brought them. Everyone who could make a gift offering of silver or copper brought it as the Lord’s gift offering. Everyone who had acacia wood that could be used in any kind of building work brought it. All the skilled women spun cloth with their hands and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and deep red yarns and fine linen. All the women who were eager to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. The chiefs brought gemstones and gems to be set in the priest’s vest and the chest pendant, spices and oil for light and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet-smelling incense. All the Israelite men and women who were eager to contribute something for the work that the Lord had commanded Moses to do brought it as a spontaneous gift to the Lord. (Common English Bible)

At first glance, today’s Old Testament lesson might seem a bit tedious, perhaps even boring. After all, being informed of all the details on the furnishings for building the tabernacle (the Ark of the Covenant, the utensils for worship and sacrifice, and the tent that houses it all) appears like some ancient engineer wrote it. It’s just downright laborious. 

But that’s the point. It took a great deal of planning, effort, and commitment to realize it all. Although Moses received the instructions and revelation from God on the mountain, he still had to communicate it to the people and solicit their help.

There is a wonderful synergy here, between God and the people, a kind of divine/human cooperative, a spiritual rhythm of revelation and response. 

The contributions and the work were done by people whose hearts were stirred to give of their resources and their labor. The people freely offered their things and themselves in order to realize the tabernacle’s construction. 

The epicenter of worship is a divine dialogue between us and God. That is, God speaks, and the people respond. God reveals the divine will, and the people’s hearts are stirred. 

Whenever worship becomes a mere duty and drudgery, it is cheapened. Worship that degenerates into mere obligation becomes dull and flat. Duty without delight is boring. Such worship has no impact or effect on us.

Contemporary problems of Christian worship are typically viewed as liturgical issues. Many modern worshipers disparage particular prayers, Scriptures, or readings said every week as being vain repetition. The Lord’s Table may be celebrated only occasionally, so as to not lose something of it’s specialness.

Yet, none of us looks down at eating every day, praying multiple times in a day, and using the same daily phrases of greeting and saying good-bye to others. We don’t create new shoe stores which have no shoelaces because tying our shoes every day is so boring and pedantic.

The real issue is us – not the form of worship. It’s about our own hearts. The ancient Israelites gave of their time and resources in worship because they wanted to, not because they had to. They weren’t looking to be highly entertained, emotionally captivated, or mentally stimulated. The people simply wanted to please their God and to truly connect with the Lord.

Worship isn’t a monologue. It’s not a one-way communication in which we, the people, passively sit and soak-in what’s in front of us. Worship is work. It’s active. It’s participative. And it’s a process which involves some tedious and sometimes slow patient effort. 

Moses and God’s people were genuinely enthused to participate in what God was calling them to do. Worship that comes from willing hearts is a beautiful thing, because encountering God and being stirred within by a Divine call is a wonderful and mystical thing – and it isn’t boring.

Gracious God, just as you laid it upon the hearts of people long ago to participate in the work of worship, so impress my heart with your mission in this world.  I give you my life along with my possessions so that my entire self will be dedicated to the worship of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Romans 12:1-8 – On Being Worshipers and Servants

Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Because of the kindness that God has shown me, I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers. Our bodies have many parts, but these parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, even though we are many individuals, Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other. God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. If your gift is speaking what God has revealed, make sure what you say agrees with the Christian faith. If your gift is serving, then devote yourself to serving. If it is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If it is encouraging others, devote yourself to giving encouragement. If it is sharing, be generous. If it is leadership, lead enthusiastically. If it is helping people in need, help them cheerfully. (God’s Word)

China and Clay

Every person is important. Everyone is needed. Each individual is to offer their entire lives to God through worship and using their spiritual gifts. Every believer is to be active in building up others. 

When I was growing up, we had a fine China set that my parents kept in a beautiful China cabinet.  The set and the cabinet are old and were a prominent part of our house. However, we almost never used it. I can only remember once or twice that my Mom got the China out to use.

