Trading Places – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, July 22

Like many of you, I sometimes struggle with what to buy for people when it’s their birthday or for Christmas. There’s a feeling of accomplishment when you think of that perfect gift to give to somebody.

But isn’t it disheartening when you forget to buy someone a Christmas gift?  Or if somebody buys you a gift and they give it to you like a couple of days before Christmas and then you’re left with a dilemma.  “Would it be tacky if I buy this person a gift?  Obviously, they’re going to know that any gift I give to them is only because they bought me a gift.” And we wonder what we’re going to do in that situation.

Gift giving isn’t always easy.

Someone in my family used to always get me something religious for my birthday and at Christmas.  And there’s certainly nothing wrong with religious things.

And yet, how many praying hands book ends does a pastor need?  Or how many bible verse wall plaques are one too many?  I think I have every Chuck Swindoll and Max Lucado book that’s ever been published.

And then we have the problem of buying for someone who seems to have everything.  These are the people who tell you, “Oh, you don’t need to get me anything.”  They think they’re being modest and polite, but it really just makes it that much more difficult for you as the gift buyer.  It would be so much easier if that person would just say something like, “You know, I could use another set of praying hands.”

What do you get for someone who seems to have everything?

And what can you and I possibly give to God?  Have you ever thought of that?  What appropriate gift can we give since God is the creator of everything there is?

About 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, King David had a tremendous desire to give God a gift.  He was living during a period of Israel’s history where things have really settled down and the nation of Israel was at peace with her enemies.

David was aware of God’s goodness and love.  And he wanted to express his gratitude to God for all of these blessings.  And one day, he thought to himself, “What would be a nice gift for God?  What does God need?”

As he looked around at his beautiful house of cedar, the thought came to him that the Lord should have a nice house like this.  And so David consulted the prophet Nathan that he wanted to build the Lord a Temple.

Nathan likes the thought of this, and tells King David, “That’s a wonderful idea.  I suggest you begin working on getting that gift idea right away.”  But there ends up being one important snag in this whole new home for God idea.  The Lord tells David and Nathan, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Why would the Lord turn down such a nice gift?  If you know the rest of the story, it ended up being David’s son, Solomon who built the Lord a Temple.  But why didn’t the Lord want it to be David?

Our scripture reading from II Samuel tells us why.  It was because the Lord still had another very important gift to give to David.

Instead of a house for the Lord, the Lord wanted to give David a house, not a house of cedar which he already had, but a house or a kingdom that would last forever.  How’s that for trading places?  The gift giver, David, becomes the gift receiver!

And this gift of an everlasting kingdom was not only to bless David and his family, but was also a gift for the whole world, because it would be through Jesus Christ, a descendent of David that God’s kingdom would be established forever, a kingdom of God’s love, grace, and righteousness.

David’s desire to build the Lord a Temple was well meaning and from the heart.  But it didn’t come close to the gift that the Lord wanted to give David.  It can be a struggle to think of what gifts we might give to God, the God of all creation.

Many of us put an offering in every Sunday morning.  Does God want our financial gifts?

Or maybe we attend worship and serve in a ministry through our church.  Wouldn’t these be considered our gifts to God?  Does God want us to offer our time and our physical presence as gifts?

Well yes, but…

I heard a Christian once say, “You know, my wife and I follow the biblical principle of tithing our income and giving it to the church.  Since we both make decent incomes, that check to the church each week is a pretty big chunk of money.  Ten percent of our income is bigger than our car payments and we have nice cars.”

And then he went on to say, “But when I stop to think of who God is and how Jesus Christ has changed my life, it makes my check to the church look so puny in comparison.”

I think this person is on to something.  Our gifts to God and the church are meant to be expressions of our gratitude for all that God has done.  Our gifts to God and the church are never meant to earn God’s favor or to pay back what God has done for us.  We can never do that.

When we put our offering in the plate, I often feel like the man who, in a hurry to go to the church picnic, quickly grabbed a bologna sandwich and ran out the door.  Each family was asked to bring their own food to eat.  The man with the bologna sandwich sat next to a family who had this incredible spread of fried chicken, potato salad, and apple pie.

And here, this man sat with this meager bologna sandwich all by himself.  The family, noticing this man sitting by himself graciously said, “Hey would it be ok if you share your sandwich with us and we’ll share our food with you?”  This man came with a plain old bologna sandwich, and ended up receiving so much more.

On a beautiful fall day, just about the time when the leaves were finally beginning to turn colors, I went for a run on the bike path.  It was a memorable autumn day with blue skies and sun rays shining through the leaves of the trees.

