FIRST READING: Exodus (16:2-15)
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 the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” 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.’” 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.”
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
1 Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4 Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
37 He led out his people with silver and gold; *
in all their tribes there was not one that stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad of their going, *
because they were afraid of them.
39 He spread out a cloud for a covering *
and a fire to give light in the night season.
40 They asked, and quails appeared, *
and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.
41 He opened the rock, and water flowed, *
so the river ran in the dry places.
42 For God remembered his holy word *
and Abraham his servant.
43 So he led forth his people with gladness, *
his chosen with shouts of joy.
44 He gave his people the lands of the nations, *
and they took the fruit of others’ toil,
45 That they might keep his statutes *
and observe his laws.
SECOND READING: Philippians (1:21-30)
To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (20:1-16)
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
On September 27, 1998, St. Mark’s Church met for worship, not in its usual location, but at Eastwood Metro Park, near the original St. Mark’s building. The occasion was a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the beginning of this faith community. The celebration was the start of a new parish tradition.
Today we are gathered here in Indian Riffle Park for our 14th annual Worship and Picnic in the Park. This yearly event is a relaxed and fun way to begin a new program year in the life of our parish, but it is also much more than that. This is an occasion to look back on where we have been in our journey together over the years, to reflect on where we are as a parish today, and to look forward to the work that God has for us to do in the year and the years to come.
Once again, our Sunday Lectionary has provided us with some wonderful readings to spur our thinking, our praying and our conversations. And it seems to me that our first reading, recounting an experience that the people of Israel had toward the beginning of their long journey in the wilderness, is especially apt for our reflection on this occasion. It describes, not an extraordinary event like the passing through the Red Sea or the encounter with God at Sinai, but God’s ordinary, everyday care for the people and God’s call to the people to use God’s ordinary gifts to continue the journey on which God has called them.
Now, in everyday parlance, “manna from heaven” can sometimes take on a meaning that is not there in the original story. People who have received a special, extraordinary, unexpected gift (usually monetary) sometimes refer to it as “manna from heaven.”
But in the Exodus narrative, manna is ordinary, daily food. Scholars suggest that what the Israelites came to call “manna” is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the Sinai Peninsula. The fruit of the tamarisk tree excretes a yellowish-white substance that falls to the ground as a flake or a ball. It has a sweet taste, and it is rich in carbohydrates and sugar. It is still gathered today by the native people of that land, who then bake it into cakes; and, yes, they still call it “manna.” It congeals in the cool of the morning, but quickly disintegrates in the heat.
Manna was not an extraordinary gift, miraculously falling from the sky each night. It was and is part of the natural world around us, feeding people, giving them their daily bread.
As our reading mentions, when the Israelites first saw it, they had no idea what it was or what to do with it. They asked simply “What is it?”: words that, in Hebrew, are very similar to the word “manna.” And, over the course of their journey, they came to depend on it, appearing on the ground morning after morning, feeding them for each day. They even came to complain about its very plain nature and wanted something better to eat. Yet it was this ordinary, everyday food that gave them strength for the journey and that sustained them for forty years in the wilderness until they finally reached the Promised Land.
I wonder what sort of manna has sustained this parish community over the years and what sort of manna feeds us today. Aren’t there many ordinary gifts that we tend to take for granted, and yet on which our life as a church depends? Some of that manna, perhaps most of it, is a gift from God, given through our fellow members of the parish.
Those of you who are around our buildings during the week or who keep in touch with all that happens there know about some of that manna. There are members of this parish who contribute to its life and ministry, who feed us, in many seemingly small but vitally important ways. There are folks who cut the grass, and clean out the gutters, and sign the checks, and set up for and clean after our worship services and a variety of special events. There are people who plan for and teach in Sunday School, and audit our financial records, and choose our hymns. There are folks who willingly fill-in for those who are part of one or another of our ministries but who, for one reason or another, cannot be there on a particular day. There are people who call or stop by to visit fellow parishioners, or who bring them meals when there is a special need, or who bring them to church or take them to doctors’ appointments. And, since our primary focus is on serving the needs of others in our local area and around the world, we have people who provide food for our local food pantries and participate in their work, who teach children in one of our local schools, who care for the elderly, and who provide for many other needs of our sisters and brothers in the wider community of which we all are a part. These are all the manna that feeds, not only the community that we call “St. Mark’s Episcopal Church,” but also those around us, those whom we have been sent to serve in Christ’s name. They are all gifts from God, gifts for a journey.
Like the Israelites in the book of Exodus, we are a people who are always on a journey. We live our lives on the way from where we have been to a place that we cannot yet see, but to which God is calling us and guiding us. And as we make our pilgrimage, we all depend on the manna that God provides for us, often through the gifts of one another.
That journey is sometimes frustrating; and, on occasion, we are tempted to do what the Israelites did over and over again: long to go back to Egypt, back to the way things used to be –or, more accurately, to the way that our very imperfect memories think things used to be.
Remembering and honoring our past is an important thing to do, but keeping our eyes focused on the journey that lies ahead is equally as important. N.T. Wright points out the fact that whenever we stress either one of them (the past or the future), some people think we are ignoring the other. Yet each is essential. He compares them to the right-left of our march through the desert: ignore either one, and you end up limping the whole way.
The eminent American philosopher Michael Walzer (Exodus and Revolution) has offered his suggestion of the three basic things that the book Exodus has taught us: “First, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt. Second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land. And third, that the way to the land is through the wilderness. There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.”
For the past 73 years, the people of St. Mark’s Church have been on that journey from what was to what, by God’s grace, will be. The trek has not always been easy. But, through it all, God has continued to bless us with the manna that we need: our daily bread. As we begin yet another program year, we pause today to thank God and our fellow parishioners, both past and present, for the food that we have received; and we recommit ourselves to the journey that lies ahead. For there is still no other way to get to God’s promised land than by joining together and marching. Let’s get started for this new program year.