October 5, 2014 – Enough

Exodus 16:1-3, 9-12

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger….”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

Exodus 16:13-18, 31

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’“ The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed….

The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

2 Corinthians 8:15, 9:6-12

As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little….” The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

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Pentecost 17 Exodus 16:1-3,9-12,13-18, 31; 2 Corinthians 8:15, 9:6-12   Enough

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Almost as soon as we’ve passed-through the Red Sea’s parted-waters and left slavery behind – God is already serving free lunch. I know, we’ve heard it said “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” But here’s God, serving free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week.

Here’s God, actually encouraging welfare dependency. Reminding me of the ancient poet, Buck Owens, singing, “I walked out of my job about a week ago, now I’m sleeping in a telephone booth… But I’ll be the richest guy around…. the day you say you’re mine… I got the hungry’s for your love…. and I’m waiting in your welfare line….”

Israel has walked away from steady jobs as slaves in Egypt – all because of God, whose love – if we receive it – will feed us forever… And here we are, standing in God’s sanctified welfare line – learning just how much we need God for all our needs…

Once we get to the promised land God’s leading us into, there will be plenty work for everyone. But unless we first learn that everything good is a gift from God, we’ll never appreciate work – or rest – or anything else in life. Unless we first cultivate an attitude of gratitude towards God – no matter how much we work – no matter how much we make or think we accomplish – no matter how many pleasures or peak experiences we have – none of this will ever really be enough.

As the book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations that our churches have been studying points out – whenever pollsters ask Americans, ‘how much more would it take for you to be happy?’ – in survey after survey we say, ‘twenty percent more than we have now.’ Across the economic spectrum – rich, poor, middle class, whatever – we tell pollsters the same thing. If only we had twenty percent more than we do, we’d be happy. Then, when we get that big promotion, start making twenty percent more – we still say it will take another twenty percent to really be happy.      As a culture we’ve swallowed the advertizing world’s bait, hook, line and sinker.

So God’s first move, soon as we leave the land of slavery, is to start weaning us off slavery’s big lie (that so many have internalized) – about how happy we’d be if only we had a little more of Egypt…

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Ancient commentaries on Exodus say that all the food Israel brought with them from Egypt ran out about now… And just as disaster seems imminent – now, again, God talks to Moses. Moses talks to Israel. A banquet of quail arrives, in the evening. Then, first thing next morning, fresh bread’s on the ground, free for the gathering. And for the next forty years, Israel eats manna, every day. Always there’s enough. Every day, those who gather a little get enough – and those who gather a lot – don’t get too much.

The bible tells us manna “was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made of honey.” But when Israel first sees manna on the ground, they don’t recognize it. They say mahn hu? – meaning what is it? The word manna comes from the Hebrew words mahn and hu, meaning ‘what is it?

When God’s grace first appears in front of our eyes – and its not for sale – and we don’t have to work to receive it – just pick it up off the ground – and mix it, fix it, any way we like – tastes great uncooked, scripture also says we can bake it, boil it, barbeque it – and for anyone with a good attitude, ancient commentaries again say, it was delicious – and tasted like whatever we like best…

But still we’re not sure what to make of it. Grace is hard to recognize – if all we know is Egypt – where everything always has a price and everything’s always for sale.

The whole concept of free grace manna – and some gathering just a little, yet still getting plenty – while others gather a lot, and yet don’t gather too much – can still boggle our minds – even if we are used to God feeding us every day…

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But – more than a thousand years after the exodus, the apostle Paul still takes this same message – ‘the one who had a lot didn’t have too much – and the one who had a little didn’t have too little’ – re-mixing the biblical teaching about receiving – now into a teaching mostly about giving…

When we give generously, St Paul says, not from what we don’t have, but from what we do have – God will make whatever we give into plenty. And bless us abundantly…

If we have just a little, we should give a little. If we have quite a lot, we should give quite a lot. When we pray about what we should give, then give from the heart, God will bless and use whatever we give – to bless all those who receive – and to bless, abundantly also, all who give…

The first principle of Christian stewardship is simply knowing God will provide. It’s not even about money – nearly as much as learning to really trust God.

As we grow in our trusting of God, we learn, more and more, that God will always provide for our needs.

We will (of course) have to continue to think and pray about what our real needs really are… as our circumstances change from day to day, and year to year…

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Twenty five years ago I started attending church again after about seven years away from church. I joined a small Methodist church in the small town of Calais, Vermont where I lived. We’d hear stewardship messages, about this time of year, in which we were encouraged to move in the direction of giving a tithe, ten percent of income. Which, I thought, at first, seemed to be aiming too high. But God was working in my life… Our little church was starting to matter more and more to me. My needs were relatively simple. I was single at the time, and my mortgage payment was low. I heated with wood, had a garden, filled my freezer with trout from local lakes and rivers; ate healthy foods but not high off the hog.

Over the course of a few years I managed to be giving a tithe, even a bit over, some years. When I went off to seminary a few years later, my income dropped, and since the tithing’s concept about giving in proportion to income, my giving also went down. But having established the habit of tithing, and being well blessed in the practice… it wasn’t difficult for me to increase giving again when I went back to work full time, after seminary. And before we were married Reah and I talked about giving and knew we were both committed to tithing.

Everyone’s circumstances are different. We’re all called to be generous givers. But it’s up to each of us to pray and discern what level of giving God is calling each of us to. Our family tithes, and I believe this is a good goal for all Christians. Though, based on my reading of the New Testament, I also believe the tithe is not the only biblical standard. If someone’s income is at or below the poverty level, tithing may well be too much. (Unless their poverty is truly voluntary.) If someone’s income is well above what’s needed for meeting basic needs, tithing may well be too low. The New Testament has plentiful examples of people giving well beyond a tithe. Generous giving, in proportion to one’s means, rather than a one-size-fits-all percentage is where I hear the New Testament emphasis. More about that later…

For today I hope we will all find plentiful grace in the first principle of biblical stewardship – which again is – giving generously in proportion to what God has given – always trusting in God. Knowing that the one who gave bread for the journey to Israel every day in the wilderness… Still gives enough and to spare for all who trust our Loving God today…

Thanks be to God. Amen.