Rock Star—The David Saga, II: Philanthropist

HomeRock Star—The David Saga, II: Philanthropist
September 23, 2018

Rock Star—The David Saga, II: Philanthropist

Passage: I Chronicles 29:1–21

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But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill offering?
For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.  —1 Chronicles 29:14


There’s this wonderful story from I Chronicles about King David’s fund-raising efforts on behalf of what he hopes will be the most dazzling house of worship the world had ever seen—the Temple in Jerusalem, David’s capital city.

Here’s how it all goes down: King David is nearing 70 years of age and has been on the throne for almost 40 years. He knows he’s near the end of his life and he wants to leave one lasting legacy of his great leadership; he wants to build a Temple for his God, conveniently right next door to his own magnificent palace. David is very shrewd—no enfeebling separation of the Church and State for King David; he wants everybody to know that he and God are best friends.

That was actually a common strategy among tribal chieftains of baby nation-states in the ancient Near East; these tribal chieftains were both sovereign regents and also high priests. Chieftains made sure the tribe knew that when God wanted to communicate with God’s people, the chieftain was God’s agent and mouthpiece.

So David tells God about his plans, but God doesn’t want David to build God a Temple, magnificent as it might be. “You’ve got too much blood on your hands, David. You had to do it, but you’re first and last a warrior and I don’t want no warrior building holy places for me. Your son Solomon will build the Temple.”

Before he goes out in a blaze of glory, however, David decides that he’s going to raise the money. And I want to look with you at David’s Temple fund-raising campaign as a model for our own. David gives the right answer to the three most important questions about your stewardship gift to the Church:

(1) Who?  (2) What?  and (3) Why?
(1) Who should give?
David answers, “Me!”
(2) What should I give?
David says, “A lot!”
(3) Why should you give?
David answers, “Because it all belongs to God in the first place.”

Who should give? I should give. The first thing to notice about David’s fund-raising campaign is that David leads with his pocket. That’s the way one Old Testament scholar puts it: David leads with his pocket.[1] Before David solicits the entire nation for its contributions, David himself provides the lead gift.

David leads with his pocket. That’s one of the hardest ways to lead, isn’t it? King David and his son and heir apparent are the two most prominent protagonists in the story I read a moment ago, and they are leaders in different ways. David is a Temple Funder and Solomon is a Temple Builder. David raises the money and Solomon actually constructs the edifice.

Every religious organization in the world needs both types of leaders: Temple Funders and Temple Builders.

Sallie Smith is a Temple Builder; she actually does the work of ministry around here.

Laura Linger is a Temple Builder; so is Bruce; they do everything around here, as you can plainly see.

Diana Connolly, Sunday School Teacher extraordinaire, is a Temple Builder; she probably isn’t even here this morning because she’s teaching the kids.

Marian Hanold, Stephen Minister, is a Temple Builder; she cares for the folk. All of these people might also be Temple Funders; I don’t know; that’s mostly secret, but I know they are Temple Builders at least.

So maybe you don’t want to teach Sunday School; maybe you can’t name the four Gospels and don’t know which Testament the Book of Deuteronomy is in. Maybe you’d rather have a root canal than sit through a long Board meeting. You can still lead by being a Temple Funder. It’s best to be both, but be at least one.

Are you a leader? Some of you are. You know who you are. Ten percent of our families contribute over 50 percent of our operating budget every year. That’s 60 families who underwrite more than half of our ministry: 60 and 50: those are scary numbers; the first is too small and the second is too large.

Last year, 637 families—out of a total of about 1,000 families on our rolls made a gift to the operating budget. It takes $2 million to run this place for a year: to pay the staff, keep the lights on, heat the building in January, and replace one of the, like, ten air conditioning units on the roof every year.

637 pledges, $2 million. You can do the math. We need an average pledge of $3,200. Not all of you will be able to give that much, but many of you will give much more—way, way, way more. Bev told me this week that one member increased his pledge from $55,000 last year to $60,000 this year; that’s leading with your pocket. If you can’t give $3,200 this year, start small, start anywhere; start with $20 a week, then go up 10–20 percent every year; you’ll be surprised how generous your philanthropy has become after 20 years.

In 1960, a bright young man with a great mind but minimal interest in schoolwork graduated from the high school in Medford, Massachusetts, with mediocre grades. Capable of straight A’s, he brought home mostly C’s.

But he was gifted in mathematics and during high school worked part-time for an electronics company whose owner had a degree from Johns Hopkins University. She urged him to apply, and despite his mediocre transcripts, he did, and, perhaps because of the intervention of his kindly boss, Johns Hopkins accepted him. Now 76 years old, this guy says “Let’s be serious; they took a chance on me.”

Well, it all worked out for this young man and for Johns Hopkins. At Hopkins, he earned a few A’s, became president of his fraternity, and a big man on campus.

The year after he graduated, out of gratitude to the university for taking a chance on him, he made a gift to the university. It was all he could afford: $5. That was 50 years ago.

