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How are we contributing to the mission of God? - Exodus 35:4 - 36:7

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 14th January 2007.

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When I was younger I never had any desire to join the British Army. By temperament I consider myself something of a complete wimp when it comes to physical pain so the prospect of walking into an army recruitment centre to ask if they needed any volunteers never crossed my mind. Many of you will know that I recently broke a light bulb playing golf in my front room and on Wednesday I broke another one. However, this time the cause was not one of my golf clubs but a huge wasp that flew out from under my fireplace and managed to get itself stuck in one of the light fittings. I donít know how you respond when you hear the familiar sound of a wasp buzzing around the room but I have something of a routine. For some reason my brain convinces me that the small creature is massive beyond all proportions, has a mission to kill me and so I run out of the room at quick speed. I then try to pluck up the courage to go back into the room to exterminate the monster carrying a weighty magazine and when I do I rather fearfully try to despatch the wasp to meet its maker.  Itís all out of proportion but what it confirms to me is that I am still a wimp when it comes to physical pain. So the prospect of me becoming a soldier seems almost laughable. And yet the Bible teaches me that when I became a Christian thatís exactly what happened. I became a soldier of Christ.

Many ways of describing what it means to be a Christian. One of the popular ways today is to talk about having a personal relationship with God. And I often say it to folk at Christianity Explored. Whatís on offer is not rules or ritual but a thriving, life-changing relationship with the God who made you. And it is. And I will continue to speak in these terms. But it is to our detriment if we only use one of the biblical images Ė and especially the relationship one. It can become so self-focused, so self-centred, so personal and we miss out on the corporate.

So tonight I want us to consider what it means to be a soldier of Christ. The NT says we are engaged in a spiritual battle and it assures us that God has a mission he wants us to complete. So here is my big challenge for us on this thanksgiving and gift day: How are we contributing to the mission of God? As soldiers of Christ, how are we involved? How are we participating in the greatest mission of all?

Exodus 35 may have been written thousands of years before the coming of Jesus Christ but if we understand it correctly it has much to teach us about how we as Godís people are to complete Godís mission using Godís resources. Let me say that again. It has much to teach us about how we as Godís people are to complete Godís mission using Godís resources.

Now to help us understand this section of the Bible properly itís vital that we ask three questions. Youíll see them on your handout.

1. What was Godís mission then?
2. What is Godís mission today?
3. How can we contribute to the mission of God?

1. What was Godís mission then?

Have a look at verse 4. Read snippets of vs 4-19.

What was Godís mission then? Quite simply it was to construct a massive tent. The posh term for what Godís people had to build was the tabernacle but when we get back to basics, when we strip away all the religious jargon, what we are left with is a huge tent, with two internal sections and different pieces of furniture in each of the zones. That was their mission.

Before we dismiss this as a fairly disappointing mission we need to remember that the building of this tabernacle is actually the climax of the book of Exodus. I donít know what you would have placed as the grand finale of this Bible book but we are not short of options are we? Just think about the alternatives that could have finished the book.

o Passover (ch 12). Angel of death sweeping through.
o Separation of the Red Sea to enable the people of God to pass through. The drowning of the pursuers. And the victory song. Imagine Hollywood finishing here.
o Or even the giving of the 10 commandments (20)
o But no the climax of the book of Exodus is the building of this huge tent. In fact, you may like to know that 13 out of 40 chapters in this book contain detailed instructions that are in some way connected with the building of the tabernacle.

So letís ask the obvious question: Why was it so important? Well, to find out turn back with me to Exodus 25:8.

What was the point of the Exodus? Suppose you got this on your exam paper. A pass answer would go something like this. To rescue a liberated people from slavery. But the answer which gets a distinction, a commendation, which gets an A* does not simply mention what the people were saved from but also what the people were saved for. And weíre told in 25:8. They were saved to experience life with God. The amazing promise from their rescuing God was that he would live with them. He would not be far away, a distant observer in a vast galaxy, but he would up close and personal. He would dwell among them.

So why a tent? Well of course the creator of the universe cannot be contained in a tent but at this precise moment in human history he was identifying with his people. Because remember what they were living in. They were living in tents. Every single one of them. And so by choosing to have the tabernacle erected at the very centre of this redeemed community God was giving his people then a very clear message. He was saying to them, ďLook guys, my plan is to live in close proximity with the people I save.Ē So what a mission to build the tabernacle of God.