It was just one of those moments that I’m sure you have experienced as well, where you just say to yourself, “God is so unbelievably present in this moment.”  And as I was running, I couldn’t help but to think of how God is so gracious to us.

What gift could I give to God in that moment as I was taking in God’s beautiful creation?  I smiled as I thought about the absurdity of trying to write a personal check to the church as I was running, even though it’s what I felt like doing in that moment to show my appreciation to God.

I even thought about the impossibility of signing up to serve in a ministry area as I ran on the bike path, but I usually don’t carry a church commitment form with me when I go for a run.  After I was done humoring myself with these crazy ideas, a more serious thought came to me.

There was really only one thing that I could realistically do as I ran through that splendid display of God’s beauty.  I whispered some psalms of praise to this wonderful God who blesses us again and again and overwhelms us with his grace even when all that we have is the sweat on our brow and our running clothes.

It’s times like these that a quote from Christian author, Philip Yancey comes to mind. He said how very sad it would be if we would receive a blessing but would have no one to thank for that blessing.

Like when you see a beautiful sunset and have no one to thank. Or hear the good news that somebody you know is recovering from an illness and there’s no one to thank. Or that you received a gift out of the blue that you needed at just the right time, but had no one to thank. That would be sad to not be able to express our gratitude to someone.

Maybe some of you remember the incredibly vivid and enormous rainbow that draped over Athens last year. I think it was the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. I was taking one of our dogs for a walk in the neighborhood when I looked up and there it was.

Here’s a picture of it. Notice that even our dog was taking it all in. It’s times like this that we are reminded that all we can really do is say, “thank you” to the creator of the universe.

I hear this all the time from many of you. You tell me how you signed up to serve in a ministry so that you can be a blessing to others.

Maybe you visited someone at the nursing home or served as a greeter to welcome people or offered a listening ear to someone who was going through a difficult time or helped in the nursery.

You went to give a gift but you got so much more in return. You were expecting to offer a blessing but you ended up receiving a blessing.

What a great thought the next time we put something in the offering plate. Whenever we offer our gifts to God, we are reminded of God’s overflowing gifts in our lives.

As a dear friend of mine who served as my spiritual mentor told me time and time again… “Robert, don’t just think about the gifts you can offer to God. Remember to also receive what God wants to give to you.”

And the emphasize his point, he would say, “Receive! Receive! Receive!”

And this was someone who on a limited income gave 10% of his income to the church, went on several international mission trips, and served the church in a number of ways over the course of his lifetime.

But what he wanted me to remember the most was the word, “Receive.” I was thinking of him as I was preparing this sermon for today. Receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, grace, guidance, comfort, love, beauty, and salvation.

Like David, we offer to build God a great big house.  We bring our offerings and the best that we have, even if it’s only a plain old bologna sandwich.

We bring it all to God.  And God gives us so much more. Thinking that we were the gift givers, we end up being the gift receivers.

And so, what do we learn from the life of David? We learn that when we think we have something special to give to God, God always has something even more special to give to us. We learn to trade places with the giver of all good gifts.

And we are reminded that no matter how large we think our gifts may be, we can never out-give God, who is the greatest gift giver of all.

The Life of David: Trading Places

Small Group Questions

II Samuel 7:1-14a

July 22, 2018

During our summer series on the life of David, we have reached a point in David’s life where he wants to give God a gift. He wants to build a house for God, a Temple. The only problem is that God has something else in mind. God wants to give David a house instead. This will not be like the kind of house we think about like a house with bedrooms, a deck, and an attached garage. God wants to give David an eternal throne where his descendants will rule forever (the house of David.) This house will eventually lead to the reign of Jesus Christ who would be from the family line of David. This gift that God wants to give David will eventually lead to God saving the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In what ways can we remember to be thankful for the incredible gift of God’s salvation for the world?

As we go through our day to day living, we see signs of God’s gifts all around us like the gift of a vivid rainbow that takes us by surprise, encouraging words from someone just when we needed it the most, an unexpected gift just to name a few. 

Share a recent time when you have experienced the gift of God’s presence in a real way. We call these “thin place” moments because these are moments when heaven and earth overlap in a mysterious and beautiful ways.

Pastor Robert shared the observation that like David, we think that we are going to bless God with the offering of our gifts but God ends up blessing us even more through the giving of our gifts.

Share a time when you offered a gift or served in some way and you ended up receiving more than you gave.