A lot has happened since the time of the Judges when Ruth and Naomi settled back in Bethlehem. The Israelites were at war with neighboring countries. During a war with the Philistines, the Philistines take the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites. The Philistines return the Ark after being plagues by God. The Philistines said, “We don’t want this anymore.” The Ark was guarded at Kiriath Jearim. It remained there for 20 years.
After years of fighting with the Philistines, the Israelites asked God for a king. They wanted to be like other nations they were fighting against. They thought a king would give them prominence and prestige. A king could be a ruler and military leader. So, reluctantly, God granted them a king. God had wanted Israel to be different than other countries and God warned them a king may not be as good as they thought. God chose Saul to be Israel’s first king. The prophet Samuel anointed King Saul and the people proclaimed, “Long live the king.”
King Saul and his son Jonathan led the army against the Philistines and other nations and had some successes. The Lord rejected Saul as king when he did not carry out the Lord’s orders. Saul was told to battle the Amalekites and destroy EVERYTHING, but Saul and his men kept all the livestock that was good. The Lord removed His anointing and sought a new king, yet Saul remained king.
I think many of you know the story of King David’s anointing at the new king of Israel and the story of him killing Goliath the giant. Even though David had been anointed by the Lord to be king, David served Saul for many years. King Saul suffered from mental health issues. King Saul became suspicious of David and tried to kill David. King Saul’s son Jonathon and David were great friends. Jonathon helped David escape King Saul’s plots to kill David. There are years of David fighting for Israel and avoiding Saul’s attempts to kill him. David spares Saul’s life numerous times. But, the people of Israel are beginning to support David because of his military victories and support of Saul is waning. After David defeats the Amalekites, as the Lord had instructed Saul to do, Saul kills himself.
With Saul dead, David is again anointed king. David unites the northern tribes of Judah with the southern tribes of Israel and a unified nation is formed. Then, David seeks a capital for the nation. David goes to Jerusalem and drives out the Jebusites so that Jerusalem may become the capital of Israel. As we read this morning, there was a great procession of music as the Ark was taken to Jerusalem, which will become known as the city of David. It is said that David danced and everyone shouted and played musical instruments.
David set the Ark in a tent he had put up for the Ark. Everyone celebrated. David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He blessed the people in the Name of the Lord and sent them home with lots of goodies to enjoy with their families. And, just like that, the people had a place to worship and come into the presence of the Lord. Jerusalem would become the center of their religious life.
Jerusalem was established as a city in the center of Israel as a sign of putting God at the center of Israel’s life. That the city was established as the center with Ark of the Covenant being placed there is significant. The Ark contained the word of God in the 10 Commandments and it was believed that God lived on the Ark between the cherubim. Eventually, the palace and the Temple would be built in Jerusalem solidifying Jerusalem as the center of Israeli political and religious life.
King David bringing the Ark, the word and presence of God, into the center of Israel and focusing the people on God was among the first of David’s actions as king. He brought the focus on war with neighbors to God. He brought a divided people to a united kingdom. He was a unifying figure centering the people on God and renewing their commitment to the covenant. Jerusalem as a place of worship was a gift and worthy of singing, dancing and celebration as the people did. It brought God into the center of people’s life much like the church does today.
There is a story of a Luther pastor and youth group visiting an African Methodist Episcopal or AME church while on a mission trip. The Lutheran group joined the AME, a historically black church, for an hour of praise with singing and dancing in the aisles. After the hour was up, the Lutherans thought worship was over. But, the AME pastor stood up and said, “Now, we can begin worship.” Later, the AME pastor told the Lutheran youth group and pastor that they believed it took one hour of praise to forget about ourselves and be ready to focus on God.
I can’t imagine us singing for an hour before worship, but we have within our liturgy a time to center our focus on God. By liturgy, I mean the order of our worship service. From the beginning, we present our joys and concerns and we announce all the things going on in the life of the church. Then we sing and pray and we sing and pray again. All of it draws our attention away from our worries and everyday life into the joy of worship and before we focus on God’s word.
I have been thinking about how much our liturgy has changed over the past few years. Our opening words now change from week to week to begin our worship with a tie into the theme of the day. We moved the Gloria Patri, Glory be to the Father…We added a time for quiet reflection to our prayer time. We moved the Children’s moment and removed the litany before the sermon. We are serving and taking communion differently. We added a time to share our stories of how God is working in our lives. All of these changes have drawn us into a deeper experience of God as our flow of worship adds time for reflection and sharing and focuses on God’s word and the rituals of faith.
