Monday, September 22, 2008

Fleshpots! - A Sermon

I don’t know about your week, but I’ve had my eyes on the business section of the paper.  It didn’t help that we remembered our life insurance is with a company name AIG - ever hear of it?  We’ve watched stocks take a nauseating roller coaster ride, thousands lose jobs, and uncertainty everywhere.

So, anyone a little anxious about the future?  Even churches are anxous.  After all, depend on parishioners for financial survival.  And this year more than any other we’ve had more pledging parishioners come and say, “I just don’t have the money to pay my pledge.”

Our treasurer and I were at a stewardship conference yesterday, and one of the first things they said to us was that people were hurting, so we could expect a difficult pledge campaign this year and significant belt tightening.  The next thing they said was, we are still the church, and money does not define our mission.  In fact, in times likes, we can shine.  More on that later.

So, we're in anxious times and nobody -- NOBODY -- knows how this will end.

Which makes today’s Old Testament reading from Exodus perfect for us.  Because if ever a group of people were facing an uncertain future and looking back on the “good times” they once had, this is it.  

You probably know the story of the Israelites after they left Egypt.  First God leads them out of slavery, then God saves them from the wrath of the Egyptian army, and then?  Well, then they look ahead to a vast desert with little or nothing to feed them.  They look to the future and see only certain doom.

Then they turn on Moses.  “Is this it?” they ask in anger.  “We had it good back then.  All we could eat, -- FLESHPOTS for goodness sake!”  Fleshpots.  Excess.  Luxury.  

We, of course, remember that they had lousy lives in Egypt.  Increasingly harsh treatment from their captors even before Moses showed up, less food, more work.  But we are not in that desert with them facing possible death.  

Or at least, we weren’t a couple of weeks ago.  Granted, financial uncertainty isn’t the same as dying of starvation in 120 degree temperatures.  But I bet it doesn’t feel too good, either.

It’s only natural to feel anxious and upset -- to look back on those happy days when survival wasn’t the problem.  Abuse was, but hey….

So what is the lesson?  They were in the desert - we’re in the desert.  They were anxious - we’re anxious.  

The lesson is this:  Trust the Lord.  Longing for the “good old days” may be understandable, but it won’t feed the people of Israel, and it won’t save anyone today.  Killing Moses (which they were tempted to do), would not have helped either.  What helped the Israelites was trusting God -- or at least trusting Moses who trusted God.  

That’s what we can do, too.  Trust that God is always with us -- especially in the painful times.  Trust that there is manna in our wilderness, and that we will not be left alone, either by God or by this church.  

St. James’ may not be Moses, but this congregation trusts God’s love for us.  This group of people in the vast wilderness of modern life in America is here right now, holding our arms up to God and trusting that, yes, the Lord will provide.  Anyone in this congregation who gets hit by these hard times can trust that their brothers and sisters are here to help.  

How?  I’ve used my discretionary fund over the years to help many parishioners get over bumps in their lives.  That’s what it’s for.  How else?  Well, those parishioners who are able can jump in to help cover for those who run into difficulty and can’t meet their pledges.  It’s more common than you might think.  If you’re lucky enough never to have experienced this, that’s great!  Give thanks to God and consider increasing your giving.  

You might be interested to note God’s response to those frightened and anxious (not to mention angry) Israelites.  God feeds them.  True, he only feeds them enough for the day -- God wants them to trust that he will feed them EACH day -- but the point is he feeds them.  And God will care for you.  There are people here who will see to it because like the people of Israel, we are bound to each other through the Lord.  

But I want to bring in for a  moment another story about anxiety and anger.  It’s almost the polar opposite of the Old Testament.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who hires day laborers a little at a time.  Day laborers are, of course, people who stand on the corner and wait for someone to hire them for the day.  If they don’t get hired, they don’t eat that day.  

The longer you stand, the less likely you are to be hired, and the more anxious you are about going hungry.  You get the idea.

Today’s Gospel is about the lucky ones -- the folks who get hired early in the day.  Sure, they have to work, but they do so with the knowledge that they will eat.  They work anxiety free.  But they are the angry ones at the end of the story because the landowner had mercy.  

God of course is the landowner, and this parable tells us that God cares for all alike.  Those who have -- who are enjoying the fleshpots -- and those who are anxious times.  So, how is it that those who worked all day became angry?  They got what they wanted, and there’s no way they would have traded places with the idle workers.  

That’s our problem isn’t it?  When we are eating out of the fleshpots, we resent those who aren’t, especially if God helps them.  But again, the point isn’t that we’ve earned anything.  The point is that God cares for us.  Loves us.  Has mercy on us all.  

We are the people of Israel, sometimes in bondage, sometimes in the wilderness facing an uncertain future.  We are the day laborers, some of us working hard in the knowledge that we have already been granted entrance into heaven, others still standing idle and anxious about what the future brings.

For us who are followers of Christ, the message is simple.  Trust the Lord’s love -- and share it with those who need it every bit as much as you.  Amen.