Rev. John Scott Trotter
St. Stephen’s, Blytheville; Calvary, Osceola
Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16
It doesn’t matter how you count it—seven verses or a month and a half—it hasn’t been all that long since God lead the Hebrews from slavery, under harsh conditions, through the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, into the wilderness of Sin, by way of Shur and Elim, heading to Sinai. It hasn’t been very long, and already the Hebrews are complaining. And yes, they may be hungry. But they have already seen God, through Moses, turn bitter water into sweet water, to quench their thirst. So, why do they complain? They have plenty of evidence God will provide; after all, they have recently been recipients of divine largesse, so why not just seek God’s help? Pride, vanity, arrogance, all the above, none of the above; I don’t think it matters. What does matter is that God hears complaints, directed towards Moses and Aaron and acts.
God will provide quail and bread for all to eat. Just as on the day of the Passover, the instructions are precise. This time, God’s people are directed to take just what they for the day, no less, no more. Curiously those who gather to little, have enough; and those who are greedy, or don’t trust and gather to much, discover their hoarded stores rotten. Even more curious, the day before Sabbath, the instructions say to gather two days rations; and on the Sabbath morning the stores of bread are fresh.
All this is so the Hebrews … shall see the glory of the Lord, … [and] know that I am the Lord your God. Much of the story of the Old Testament is about God working through miracles, or signs, and proxies or prophets to reveal the divine self to the people. Given that God is no slacker, the people must really be slackers. In Jesus day, not much has changed. One way we know this, is the parable we heard this morning.
You know the story. A farmer hires day labors first thing in the morning. Then more at 9, more at noon, more at 3, and even more at 5. At the end of the day, following practice prescribed in Torah, the farmer pays the workers their wages.
He pays those hired last first, a day’s wages. When those hired early in the morning are paid a day’s wages, they grumble, believing they been mistreated. The farmer rejects their complaint asking if they are envious because he is generous.
The King James bits harder with the farmer asking, Is your eye evil, because I am generous?
Both these stories reveal something about God’s absurd generosity. For one thing, God provides for a people whose most consistent trait, is to complain about God. For another God is the one who takes all the risks and who does all the work. And we have not even talked about quality or quantity.
These stories also reveal something about human nature. Rather than see how generous God has been to them, folks tend to see how God has been overly generous to those other folks over there. Again and again Bible stories reveal people who cannot, or will not see the abundance that surrounds them. All they can see, is scarcity, what these folks have we don’t. The tragedy of it all is that there really is an amazing abundance in the world.
The collect for today speaks to our being anxious about earthly things. It is in our nature to see the world, as those around us tell us what is—even when is, is plainly in their interest. It is in the interest of the principalities and powers of this world for us to believe the other has what is ours, that the other is out to steal what is ours, that there is not enough, so get yours before the other does and you are left out. It is in the best interest of the principalities and powers of this world to project scarcity. Scarcity gives rise to greed, and greed gives rise to profits, and profits to wealth, and wealth to power, and power to control, and control to god-ness; and that is the top of the pyramid; it is also the first sin: to seek to be like God.
There is, according to scripture, and Christian teaching, another way. It begins, in the beginning, in Genesis, where scripture clearly says, it ALL belongs to God. It continues with the abundant grace of God, most especially revealed in Jesus’s resurrection and the promise that all who believe, are heirs of the resurrection. This other way, is belief in divine abundance.
Divine abundance is not an easy way to see and respond to the world. We need each other to help each other live life from the knowledge of divine abundance. One expression of divine abundance is tithing, giving a tenth of all you have, according to the tradition established in Genesis, or a tenth of all you earn, according to church teachings. It’s certainly not because God needs it. Tithing is all about our need to give as an expression of our belief in abundance.
Some thoughts about tithing: It is 10%. Some will ask 10% of gross or net? A wise priest I know replies, Which pile do you want God to bless, the smaller one, or the bigger one? And there the story of a young man whose pastor always taught the tithe. The young man began to tithe. In time he became very wealthy and continued to tithe. In time and half a time he became tremendously wealthy. So much so the size of his tithe began to weigh on him. He explained to his pastor-mentor his problem and asked for permission not to tithe, because it was such a big number. His pastor answered: No, but I will pray for your income to decrease, so that your tithe will no longer be such a large number as to be a burden.
It is mid-September; fall and annual stewardship season are just around the corner. ‘Tis my prayer that this year our focus will not be budgets, but on the abundances that surround us.
That we help each other, not to see with an evil eye, but with a graced-filled eye, that sees, and knows and shares the divine abundance that surrounds us. And that that knowledge leads us to follow the farmer whose generosity in daily wages reflects manna and quail providing not just sustenance, but the glory of the Lord, and the very real presence of God.