Our worship draws us here on Sunday mornings, into the house of God. On Sunday mornings, we center our lives on God before beginning a week that often tries to draw our attention to worries and stress and busyness. Even when life is great, there is something trying to drag us down. We come back each week to reset our focus on God and gain strength to trudge through another week.
This church, the sanctuary where we worship and the rooms where we study and meet and have fellowship, is a gift where we focus on God and are reminded to keep God at the center of our lives. This church is a gift from generations before us who have invested in it that it may have a future for us. I asked you in previous weeks, “How has the church been a gift to you?” You named how the church has helped you through catastrophe and loss and other difficult times. The church is here because many before us thought of the people it could help and offered their tithes and prayers for it to endure.
Your former minister, Peter Webster, keeps in contact with me through an occasional e-mail. He was pastor here from 1962 – 1965. Recently, he told me the story of a stewardship campaign in 1963. The annual budget was $10,000. Through the stewardship focus, the church raised $11,000 that year. The average weekly offering was $125. The January offering was $5,000 when all the farmers gave a tithe from what they sold to the grain elevator. They had a 10% increase in giving.
We are hoping for a 15% increase in giving this year. We see from the example of the 1963 campaign that a big increase is possible. Rev. Webster told me the story of the increase in relationship to the budget. This year, we’re not just focusing on funding a budget; we are focusing on funding a dream. God has given us a great vision of who we can become and an increase in giving can help us with ministries that will make us to realize that dream. By investing an increase in our giving in the church, we are giving in faith to the church of the future so that 50 years from now there will be a church where people like us can gather for worship to focus their minds on God’s word and place God at the center of their lives.
While I was in seminary, there was a church in Ohio that gave me a scholarship every year. I offered to preach once a year as a way of saying thank you to the congregation. The minister invited every year on Stewardship Sunday to preach the stewardship sermon because he hated asking for money. It may have been easier for me to ask them for money because I could at the same time say thank you and point them to their generosity.
Many preachers don’t like stewardship sermons and most churches aren’t fond of stewardship sermons, because they don’t understand stewardship beyond funding a budget. In our Bible study Tuesday night, the Minister for Faith and Giving for the Disciples said, “Stewardship is not fundraising.” He reminds the people he speaks to that stewardship is not about funding a budget. Stewardship is the faithful act of acknowledging that we are creatures and God is the creator. We are giving to God from the gifts he has already given to us. In giving to Him our gifts through the church, we are bequeathing the church to future generations a place to worship, fellowship and do ministry.
In November, you will receive a budget based on current levels of giving. You will also receive a list of things we can do with increased giving. As is our tradition, we will have a congregational meeting to approve a slate of officers, Elders, Deacons and Trustees and the budget. At the end of the month, Scott Woolridge will come to preach about giving. We will have a card to fill out that will indicate to the church what you plan to give to the church in 2016. I am trying to find words to describe the cards. They are not pledges or commitments, because, if you find that you planned more than you can afford or you can afford more than you planned, you can adjust your giving at any time. The cards will set before you a plan of your giving and help the Board plan their ministries.
When I was in Litchfield, I preached about stewardship once. Someone got up and walked out. Then, he came into my office that week to berate me for talking about stewardship. In pastor’s tenure of 17 years at that point, he had never talked about stewardship from the pulpit. The people didn’t know what it meant to give, why to give, or what to give. It was the same in my home church in Ohio. When I wrote my first check to the church, I didn’t know what to give, why to give or what it meant to give. I just knew that I was supposed to give something, but no one had talked to me about it.
Stewardship is a way of life for the generous. The Minister for Faith and Giving says that tithing, that 10% commandment from the Bible, is the floor of giving. Beyond that tithe given to God, there are many other offerings like the burnt offering and the fellowship offering suggested in the Bible. All of the offerings are a means to acknowledge the source of our blessings and give thanks to God for those blessings. Tithing is not a self-righteous act. Tithing plus other offerings is a humble act of the generous to proclaim God has given me much and I will give back to God what He has given me.
King David gave the people of Israel a place to worship and placed God at the center of their lives. We have the opportunity to give a place of worship to future generations by planning our gifts to God through this church. Over the next several weeks, I ask you to prayerfully and humble plan your offerings to God for next year. On November 29th, we’ll have a big celebration like King David and the people of Israel had when they brought the Ark to Jerusalem. There will be singing and eating. I’ll let you dance if you want to.