Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What is it?

The name that the Israelites gave to the bread from heaven, the food that God provided, was Manna, which means, “What is it?” Our text says,
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.

What is it? That is the question I want us to dwell on this morning. The Lord taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” What has he given you? What has the Lord provided? It is so easy to lose sight of all the ways God has been faithful to us. It is so much easier to focus on what we don’t have and to dwell on our struggles.

When God’s people were wandering in the wilderness they all began to grumble and complain. They actually wished that they were dead. They began to look back longingly on their slavery in Egypt. At least there they had food!
They forgot how when they were groaning under the unbearable weight of their oppression in Egypt, God delivered them and led them out with a mighty outstretched hand. He showed them signs and wonders. He split the Red Sea so that they walked through on dry ground. But what had he done for them lately?

The spiritual discipline of counting our blessings is so important. I can sometimes be guilty of catastrophic thinking. When things start to get difficult I assume the worst. I can become anxious and worried about the future. Sometimes in those situations, if I can actually step away from my worries for a moment, it helps to be able to think back on how God has helped me in the past and to take an accounting of what he is doing at the moment. 

I remember how lonely I was at one point in my life. How I thought I would never find someone to love, but then I met April, who for some crazy reason agreed to marry me.

You might laugh at this one. When April and I were first married we lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment. We were so happy to have our own place together. After a year though, I began to feel dissatisfied. Would we ever live in a house? Would I ever make a decent living?

In seminary I worried if I would ever find a job. When I found a great curacy in Cooperstown, I worried that I would never find a job as a rector. I worried that I wouldn’t be happy with the place God sent me.

Now, I consider the gorgeous rectory where my beautiful family lives—much nicer than anyplace I have lived before. I look around at this beautiful, historic, church building that I have the pleasure of serving in. I think about you all—the wonderful congregation here at Saint George’s—and I feel blessed. The Lord has been good to me. The Lord provides. Why should I not trust that he will continue to provide?

The same incident recorded in our reading from Exodus is also described in the book of Psalms. Psalm 78 describes it this way,

For they had no faith in God, *
nor did they put their trust in his saving power.
So he commanded the clouds above *
and opened the doors of heaven.
He rained down manna upon them to eat *
and gave them grain from heaven.
So mortals ate the bread of angels; *
he provided for them food enough.

God was angry and frustrated with his people, so what did he do? He blessed them! He gave them all the food they needed. What is the meaning of this? I think it must be similar to what Saint Paul meant when he said we should show love to those who wrong us, because in so doing we will pour burning coals upon their heads. God’s extravagant generosity is a rebuke to us because it exposes our lack of gratitude. When we consider how generous God has been to us we should feel convicted and resolve to be more faithful. And yet how does the psalm continue?
But they did not stop their craving, though the food was still in their mouths”

Sometimes we are not happy unless what we have is better than what somebody else has. Be honest with yourselves and you will see that it is true!
Take a look at the parable in our Gospel lesson. It is a story about a man who hires some laborers to work in his vineyard. In those days, in that place, for many people, work was extremely hard to come by. They were living day to day. They never knew where their next meal would come from. Crowds of men would gather in the marketplace just hoping someone would offer them a day’s work. These particular men were very fortunate to have been chosen that day. They were completely at the mercy of the men who hired them—no labor unions back then—but fortunately this man agreed to pay them a fair wage.

What happens? He finds some other guys at the end of the day and hires them on too. The thing is, he pays them the same. He pays these guys an entire day’s wage for one hour’s work at the end of the day. This was extremely generous, but it really upsets all the other guys. Suddenly they aren’t so happy about what he gave them. He asks them, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

That is another good question. Are we envious over God’s generosity to other people? God owes us nothing and yet he has given us everything we have. Why not give thanks for what he has provided rather than begrudging his generosity to others?

Sometimes we don’t even know we want something until we see someone else enjoying it. Have you ever seen children at play? They all fight over the same toy! There can be a thousand toys available but they want to have the one that the other kid has. Psychologists have a word for this. They call it mimetic desire. The old fashioned word for it is envy, and we really haven’t out grown it yet.

When I consider how petty I can sometimes be, I am humbled by Saint Paul’s words in our Epistle today. He writes, “To me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”  What more could he possible need? He has Christ! He has the gift of salvation and communion with God in his Lord. He has the ultimate gift that even death cannot separate from him. What treasure in this world can be compared to Christ? In the words of the great hymn,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,Look full in His wonderful face,And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,  In the light of His glory and grace

What is it? What is it that God has given you? Bread from heaven! Christ has given you his own body and blood, his whole self, body, soul, and divinity. He has rained down blessing upon us more than we deserve. The question we should be asking is not, “What has God done for me lately,” but, “What have I done for God lately? What can I do? What can I give to show my gratitude to him for his extravagant generosity? 

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