Formations 10.10.2021: Extravagant Giving

Exodus 35:4-9; 36:2-7

In August of 1992, I was home in Michigan, preparing to return to seminary and finish my degree that December.

Some may remember that this was the month that Hurricane Andrew threatened the Caribbean and the southern United States. As soon as the storm made landfall in Florida, it was clear that it was going to be a bad one. Even a thousand or more miles away, we all followed the news with growing concern.

On the Sunday after, some teenagers in the church spontaneously decided they need to take up a collection for disaster relief. It started as a joke—a penny dropped in a Styrofoam cup—but it quickly grew into a sincere effort to help people in need. They hit up their parents first, of course, but after worship they walked door to door through the church’s neighborhood. Everyone wanted to donate.

That Monday or Tuesday, a local radio station interviewed someone on the scene in Florida, a correspondent who had ties to Michigan. He described the devastation. The radio host asked him how people in Michigan can help, and the correspondent noted that the Southern Baptists seemed to be the largest group organizing disaster relief efforts, so people should get in contact with a local Southern Baptist Church if they wanted to do something.

The radio host asked for specifics. Are there any Southern Baptist churches in the Detroit area?

Well, I know there’s one in Livonia, the correspondent said.

And that’s how Livonia Baptist Church, my parent’s home church, became disaster relief central for the entire Detroit metropolitan area.

Overnight, nearly the entire congregation mobilized. Some volunteers staffed the constantly-ringing phones. Others helped sort the diapers, baby food, toiletries, canned goods, and other essentials that people dropped off in the church parking lot all day long, day after day. The denomination secured an eighteen-wheeler to deliver these goods, and volunteers loaded it up.

This wasn’t a wave of giving, it was a firehose on full blast. People gave money, they bought essential items to donate, they volunteered their time and their backs. In the end, they had to overload the truck to get everything in it. (We later learned that when the folks at the weigh stations saw the “Disaster Relief” sign on the truck, they just waved them through!)

The morning the truck left for Florida, many of the volunteers gathered to bless it. The pastor said a few words, then led them in the Lord’s Prayer.

When they got to “Give us this day our daily bread,” everyone just broke down in tears.

I can’t say that my parents’ church got everything right—though they did a fair bit better than many churches! But I can say that, in the summer of 1992, they rose to the occasion.

Today’s story reminds me of that amazing week in Michigan. Moses calls on the Israelites to give. He wants them to donate items—precious metals, textiles, oil, etc.—with which to construct the tabernacle and its furnishings. He appoints craftsmen to fashion these items using the skills that God had given them. The Israelites did what Moses said, and more. In fact, Moses actually had to tell them to stop giving because they were bringing too much (36:5-7)!

When the cause inspires you, there’s little you won’t do. No price is too great when you believe that your gift is going to make a difference.

I think about those upstart teenagers collecting pennies and quarters…and dollars and checks. About the folks who took off work to be available to help. About the retirees and young people who kept things organized behind the scenes.

They remind me of the Israelites who didn’t really need all those earrings anyway. And of Bezalel and Oholiab and the men and women who used their talents to create something beautiful.

What can generosity accomplish? You’d be surprised.

Discussion

• When have you seen a lavish display of generosity?
• Other than your church, what special causes do you give to, and why?
• Do you think of yourself as a generous person? Explain.
• How might generous giving change our church, our community, or our world?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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