Sunday, September 27, 2020
“Is the Lord among us or not?”
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
“Is the Lord among us or not?” That’s the question the people of Israel were asking as they wandered in the wilderness. I imagine Moses himself might have been asking the same question. Certainly, there is concern and frustration on the part of Moses. We know Moses is frustrated and frightened because he says to God. “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
Since I have not spent any time on the Exodus story that we have been reading for the past several weeks let us take a moment to rewind the story and bring you up to speed.
The past several weeks have been stories of thirst, hunger and thirst. Back a few weeks ago they are thirsty and Moses finds a spring but the water is bitter. God tells Moses to throw a stick into the water and it becomes drinkable and they are satisfied. Then a week ago we had the story about God providing quails and manna for their hunger. This week they are again thirsty. God sends Moses out into the wilderness, instructs him to tap a specific rock and water gushes out. Again, they have water.
What happens though in each of these is that the people are grumbling, angry, in fact so angry Moses is worried this week that they will stone him. They all look backwards and long for the good old days. Oh when we were in Egypt sitting by the fleshpots with the onions and leeks. Yet they seem to forget that they were slaves and treated horribly.
The Exodus account is a foundational story of the Jewish religion in fact it is the most important of all the stories in the Bible. The Exodus saga defines who the Jewish people are. The wilderness theme is also a central theme in the Bible. Think of all the times people, prophets and even Jesus go into the wilderness. Why?
Now many paint the wilderness as a negative place and many people consider wilderness time as negative. However, a wilderness experience can also be one of great growth and development. That is ultimately what the 40 years of Israel’s wander is all about. Out of this crucible of the wilderness the nation of Israel is formed.
We have forgotten that in a large part of the world a time in the wilderness is part of the process of growing up. American Indian males would be sent into the wilderness as adolescents to find themselves. They had a quest that often resulted in their finding their adult name, and claim their adult identity. My Camino walk was in reality a wilderness time. We have lost that sense of quest in the wilderness in our modern world. As a result we do not know how to handle the wilderness experiences that confront us in our lives. And make no mistake we are in a wilderness time with pressures and concerns coming from all sides.
One thing that often happens in the wilderness is a mindset of scarcity. That is what we are seeing in the Israelites in this part of their journey. Three times they have been in trouble and three times God has come through for them. How quickly they seem to forget and how little they trust God. In the part of the Exodus story that is omitted in the lectionary (Exodus 16: 16-21), they are told to gather exactly an omer of manna for each person in their tent. Never mind what an omer is, the experts don’t really know. What happens is that no matter how much or how little they gathered, when they weighed what they had, it was an omer. They were told to eat it all for there would be more the next day, but guess what? They didn’t listen and some saved pieces of the manna and when they got up the next morning it was filled with worms and became foul. Moses was angry with them; angry because this was as much about their trusting in the Lord as it was about food for them to eat.
This is what an attitude of scarcity does to us. It fosters an attitude that says, there isn’t enough along with I have to take care of myself first and not trust anyone else even God. Me first is the message. We certainly saw this in the early stages of the pandemic. Remember the toilet paper shortage and hoarding issues last winter?
Yet what does this passage teach us? What do the many passages about God giving us what we need show us? Elijah is fed by the ravens to sustain him during a difficult time. Jesus challenges the disciples to feed the 5000 with just a few loaves and fishes. The message throughout scripture is do not despair, have faith that God will provide. Now what God provides might prove to be a surprise.
I have learned through several events in my life to trust in God to provide what I need. That is different from what I want or even had in mind. When my wife Wendy took over Good Samaritan in Virginia Beach, they had 15 people on a Sunday. Many were talking about what church they would attend when the parish closed. Even the bishop told Wendy to give it a shot, but if it needed to close that was ok. He said, they had money for 24 months. Talk about a challenge to our faith. After all the hard work to get her ordained her first assignment is a failing parish.
Now she prayed, Lord send us the people that we need. Now there was a group home for intellectually challenged adults next to Good Sam and one of the men regularly came to church. When he was transferred to another home he asked if he could keep coming. So the aides brought him and then he started to bring others from his new group home. And within 6 months three group homes that were all under the same company were bringing men with intellectual disabilities as the word spread that they were welcome at Good Sam. In fact they made up almost a third of the congregation on Sunday. Sunday attendance had doubled to almost 40 and while money was tight, each month there was always enough to keep the parish open for the next 24 months.
One of the members said, “Wendy we’ve been praying for new members but this isn’t what we meant.” Wendy said, “Yes but these are the members that God has sent us.”. Good Samaritan went on to partner with Enoch Baptist, a large African American congregation next door and together they opened a 2 million dollar Family Life Center for the community that provides day care and education enrichment along with athletic programs. God provides, have faith.
As I have been pondering these passages and the lessons, one thing keeps popping up and it is a word; enough. It occurs to me that maybe the opposite of scarcity is not abundance but enough. God provided the Israelites with enough, with what they needed, and they had trouble adjusting to that and trusting that God would always provide enough. What if we took a world view that says there is enough for everyone and that we all have enough to share. How might thinking about what it means to have enough change you and your approach to the world.
This is a very countercultural idea. Our consumer economy is built on an entirely different premise. Just look at the ads on TV or on your computer. The message is that you never have enough and always need more. And the more you have the happier you are. And well that just isn’t true, it just means you have more stuff and probably need to get a storage unit for your extra stuff.
Now I am planting that seed right now in the middle of this time of anxiety. In a stewardship cohort I am in from the diocese everybody is concerned about our fall pledge campaigns in this time of anxiety. So as we prepare to talk about our programs and offering over the next month and how to fund them, take some time to ponder the concept of enough and what it might mean to you. Think about it every time you say the Lord’s prayer and you get to the and give us this day our daily bread part. That is inspired by our Exodus story.
Wilderness times are good times to rethink our priorities and we are certainly in a wilderness time. So ask God to show what enough looks like for you. AMEN