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Click her for the video version of the sermon.

An Extreme Generosity

I would be very surprised if anyone in this room had heard the name Dobri Dobrev, also known as Grandpa Dobri, Elder Dobri, or The Saint of Bailovo, before this moment. I would also be surprised if you forget his story – even if you can’t remember his name – after you hear it. Dobri was a survivor of the second world war (which left him mostly deaf), a pensioner who lived outside the city of Sofia, Bulgaria on a monthly stipend of about ninety dollars. In the interview I saw of him, Dobri had an almost wild-eyed look from the combination of hearing loss and what appeared to be failing eyesight. He was dressed in clothing that appeared to be handmade from scraps of discarded pieces that others had thrown out.

Each day, Dobri would get up, eat a meager meal of bread with salt and crushed red pepper, and travel anywhere from six to twenty-five miles from his home in Bailovo to the city of Sofia where he would stand near churches and ask for money from passersby. Every night, he traveled back to his simple, ramshackle shed to live in what most would consider unlivable. To look at him, you might assume he was an old man simply trying to survive, begging for enough to eat and keep a roof over his head. He died at the age of 103 in 2018 but that was not the extraordinary part of this man whose life of poverty hid an incredible generosity.

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Image taken from the website The Invisible Pinoy.

When asked if he used any of the money for himself, Dobri answered, “Nothing! I have my pension and God gives me my bread. Merciful people give me bread.” During all the time that he asked for money from people, Dobri kept none of it. He gave all the money collected from handouts – he was adamant about his work not being begging – to the church, specifically to help with the upkeep and repairs of orthodox churches in the town of Sofia. In the course of his life, Dobri donated over forty-five thousand dollars in collections to the church. That is seven and half years’ worth of wages using current figures. Dobri could have chosen to live well on this money but instead, chose and extreme generosity out of his devotion to the church, something that seems obvious by watching him as he knelt in before the altar and lit prayer candles in the church.[1]

God’s Extreme Generosity

As we look at our passage this morning, we see the Israelites gathering in preparation to go over into the Promised Land of Canaan. As with the previous chapter and the one following, they are getting instructions to prepare them for what lies ahead. These instructions are part of some final words of wisdom that God is sharing through Moses with the people of Israel. In the chapter before this, there is some practical advice on getting along with one another and in the chapter following, there is advice on setting up memorial stones that bear the ten commandments (Exodus 20) so the people will “keep the entire commandment that I am commanding you today.”[2]

In chapter 26, God is speaking to the people about a special offering of the first fruits of the land. This offering comes from the land itself and is an offering of acknowledgement, one that acknowledges the land that has been given to them is a land that provides all they need and a land that has been provided to them by God (v.1). In this offering, the people are looking back and remembering that God has been generous to them as they are the descendants of a ‘wandering Aramean’ – Jacob – who went to Egypt as a small band or family and eventually became a people so numerous as to threaten to overtake all of Egypt. Eventually, the Egyptians would begin to feel threatened and enslave the children of Israel. However, they were not forgotten or abandoned.

When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;[3]

They are also recognizing what God is doing for them presently, having brought them into a “land of milk and honey”, a fertile land that can supply them with all they need. They are called to bring an offering to “the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.”[4] The offering we read about here is not a tithe like the one described in 26:12; the offering has no specified amount of the “first fruits” of harvest, though it needs to be enough to supply a feast for the farmer and those who are part of his estate, most likely his laborers and those he protects (see v.11).[5] A surprising thing about this offering is that in the third year – the year of the tithe – it is not given to support the temple but to support those who are landless and have no way to support themselves – widows, orphans, resident aliens and Levites.[6] It becomes a means of using generosity to remember the generosity that God has shown Israel – delivering them from Egypt, leading them through the wilderness and preparing them to be his people, protecting them from their enemies along the way, and finally, giving them a land for the children of Abraham.

As we consider the generosity we have talked about this morning – the generous life of Dobri Dobrev, the generosity of God toward his people, the generosity his people show as gratitude for God’s generosity – I want us to think about the generosity we have received. How many times has God provided for you in your lifetime? Do you live in a home? If so, you are better off than the thousands without one. Do you have food to eat? Then life is better for you than the forty million people who struggle with food insecurity. We are given so much and yet we so often fail to remember it, something God charged Israel with doing in this passage as they looked back on the things God had done for the people going back to the days of Jacob.

Our charge is to be a generous people. Jesus defines this as part of what it is to be a disciple when he speaks on those who will inherit the Kingdom saying,

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’[7]

These are simple things to offer another person – food, water, clothing, companionship, hospitality, grace – and they are, by Jesus reckoning, the heart of what it means to both be generous and to inherit the Kingdom. This is true generosity, true discipleship, a true expression of loving God and loving neighbor.

The question we must ask ourselves is simply this: are we a generous people, living into the example of God’s generosity toward us? If not, why not?


References

Jones, Brian C. Commentary on Deuteronomy 26:1-11. 02 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3989 (accessed 03 07, 2019).


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8d2VoN3oiZ8

[2] Deuteronomy 27:1

[3] Deuteronomy 26:6-8

[4] Deuteronomy 26:2

[5] (Jones 2019)

[6] (Jones 2019)

[7] Matthew 25:34-36

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