Formations 10.16.2016: Eager Giving

Exodus 35:4-10, 21-29

Detail of a handwritten sheet music for John Coltrane's religious suite A Love Supreme.

Detail of a handwritten sheet music for John Coltrane’s religious suite A Love Supreme.

McCoy Tyner was excited to go to work each night in December 1964. He and the rest of John Coltrane’s quartet were recording A Love Supreme, a musical prayer that became one of jazz’s greatest albums. On an outline of this four-part jazz suite, Coltrane wrote, “All paths lead to God.” At the end of the first movement, Coltrane jumps though all twelve keys on the notes of the unifying chant, “a love supreme,” pointing through melody and rhythm to God who is all around us.

Like most jazz, A Love Supreme was written down as little more than an outline, a few musical ideas and a map for the band to follow. Tyner says that the quartet “had reached a level where you could move the music around. John had a very wonderful way of being flexible with the music. . . . He gave us the freedom to do that.” This freedom, along with the years that each musician had given to learning and honing their craft, let them give freely and fully to a record that attempts to express the ineffability of God.

In our story this week, Moses calls the Israelites to give what they have, the fruits of their crafts, to create a more substantial place for God to dwell. Yet, Moses never requires them to give, and he doesn’t legislate what to give. Instead he calls “whoever freely wants to give” and asks “all of you who are skilled in crafts” to offer them (vv. 5, 10). Their gifts were not compulsory. They were “excited and eager to participate” in building a place to meet with God.

Giving always surprises me because, though it is demanding, it is also natural. As it requires sacrifice, it brings joy. McCoy Tyner describes recording A Love Supreme, saying, “it was just—I couldn’t wait to go to work at night. It was such a wonderful experience.” But playing with the freedom and excitement they did was only possible because of the hours and years of practice. And though Tyner couldn’t help but to practice, some days might have seemed to be better spent relaxing. I suspect that the women spinning cloth couldn’t wait to weave for God. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if some mornings the idea of spinning more goat hair made it hard to get out of bed.

Eric Westervelt, “The Story of ‘A Love Supreme,’” NPR, March 7, 2012, <http://www.npr.org/2000/10/23/148148986/a-love-supreme>.

Discussion

• What brings you joy? What can you not help but do?
• Do the same things that bring excitement sometimes yield boredom, frustration, or fear? How can we balance these two poles of our callings?
• How can we give the fruits of our work—the relationships made, the skills learned, the money earned—to help build a place where humanity and God can meet?

Reference Shelf

Building the Tabernacle

The stress on the communal is notable. The mass dedication of wealth and skill by the generality of the populace as artisans, whom Exodus 31:6a refers to almost as an aside, precedes the appointment of the chief artisan, Bezalel, and his assistant Ohiliab (see 31:1-6a), who does not now appear until 35:3—36:1.

. . .

Exodus 35:2-29 records the comprehensiveness of the people’s response for the totality of the task (list 6; “all” recurs fifteen times in these verses). “[I]t’s service” in v. 21 is more likely to refer in context to the task of construction than to the maintenance of the cult (see 27:19; 30:16). The contribution of both sexes is recognized. The men and women bring the required valuables from their households (v. 22); nose rings,3 earrings, signet rings,4 and pendants5 seem indicated. The “earrings” make explicit the contrast with 32:2, 3 in the golden calf incident (with the overtone of obedient hearing, cf. 21:6). The women spin the yarns for the fabrics (vv. 25-26). As the masculine verb in v. 25b suggests, the women weave but the men bring (cf. v. 23). The “leaders,” presumably the tribal heads (see 16:22; 22:28), bring the gems for setting on the shoulderpieces and breastpiece of the high priest’s ephod. The gem-cutters will inscribe on the stones the names of the leader’ tribes (28:9-12, 17-21).

William Johnstone, Exodus 20–40, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2014), 437.

Tabernacle

The gathering of the children of Israel into a united body under Moses’ leadership during the Exodus experience necessitated a centralized place of worship and religious service. The seminomadic nature of the tribes, however, precluded building of a permanent structure to house their sacred objects. It was during the sojourn at Sinai, therefore, that God commanded Moses to construct a portable sanctuary wherein he might dwell. The Tabernacle was to become the primary center of Israel’s communion with her God throughout the ensuring three hundred years until a more permanent center could be built.

David C. Maltsberger, “Tabernacle,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: MU Press, 1995), 871.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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