Old Testament: 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.”
The Response: 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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
Another week, another hurricane bringing death and destruction to places that were already devastated by other recent storms. Countless people have once again been forced to flee for their lives, taking only what they can carry with them, not knowing when, or if, they will be able to return home again.
If you were threatened by a devastating storm and were suddenly forced to flee, taking with you only what you could carry, what would those things be? The answer would certainly vary from one person to another. But there are some things that everyone would, one hopes, take along. Chief among them are food and water: two things that are necessary for life.
The ancient Israelites in today’s first reading had gone through a figurative storm of their own and had embarked on their own sudden journey, fleeing from a past to which they would never return and pressing forward toward a future filled with uncertainties. Whatever small supply of food and water they had carried out of Egypt with them had long since been exhausted. And they cried out to, or “grumbled” against Moses and Aaron – ultimately, against God. (In the Hebrew text, by the way, the word “grumble” occurs seven times in just nine verses. It seems to be what the Israelites did best.)
In response to their need, God fed them in the wilderness. And, as we will hear in next week’s reading, God would provide them with water as well. The food that they received was a naturally occurring phenomenon that they called “manna.”
Manna became the stuff of legend. Centuries later, one of the psalms (81:16) would describe it as “the finest wheat,” and another (78:25) would praise it as the very “bread of angels,” like we might describe something as being “the food of the gods.” But those glowing descriptions arose only with nostalgia: only in the distorted view that we humans often have when recounting “the good old days,” “the way things used to be.” Those memories seem to have had little to do with the way things actually were.
The Israelites in the book of Numbers (11:4-6) also looked back at what they had quickly come to envision as their “good old days”: the days that they had been held captive as slaves. When they did, they reminisced about the supposedly wonderful way that they, as slaves, had been fed in Egypt. And, in contrast, they complained with disgust that in the wilderness “there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” At the time, the food that God had given them seemed repulsive. It was only much later, in retrospect, that they realized what a gift it had really been.
That happens to us sometimes. I recently managed to overhear a discussion between two young men in high school. (We have a lot of teenage discussions going on around our house.) They were talking about a mutual friend of theirs who had moved away several years earlier. At the time, it had come as a terrible blow to them. But now, looking back, the two of them recognized that it had probably been a good thing. It had led to the two of them becoming closer friends with each other and to both of them greatly expanding their circle of friends to include many other young men and women. To borrow an image, the food that they had found to be so distasteful at the time had actually been the food that they needed: the food that gave them the nourishment that brought them to a fuller life.
In what kind of ways have you been fed in your life – maybe with food that seemed terribly distasteful, maybe even repulsive, at the time – but which, in retrospect, had been exactly the food that you needed at the time? Was there, maybe, an end to a relationship that, at the time, had been painful, but that eventually freed you up for another relationship that changed your life for the better? Was it the loss of a job, which resulted in a temporary struggle, but which eventually led you to a different job, or even a different line of work, one that much better satisfied your and your family’s needs? Did you suffer some kind of significant disappointment that, in the long run, led you to take a fresh look at what is really most important to you in your life?
So often in life, just like the laborers in Jesus’ parable, we are so worried about what we don’t have – especially if somebody else has it — that we fail to appreciate what we do have. And we fail to see that, even though we might not have everything that we want – we never will, by the way – even though we might not have everything that we want, we might just have exactly what we need. Even though it is probably hard to see at the time, the food that we have received might have been exactly the food that we need.
Among the many gems that we have in The Book of Common Prayer, is one that is titled simply “A General Thanksgiving” (p. 836). One section of it prays: “We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.” Thanking God for our disappointments and failures: what a curious notion that is!
One of the things that churches seem to share in common with one another is that, in what we call “The Prayers of the People,” we always seem to have many people and things to pray for and to ask for, things that we want; but when we are invited to give thanks for the many blessings that we already have, churches tend to fall silent. We seem to find it easy to identify the things that we don’t have, but hard to identify the many gifts that we do have. And even if we do, our disappointments and failures are not likely to make the list.
There are times in all of our lives when we are hungry, hungry for many things. And sometimes, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we find that the only food that comes our way seems terribly distasteful, maybe even repulsive. But if we are open to new perspectives, to new understandings, to new perceptions of the sometimes mysterious ways of God, we might just find that the food turns out to be the manna that we so desperately need.