2 Samuel 24:18-25
Stewardship Series: “Because…”
In order for a person to live with any measure of purpose and significance, he has to be guided by a defined set of values that order and direct everything he says or does. These guiding values constitute core principles, bedrock beliefs that become something of a “North Star” – a fixed point of reference – that gives constancy to a person’s life even when everything all around him seems to be in a constant state of flux.
Unfortunately, if you pay any attention to what’s going on around you today, it seems as if the whole idea of values has become something of a passing fad. There doesn’t seem to be much, if any, constancy or consistency underlying people’s behavior so that they just seem to be giving themselves to whatever whim or fancy strikes them at a given moment. Needless to say, it’s hard to feel like you can “win at life” when everybody seems to be changing the rules and you don’t know how to play the game.
So, where do we come up with a set of guiding values that can serve us well in challenging times? Obviously, most folk’s values are ones they inherited from our families, which is why every election year you hear lots of conversation around the importance of “family values.” The idea is that if parents don’t teach their children important principles like honesty and hard work and responsibility, they’re not going to learn them any place else. As I think about my own life and the core principles that have formed me, I inherited them from my family; and there were many times growing up, when my parents would be careful to instruct me on how to make good choices in life by saying something along the lines of: “This is how we do things in this house.” “This is how we do things in this house.”
When you think about it, our family of faith works in the same way. It could be argued that the vast majority of Holy Scripture is nothing more than a set of instructions that are based on faithful values that represent “how we do things in this house” – what we say and what we do and how we give.
Take this story that is before us this morning from the account in 2 Samuel of King David. David is at the end of his life and his reign as King of Israel, and God has used him in the most remarkable ways to transform His people from being a loose confederation of tribes to a united nation capable of securing their existence in a most unsettling time.
David, however, has not been a perfect king. We all know about his escapade with Bathsheba and how David manipulated circumstances to make her his wife. But there were other, not so obvious blunders that David made which brought divine judgment upon the people. One such blunder is behind the text that we have before us today.
As the story goes, God is already upset with His people because of their spiritual complacency when David comes along and compounds the situation by ordering a census of the fighting men at his disposal. You’re probably like most people who hear of David’s decision and wonder, “What’s the big deal? That seems like a reasonable thing for a king to do!” But David’s census implies that he doesn’t trust enough in God’s power to protect the nation and that he has to make sure that his own defenses are sufficient for any threat that may come their way. When the leader’s faith falters, then so does the faith of the people. Thus David’s sin has brought a most severe plague upon the people, one that can only be halted by David’s obedience to the act of penance God prescribes through His prophet Gad. That is where our text begins.
The prophet Gad has instructed David to go up to the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, which was perched on Mount Moriah, the mountain that overlooked David’s city, the same place where Abraham had been sent to sacrifice his son Isaac. There, David was to build an altar to the LORD and make atoning sacrifices for him and his people.
As an accomplished musician, David understands that when you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that can save the performance. So, David goes to great lengths that he does precisely what God expects him to do. He goes to Araunah. He makes an offer for the purchase of Araunah’s threshing floor. In typical Ancient Near Eastern fashion, Araunah couches his role in the matter with language that borders on the obsequious. “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. I’ve got everything you need. It won’t cost you anything.” But notice how David replies. “No,” he says. “I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
David knew that as king of the nation, he could have demanded such a sweetheart deal from this Jebusite landowner if his heart had so desired. But David knew something else, what was for him a core principle, a guiding value. David knew that if he accepted Araunah’s too good to be true offer, then the sacrifice David would be making would in reality be Araunah’s sacrifice; it would not be his if he had sacrificed nothing to make it. Therefore, David proclaimed, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
When we think about core principles and guiding values as followers of Jesus Christ, how can we not put sacrifice at the top of the list? And yet, some churches today seem perfectly content to leave it off their lists entirely.
I’m reminded of the church I read about several years ago that proudly announced on the front page of their monthly newsletter how their stewardship campaign for that year would have what they called “a refreshing new emphasis.” “We will not use the word ‘commitment,’ ‘budget,’ or ‘pledge.’” As the church’s Chair of their Stewardship Team went on to explain, “People do not join a church to be committed or challenged. They join for compassion and community in living more like Christ.”
That’s fair enough and it also only half far enough. While people may indeed join a church for compassion and community, if they do not join a church that also emphasizes some measure of sacrifice, then they are a part of something that runs a mile wide but is only an inch deep.
There’s one thing I’m certain of with respect to this Mountain Brook Baptist Church. We are not a “mile wide, inch deep church.” We are instead a church that from the very beginning has understood that following Jesus requires self-denial and sacrifice. Following Jesus requires digging deep and at times doing without. Following Jesus requires giving evidence of how much we love our giving God because of how we are always looking for ways to bring to pass His Kingdom purposes by living each day with grace and generosity.
When I was in seminary, Judy and I made extra money by “house sitting.” Wealthy families who lived in homes near the seminary campus would take trips out of town and would hire seminarians to spend the night at their house just so someone would be at home if nefarious characters happened to come calling. It was a sweet deal. We had food. We had shelter. We had few responsibilities. Walk the dogs. Take the grandmother to Saturday church. That was my responsibility.
It was not a Baptist church. But I enjoyed going. There were lots of differences between how they did church and how I was accustomed to doing church. One thing that jumped out at this Baptist boy was how their bulletins had advertisements. I had never seen such a thing. It was like a football program. On the back page were ads for restaurants and tire stores and beauty parlors. I looked at all the ads and thought about my little 100 member church I was serving and asked myself the question, “Have we been doing this all wrong?”
It didn’t take long for me to understand that we had not. That’s not who our church was. Our challenge wasn’t just raising money; it was raising people. And so from way back before my time there the guiding principle of the Antioch Baptist Church was whatever we did would be based on whatever our people gave. It was for us a “family value.”
I sense the same value in this family of faith. So we’re not going to be supporting our ministries with bake sales or bazaars, raffles or car washes. We’re going to do it instead on the sole foundation of what our people provide and our long-standing guiding value that we will not sacrifice to the Lord our God that which costs us nothing.
Think of it this way: Others may do it differently, but it simply is how we do things in this house.