Also a very helpful message to us. Two ways. Helps us appreciate that although the incarnation of Jesus was unique it was not out of the blue. Preparation all those years before and indeed we read in John 1:14 that Jesus tabernacled amongst is. Secondly, it helps us grasp something of what the future has in store. Not into nothingness as in Buddhism, or into the vast soup of impersonal oneness as in Hinduism but the intimate fellowship of life with God. Rev 21:3 says, ďNow the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.Ē

2. What is Godís mission now?

And yet we need to be clear that our mission today is not to construct buildings for God. Iím sure no one in the congregation tonight would advocate spending our budget on pitching a large tent on the wedding lawn but unfortunately some Christians are obsessed with physical buildings.

Now please hear me right. Iím not advocating that we simply let this particular building go to ruin. Itís good to have a place to meet. Itís not essential to NT Christianity that we own the place where we regularly meet. Just think about Riverside church on Sunday mornings. They donít own the community centre they simply rent and use the space. So nothing in the NT about owning but again there is nothing in the NT about not owning your own building. But what is clear is that this building has not replaced the tabernacle or the temple. This is not a holy space. It keeps out the rain and protects us from the rays of the sun on the one day of the year when the sun shines in the north but letís not think that this building is in any way more special than the Newland Christian Centre or the church rooms. All of these buildings are simply resources which God has given us to help us engage in the real mission of the NT. Which is not about buildings but about people.

What is Godís mission now? It is to build his church. In preparation for the ultimate day when God will dwell with his people it is to build his church. Let me remind you of what we are told in Ephesians 4:11-12. Great summary of the mission we need to complete: ďHe [Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare Godís people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.Ē

When the Bible says that the body of Christ needs to be built up it means in two particular ways. First, numerically and, secondly, in maturity.

Now I remember when I first arrived here I said the church is the only club that exists exclusively for its non-members. Thatís not true. We are in the business of winning people for Christ but also building them up in maturity and helping them become the people they were created to be.

And thatís why our aim at St Johns is not simply to reach out. But to reach out, build up and send out.

This is Godís mission for us until Christ appears to bring in his kingdom in all its fullness. Wonderful day. I hope you are looking forward to that day with eager anticipation (you shouldnít be if you are not a Christian). Until that day our business here below is to build the church of God Ė numerically and in maturity.

So letís finish by asking our final questionÖ

3. How can we contribute to the mission of God?

And the answer is simple. Godís people are to complete Godís mission using Godís resources. Itís what happened in Exodus 35 as the people build the tabernacle of God and its what should happen today as we build the church of God. The God who gives us the mission is also the God who supplies the resources.Now let me show you this from Exodus 35.

o Have a look at verse 5. These are the physical resources Moses says are required to build the tabernacle.
o From what you have Ė they obviously have these things.
o Where do you get this stuff from? Sand I could understand. But all these precious items. You do not just find them when wandering in the desert. So where did they get them from?
o This is what we are told in Exodus 12:35-36: ďThe Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing.  36 The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.Ē
o Do you see the point? The LORD knew what they needed and so he made sure when the time came that they had all the physical resources they needed to complete their mission.
o And yet did you notice the peopleís contribution was not restricted to physical resources. Listen to what we are told in verse 10.
o How did they get their skills? Not told the natural ways they acquired them. We could make all sorts of guesses but we are told who is ultimately responsible for giving the people the skills in 36:1. Listen to what we are told.
o ďSo Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.Ē
o See the point again. The God who gives us the mission is also the God who supplies the resources.

And yet despite the fact that God gives us everything we need it is still our responsibility to actively use the resources at our disposal. By the end of verse 19 Moses has done all he can. He has outlined as clearly as possible what needs to be done to complete Godís mission. But what happens next is for the people to decide.

So listen to what we are told in verse 20.  Notice the emphasis on willing. Itís there again in verses 22, 26 and verse 29 (which itself is a great summary verse). At this point great Ė according to plan. The physical resources have come in.

What about the skilled labour? Thatís what we are told about from verse 30 onwards. God equipped them all.