God is not looking for fine China believers who sit unused in a cabinet church. Instead, the Lord is looking for rough-and-tumble clay pots—the kind that can be used every day. God wants ordinary table-wear that can be handled in a crash-and-bang world.

Followers of Jesus Christ are to be like a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again to dispense their life-giving contents to a thirsty world; and, where common plates and cups are used again and again to provide a hungry population with the Bread of Life.

Jews and Gentiles

Within the ancient Roman Church were both Jews and Gentiles – two groups vastly different from each other.  They tended to keep to themselves and only operate within their familiar and comfortable circles of friends and relatives.  But the Apostle Paul wanted them united through using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire congregation, and not only within their respective groups.

We are to give ourselves in service to one another because of God’s mercy in Christ. Since God has saved us from our guilt and shame, we are to have a grateful response of worship that is dedicated to serving everyone. 

Worship and Service

The word “worship” in today’s New Testament lesson is where we get the word “liturgy.” That is, Paul’s vision for the church was to have daily liturgical rhythms of spiritual worship, not just on Sunday when we might pull out the fine China and try to impress people.

Paul did not guilt people into serving. Rather, he straightforwardly exhorts all Christians to appropriately respond to God’s grace by offering their lives in sacrificial service as a form of gratitude to God. For this response, our mental faculties must be renewed through saturation in Scripture. It is here we discern our spiritual gifts, know what God wants us to do with those gifts, and use them effectively in the church and the world. 

Grace and Gifts

Grace is given to every believer in Jesus, not just a select few. We all have different gifts and are graced with abilities for the benefit of other, without exception. When everyone collectively exercises their spiritual gifts, then there is clarity in knowing the will of God.

All Christians must share and work together by utilizing God’s grace, instead of getting burned-out because others are not serving. Grumbling about what others are not doing begs the question of whether we are over-functioning, or not.

It could be that we have succumbed to the danger the Apostle Paul warned us about: thinking so highly of ourselves that we believe our gifts are superior to others, so we need to maintain our control and hegemony in the group. This is a terribly misguided notion. 

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV

We belong to one another. Therefore, one major way of giving to God is through offering ourselves to each other with equity and without favoritism. We must not separate Christ from his church. To say that we need God, but do not need the church is to really say that we do not need God because the two are inseparable. Nowhere in Holy Scripture do we find individual Christians doing their own thing, isolated from a committed group of people, the church.

When Jesus called people to follow him in service to God and a world in need, some gave him excuses that they were busy and had other pressing matters to attend to before they could follow him. Jesus simply left them and told them they were not fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57-62)

When people were pre-occupied with building wealth, or gaining power, or jockeying for influence, Jesus told them to stop it, exercise some faith, and seek first the kingdom of God.  Build your treasure in heaven, Jesus said, because it will be permanent; and, not on earth where it is temporary. (Matthew 6:19-34)

Spiritual Gifts and Abilities

We are graced by God with abilities which God fully expects us to use. “Cheap grace” is merely embracing Christ as a personal Savior but not welcoming him as the Lord in whom we must sacrificially give our lives to service in the church and the world. Spiritual health and vitality cannot exist apart from every person using God’s given grace to contribute to the functioning of the Body of Christ. 

The list of spiritual gifts Paul provided is not exhaustive but represents a combination of speaking and serving gifts necessary to bless humanity. Paul exhorted the church not to restrain people’s service but let them go at using their spiritual gifts, full bore:

  • Speak what God has revealed. Prophets do not foretell the future. Rather, they have “inspired speech” from God that addresses what God’s people are to do in consideration of Scripture. 
  • Serving. Servants give themselves to all types of hands-on service. 
  • Teaching. Teachers instruct the faithful in all the revealed will of God. 
  • Encouraging others. Encouragers both speak and serve, coming alongside others and helping them to do something with both verbal coaching and tangible help. 
  • Sharing. Givers live a simple life so they can give generously and contribute to the needs of others. 
  • Leadership. Leaders get out in front and show the way in obtaining the will of God. 
  • Helping people in need. Helpers show mercy by seeing down-and-out hurting people and being a conduit of God’s grace to them.