A couple of years ago, this same guy gave Johns Hopkins $300 million, which brings his total contribution to that university over the years to $1.5 billion.

They say Johns Hopkins as it exists today would be unrecognizable without these gifts from the former mayor of New York City whose name is all over your computer screens at the office if you work for Blair or BMO or Northern Trust. He’s given a physics building, a school for public health, a children’s hospital, a stem-cell research institute, a malaria institute, a library wing, and funding for 20 percent of the need-based financial aid to undergraduates. I guess it was a good thing Johns Hopkins took a chance on this mediocre high school student.[2]

It all started with a $5 gift from a 22-year-old kid. Michael Bloomberg is 76 years old now, about the same age as King David and acting just like him. He plans to give away his entire $50 billion fortune before he dies.

So David gives the right answer to stewardship’s first question: Who should give? I should. David led with his pocket.

David also answers the second question of stewardship: What should you give? David answers “A lot!” David thought big. No diminutive dreams and parsimonious plans for King David.

Solomon’s Temple was not a huge edifice. According to the Bible, it was about 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 50 feet tall, or, conveniently, about the same footprint as this church and about as tall as our steeple.  It was not huge, but it was covered with gold and silver and precious gems.

The Chronicler tells us that David collected about 3,700 tons of gold and 33,000 tons of silver; by today’s precious metal valuations, that means that in gold and silver alone, without labor costs and real estate procurement, the Temple was worth about $217 billion.

Now, of course the Chronicler is clearly exaggerating. Today, the most expensive building in the world cost about $15 billion; The Freedom Tower cost about $3.8 billion; a couple of years ago Blackstone bought the Willis Tower for $1.3 billion.

Someone calculated that if the Chronicler is correct, Solomon’s Temple used 1/30th of all the gold that has ever been mined in the history of the world, which means that all the gold mined in the history of the world could build only 30 such buildings.

Full disclosure: that last statistic comes from the Internet, so don’t trust it too far, but still...

More full disclosure; there is no evidence that Solomon’s Temple ever actually existed; no archaeological evidence has ever been uncovered and no mention in extra-biblical literature of what would have been, if it existed, the Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World.

So the first thing David gets right about stewardship is that he leads with his pocket. The second thing is that his stewardship goals are ambitious. And the third thing David gets right is the motivation for stewardship.

That is to say, David gives because he knows that it all belongs to God in the first place. “For all things come from you,” prays King David, “and of your own have we given to you. For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors.” That is to say, we are guests on this earth and stewards of the resources of the Creator of all the burning suns and spinning worlds. It does not belong to us; we are managing it for someone else.

So, your gift to the Church, your gift to your alma mater, your gift to the CSO or the Lyric, your gift to the United Way—it’s all regifting.

Regifting has a bad reputation in our world; regifting is when someone gives you something tasteless or unwanted for Christmas and you turn right around and give it to somebody else before taking it out of the package as if it were your own original gift.

But maybe it’s time to redeem the reputation of regifting. That’s all your church pledge really is: you are returning to others, as a gift, what you originally received from God, as a gift. So go ahead and regift; it’s a wonderful thing.[3]

When I was serving the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, the congregation sponsored some refugees from Russia. Peter and Lilja had been devout Baptists in Russia, and in the 1990's during the dying days of the Soviet Union and the rebirthing of the new Russia, devout Baptists were harshly persecuted. I think I might have told you about them before.

So Peter and Lilja came to the United States and ended up in Grand Rapids. They needed a car.  So one morning at worship, I made an announcement from the pulpit that Peter and Lilja needed a car if anybody was looking for a good home for an old but serviceable car.

That afternoon Greg Dekker called me up at home. Some of you have met my friend Greg Dekker. Greg said the church could have his car. Greg Dekker was 32 years old at the time; he had two little kids; he was doing okay but I had no idea he had the means to give such a generous gift. But I guess Greg heard the voice of God telling him to donate his car.

But here’s some advice. You should always sleep on these kinds of things. On Monday Greg came to my office. He was a little dazed. I think he was a little surprised and a little regretful about his spontaneous generosity. I think he probably wondered whether he could afford this too.

Most of the time when we are more generous than we ought to be, it gives us great joy, but to be honest, this time, in Greg’s case, I think it might have given him more anxiety than joy.

Greg confided in his father that his gift of a car to the church made him anxious. His father just said, matter-of-factly, wisely: “There will be other cars.”

That’s correct, right? There will be other cars. So we give with abandon, because it all comes from God in the first place.

[1]Leslie C. Allen, The First and Second Books of Chronicles: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, eds. Leander Keck, et. al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), vol. III, p. 467.

[2]Michael Barbaro, “$1.1 Billion in Thanks From Bloomberg to Johns Hopkins,” The New York Times, January 26, 2013; and Ron Winslow, “Michael Bloomberg Gives $300 Million to Johns Hopkins for Public-Health Effort,” The Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2016.

[3]Martin E. Marty talks about giving this way in “Regifting,” The Christian Century, December 26, 2006, 55.