They start work until and everything is going well until we read the staggering statement in verses 3-6. Can you imagine this happening today? Bouncers stopping you giving.

Makes you ask the question: Why were Godís people extravagant in their generosity? Not told explicitly in these verses but if we take a step back and look at the big story of Exodus our answer becomes crystal clear. The peopleís overwhelming generosity is simply the response to Godís overwhelming generosity. 

And we see this in two particular ways throughout the book of Exodus. First of all, the original rescue from Egypt must have made an impact. And yet it wasnít just this rescue that inspired their generosity because remember what has just happened.
The Golden calf incident in chapter 32. God could have wiped them out. And yet he didnít wipe them all out. He continued to forgive them for their continued sins. And this it seems made an enormous impact on the people of God who were commanded to build Godís tabernacle.

Now I donít know what resources God has give you to build the church of God but what is clear to me is that if we are to complete his mission here on earth we all need to be participating in the mission.

Now itís very true that in an army not everyone does the same job. Front line, intelligence, cooks, drivers  - but what is true is that there are no passengers? Yes there are some in the sick hospital. Those who have been injured in a previous battle or just in the battle of life and they need to rest and thatís fine. But what you donít get in the Armed Forces are those who turn up on the parade ground, listen to the plan of action sergeant major and then go home and put their feet up! So why do we get it in the church of Jesus Christ?

You may remember that famous poster from WWI when Lord Kitchener pointed at the passer-by and said (always intrigued by his moustache) : ďYour country needs you!Ē Well so does God. He says, ďI need you for the greatest mission in the world.Ē You might have been a rebel against me but now I want you to be involved in transforming sinners into saints. ďAnd just in case you are wondering,Ē he says, ďIím already given you the resources to get involved.Ē

So letís think about how we use our money. It is fantastic to be part of a generous church and at this point I simply want to say to the majority of us Ė thanks very much for all you give. Your generosity is an obvious that you understand the generosity of God.

But perhaps you are here tonight and you are someone who hasnít yet got youíre giving sorted out. One of the classic signs is a frantic rummaging in the pockets when the collection plate comes here. Let me be straight: this is hopeless! And we donít organise our savings this way, do we? They are too important for this approach. So to should be our giving. Now Iím not telling you how much to give. Itís necessary to give as a Christian but the amount is completely up to you. Christian giving is always a response to the generosity of God. 

So before we give or before we renew our giving itís a brilliant idea to remember how gracious God has been to us in the past. He has saved us from a lost eternity. And day by day he continues to help us despite our persistent sins. So if God has done this much for us how generous we should be to him.

Now when we have decided how much we will give there are two practical ways I would suggest to hand over the money: either use the giving envelopes or get a direct debit started up.

But itís not only our money that God wants or more accurately itís not simply that God wants us to use the money that he has given us to build his church but he also wants us to use the talents he has given us. Now this is when churches really move forward. Itís normally when they grow numerically and its certainly when the individually members grow spiritually.

We know that in our physical life good food is not enough for a healthy lifestyle. We also need regular exercise. And the same is true spiritually. Good bible teaching is vital for spiritual well being but by itself it will not produce the desired results. It must be combined with spiritual exercise.
Now again I want to say a massive thank you to those who are committed to all the various areas of church life. Every week peopleÖ

o Welcome
o Give out service sheets
o Make the tea and coffee
o Sunday school
o Creche
o Sing in the choir
o Play in the music group
o And many more

But again let me ask: are there some tonight who have an audience approach to church rather than an army approach to church? You may drift in and out, you may even come more regularly but if truth be told there isnít much of a contribution to from you as an individual. And maybe as I am speaking about these things you are feeling guilty about your inactivity.

Well, if thatís you can I encourage you to act on the guilty feelings. Letís not be a church family where 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. But letís resolve to be a soldier. Letís stop being a drifter and letís get committed to the most exciting mission on offer today.

Now weíre always on the look out for people to help and there will always be various jobs to do. You have gifts to use. But Iím not going to mention what they are. Instead, what I want you to do is go away and think about your current involvement at St Johns and then if upon reflection you discover that you would like to become more committed then come and see either myself, Melvin, Nathan or Malcolm and then we can work out together the best way you can serve Godís mission here in this place.

Letís pray as we finish.

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