There is no one person who possesses all these gifts. That’s why everyone must work together to have a spiritually healthy community. A spiritually toxic community is the inevitable result of only a few people using their giftedness.

To avoid relational toxicity, and embrace communal harmony, our minds need transformation through renewing practices of godly sacrifice, regular worship, pursuing unity, and becoming aware of our spiritual gifts.

Here’s three ways we can discover our gifts:

  1. Pay attention.  Every spiritual gift reflects God’s grace and character, and so, you will find joy and satisfaction in expressing it. Your spiritual gift will be a place of deep spiritual formation and growth in your life, as God uses it both to powerfully connect you spiritually and to expose areas of your soul that need forgiveness and redemption. 
  2. Try. Give it a whirl. Volunteer. Connect with a service or ministry or try doing what you feel might be something God wants you to do. Gifts are primarily discovered from others observing and affirming your gift and not so much by going through a research process. The encouragers among us will be happy to affirm the gifts of others.
  3. Develop. All spiritual gifts need growth, cultivation, and development. Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, to fan into flame the gift of God. (2 Timothy 1:6)

We will find our greatest delight in life through engaging in worship of God and service to others. That leads to a spiritually healthy Christian community that loves God, loves one another, and loves the world.

God of grace, stir up the spiritual gifts of your people. May the gifts your Holy Spirit has decided to give us be activated and used for your glory and the edification of others. May you grant peace and joy in churches everywhere so that no one will be jealous or covetous about anyone else’s gifts. May these gifts grow and develop in love so that the fruit of the Spirit will be truly manifested. May you receive all praise honor and glory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 72 – Justice and Righteousness

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes bow down before him,
    and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
    render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
    bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him,
    all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
    the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
    and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
    May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
    and blessings invoked for him all day long.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
    like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever,
    his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;
    may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended. (New Revised Standard Version)

Today’s psalm is a prayer of King David – beseeching the Lord to help him rule with justice and righteousness – because G-d is just and right in all divine dealings with humanity.

“Justice” in the Old Testament is neither fairness nor the good being rewarded and the wicked punished. Rather, justice (Hebrew משפט, pronounced “mish-pot”) in its most basic sense is caring for the poor. A society is “just” to the degree in which every person has enough for the basic necessities of life and is lifted up as persons worthy of care and respect.

So, the way in which David measured his kingly rule was not by how big of an army he had, or how much gold there was in the royal treasury. Rather, a successful rule for David was measured by whether the interests of the poor were defended and provided for.  

A similar word to justice, “righteousness,” is neither some sort of smug godliness nor a sense of superior piety. Instead, righteousness (Hebrew צדקה pronounced “zed-a-ka”) is a relational term of being in sync with G-d and G-d’s ways. It works itself out in a philanthropic spirit of giving what is needed – both physically and spiritually – through acts of mercy such as forgiveness, debt relief, friendship, charity, etc.

Together, justice and righteousness are concerned for giving needed resources with a compassionate spirit of relationship. It seeks to meet the holistic needs of underprivileged people.

Psalm 72 is read in this Christian liturgical season of Christmas (December 25-January 5) because the celebration of the Christ child entering humanity gives great hope for the poor, the needy, the indigent, and all those who struggle to daily survive grinding situations of hardship and adversity.

This is why, when Jesus announced his earthly ministry, he made it clear the nature of that work would be upholding and extending justice and righteousness:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)

The least, the lost, the lonely, and the lame have a champion – a Divine Advocate who will take up their cause and ensure they are treated as deserving human beings, with adequate care of both body and soul. Done properly, our living a just and right life requires we share compassion and empathy along with the monetary and physical resources.

