Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 20 September 20 2020
Exodus 16:2-15, Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45, Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16
So your teenager walks into the house after school, or in the olden days, after football practice, or band rehearsal, or just takes a break from homework, or even about an hour after dinner, and looks through the cupboards, opens the refrigerator door, and says, "Mom! There's nothin to eat."
I love this story. We are all just like the Israelites in this part of the Exodus. Whining, whining, whining, "God, we have nothing to eat, and what’s more, we don't like what you’ve given us to eat." I do think that if I were wandering in the wilderness with Moses and Aaron for 40 years, I might be a little whinny too. “God, we’re tired, we’re hungry, we may as well have stayed in Egypt for all this gets us.” And they are reminded that in Egypt they were slaves, at least in the desert they are free.
This is a great story. In the verses that follow these we just heard, God instructs them to gather up what they need for themselves and their families. Each family gets just what they need, no more, no less. Then Moses instructs them not to save any of it, don’t leave any until morning he tells them. Well, some didn’t listen to Moses, and hoarded the food that God had provided for them, they put it in their pockets and their backpacks, and it got wormy and smelled bad. So not only do they not seem to want or like what God provides for them, they go ahead and eat it anyway, and then save some up for later, only for it to go bad on them. Lord, lord, lord, give us something to eat, give us something better to eat, we don’t like what you’ve given us, but even though we don’t like it we’ll save it for later and risk losing what is right here in front of us.
God provides, God provides enough. Even when it doesn’t look good. It’s all God’s anyway. Matthew’s gospel is paired with this story from Exodus and it carries the theme even farther. Matthew’s story always seems so topsy-turvy, so inside-out. The day laborers that show up at the end of the day get paid the same as those who showed up early to work, and work or no work, everyone gets paid the same. What is God’s kingdom like? God’s kingdom is not business as usual. Remember, kingdom parables serve to show us that God is doing this absolutely new thing, there is no business as usual. In this kingdom everything is re-ordered. It’s not even as simple as the last will be first, and the first shall be last. God coming into our midst, living, loving, suffering, dying, and being raised from the dead creates life in a way it has never been before.
So this kingdom parable doesn’t sit well with those who heard it centuries ago, and it doesn’t sit well with people who hear it today, because we are trained to believe there is a reward. The simplest statement of that is if we live a good life, we’ll get our reward in heaven. This parable refutes that conventional wisdom. Our wages are paid at the baptismal font, not at the grave. The new life that God has affected is available from the beginning. We live our whole lives loved by God, the delight of God’s life.
Following Jesus is not about earning our wage or getting our reward in heaven. Following Jesus is about responding to God’s amazing and abundant love, about being bathed in God’s grace, right here, right now. Following Jesus is about the fruits of our baptism; following Jesus is about responding to the joys and challenges of our lives in ways that show forth the grace that God has given us. Following Jesus is not easy nor is it clear, it is not about finding Jesus, it’s about being found by God’s love. Following Jesus is about grace and forgiveness, the grace and forgiveness that God offers us, and the grace and forgiveness that we offer one another as we love our neighbors as ourselves.
So when did we get so greedy? When did we begin to hoard what we have? These stories we hear today remind us or maybe even teach us that we’ve got all we need, and there’s enough for everyone. Let me repeat that, we’ve got all we need, and there’s enough for everyone.
One of the seminal stories about who we are and to whom we are related is the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Moses relayed the ten commandments to the Hebrews as they wandered. Moses said to the people, “God spoke all these words: I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me.” No other gods, only me, the Hebrew people, like us, had so much trouble accepting God’s gift of enough.
God asks us for our undivided attention, and God gives us all we need. Those wandering in the wilderness have so much trouble accepting God’s gift of enough, and instead made their own god out of the gold they had found. They got greedy. We get greedy, and we are encouraged in our greediness by a culture that constantly encourages us to buy more, and bigger, regardless of our ability to do so, regardless of need. Now, as much as the Hebrew people needed to hear “no other gods, only me,” and as much as the Jews of the first century needed to hear the inbreaking of God’s kingdom re-orders all that they knew to be true, we, in the 21st century need to hear this message that we are sought and we are found, that God loves us abundantly and claims us. Our wages are paid at the baptismal font, we are new creations.
This is good news indeed. Good news in a world that needs good news. Good news that this life isn’t just about you, but it is about how you, and me, and every one of us is loved, regardless of wealth, social status, color of skin, ability, or so many other categories we place people into. And it is about how you in turn love one another. It is about how you are the delight of God’s life, and about how you pay that forward.
This is good news indeed. Good news in the midst of what feels like chaos. Good news in the midst of death. God’s gift of enough. And, we are called to be a part of systems in which God’s gift of grace, God’s gift of mercy and compassion, is evident to all God’s beloveds. It is about how God transforms the world with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and how God continues to transform us and the world as each of us goes out into the world to do the work we are called to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. Amen