“Whoever gives justice to the poor with a sour expression and in a surly manner, even if he gives a thousand gold pieces, loses his merit. One should instead give cheerfully and joyfully and empathize with him in his sorrow.”

Maimonides (1138-1204, C.E.)

Both the hand and the heart are always involved in biblical justice and righteousness. That way both the giver and the recipient benefit. Whereas the poor receive money or other material assistance, the donor receives the merit of sharing in G-d’s work.

So then, righteousness and justice involve giving assistance with the hand as well as encouragement with the mouth so that needs are met with no residual bitterness of heart.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9, NIV)

May you know the joy and celebration of both giving and receiving with a grateful heart, attuned to the blessings of a generous G-d who stands behind it all.

1 Timothy 5:9-16 – A Ministry of Giving and Receiving

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus, they bring judgment on themselves because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So, I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. (New International Version)

The subject of widows is throughout all of Holy Scripture. Since well over half of all women in the ancient world above age 60 were widows, there were continual and ongoing needs to be addressed.

Women were mostly dependent upon men in the biblical world. So, whenever a husband died, this put the widow immediately at risk. The children and other extended family needed to step up and care for her. And, if this didn’t happen for whatever reasons, then the church would fill the void of caring for them.

Because of their vulnerable situation, God especially cares about widows. This is made evident by the many instructions and exhortations of the Lord to Israel:

The Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, CEB)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:5-6b, NIV)

Jesus maintained the stance of care and concern for widows in the Gospels:

 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he came near the entrance to the city, he met a funeral procession. The dead man was a widow’s only child. A large crowd from the city was with her.

When the Lord saw her, he felt sorry for her. He said to her, “Don’t cry.”

 He went up to the open coffin, took hold of it, and the men who were carrying it stopped. He said, “Young man, I’m telling you to come back to life!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (Luke 7:11-15, GW)

So, it is no wonder that the Apostle Paul gave his young protégé Timothy some detailed instructions on how to handle ministry to widows in his church at Ephesus. The gist of that instruction is to encourage younger widows to remarry so that they would be properly cared for and enrolling older widows on a church list for support.

These widows within the church were expected to have a ministry of prayer and good works. This is truly wise counsel from Paul. Good relations and lifestyles require a healthy rhythm of giving and receiving. Widows are honored by having their needs met, as well as providing opportunities for them to give in ways they are able.

Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help, and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence.

James 1:27, NCV

Whenever widows are only on the receiving end, they tend to become busybodies and gossips. And whenever they only give, then widows can be overlooked, and their daily needs neglected. All this is to say that there really needs to be thoughtful and intentional ministry to the widows among us.

Although in today’s modern society the status and station of many widows is different from the ancient world, there are still widows who need a life-giving ministry of both giving and receiving.

For this important dynamic to be successful, it’s necessary that adult children care for their elderly parents. I can testify firsthand as a hospital chaplain that there are many sons and daughters who fall woefully short of providing basic help to their aging mothers through a failure of consistent relational interactions, following through on needed paperwork, and answering calls in a timely manner.

Also, far too many aging widows are lonely with little to no resources and support in the form of both relationships and basic necessities. A truly Christian community is aware of the widows in their parish and seeks to honor them through establishing a ministry of giving and receiving.

Learn to do good.
 Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.

Isaiah 1:17, NLT

Families and churches have a responsibility to the elderly in giving sufficient financial help, practical assistance with driving to appointments, and consistent companionship. They also have a responsibility to arrange opportunities for widows to give their time in prayer and helping out others through good works and good wisdom.

If we ourselves who are not widows have healthy rhythms of giving and receiving in our own lives, then we are in a position to help the elderly establish healthy rhythms, as well. Perhaps it is telling that any lack of attention to widows reflects our own personal neglect of spiritual and emotional health.

May God be in my head and in my understanding. May God be in my eyes and in my looking. May God be in my mouth and in my speaking. May God be in my heart and in my thinking. May God be at my end and at my departing. May God be with us, in all things and in every way. Amen.