Not Enough Time for All These Riches?
August 1 and 2, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Which would you rather have, an adequate allowance that you got each morning for the day’s expenses, to keep you fed and comfortable; or a huge portfolio of riches that you couldn’t possibly spend in a lifetime?
Most of us would surely say the huge bunch of wealth.
Well there is a similar question implicit in today’s gospel. Let me explain a bit.
We’ll have to back up to our first reading—the one from the Book of Exodus. It tells the story of how the Israelites were starving and thirsty in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Remember, they were wandering around for some 40 years—which is really hard to believe—but for the story’s sake, let’s go with it. Poor Moses, their leader, was at his wits’ end because of all their griping and complaining. It must have been hard indeed to feed thousands of people and their livestock in a desert—food and drink just aren’t that plentiful…
So Moses cries out to God for help and God replies that he’ll send the crowd meat in the form of little quails, and he’ll also send bread. A little later on in Exodus he also provides them with water from a rock—a most unlikely source of refreshment.
So what was the bread? It’s what was left behind after the dew dried up in the morning. The text tells us it was a fine, flaky substance. And the Israelites reacted to it with a question, “What is it?”
It’s interesting that in Hebrew, the way you say “What is it?” is with the word manna. That’s what it really means—what is this stuff?
Present-day biblical scholars have theorized that manna, that fine, flaky stuff, was, in fact, the excretions of certain scale insects or perhaps the sticky sap that came from the tamarisk trees that grew in the wilderness.
Now, whether or not either or both of those is true, the text is clear that it was there because God caused it to be there. God brought the quails; God also brought the manna.
Our psalm goes on to give us what the nickname for the manna was—the “bread of angels.” That’s because it came from God’s hand alone.
This bread of angels was perishable. The people were told to collect just enough for one day—and they were told that if they collected more / out of greed or fear, or whatever, it would spoil. So there was no point to being grabby. The one exception to this rule was that since the Sabbath was to be a day of rest, they could collect double the amount the day before, and on this one day of the week, it would keep for 48 hours, not just 24.
OK. The bread of angels, manna, “what is it,” is perishable. It sufficed for a day at a time. It was a lot better than nothing at all, because it kept them alive. And even though the people got tired of it day after day after day, at least it gave them nutrition and a feeling of fullness.
That’s like the daily allowance of living expenses I referred to in the beginning of the sermon. Now look at the alternative—that would be the lifelong, big, fat portfolio—a supply of never-ending riches.
That supply of never ending riches is what Jesus offers us. He says to the people that HE is the true bread—the one that eclipses the manna. It is the true bread of God—that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. He’s the deep source of satisfaction. He’s the thing that endures for ever and ever. In other words, know Jesus and be filled with fullness for the rest of your life.
Notice that the people talking with Jesus are really concerned about what they need to DO in order to make God happy—in order to get this heavenly bread. They’re struggling with the idea that nothing is free in this world, and that there certainly must be some strings attached. And Jesus’ reply is telling. He says just believe. Just do your best to cultivate your faith. Everything else comes from that. You’ll have the fullness your heart desires.
And what will come from that?
You’ll find yourself thinking differently and evaluating choices differently. You’ll notice a deepening of your patience and your everyday kindness. You’ll be drawn inwardly to more reflection on the deeper questions and more time spent with God in prayer as time goes on, because you WANT to pray and to reflect.
You don’t have to turn the world upside down. Question and believe the best you can, and your participation in God’s Trinitarian life will proceed from that. The Holy Spirit will guide you into the life that really is life. Your interest in helping others, helping the earth, and helping yourself will flow from that.
For us 21st century people I feel that a huge obstacle in the way of this progression of choices is how we use our time. Many of us are too incredibly overworked, too frenzied, too exhausted to have the time and psychic energy we need for intentionally deepening our lives of faith. We choose not to pray or worship together, and often it’s because we’ve chosen to be BUSY with so many other things. There are too many alternatives out there that may look better on a Sunday morning—including sleeping in because we’re so exhausted from the rest of the week.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why don’t we push back against the unjust demands of our culture? Why do we put so much on the calendar and cut our breathing time and our playtime shorter and shorter each year? Are we afraid of looking like slackers in the eyes of the world? Are we still so immature that we derive a sense of our own worth only from what we DO instead of who we ARE?
How far have we worked ourselves into an existential pit, from which exit grows harder and harder?
I think these questions eat at the heart of the malaise that many of us feel. Sometimes we get some perspective when we’re out of the office or away from the rat-race. And then the big challenge for us is to keep that sense of perspective when we return.
Jesus chides the crowd for coming over to him again just because they know they’ll get a free meal. They still don’t understand that he feeds them with so much more.
How about us? Have we heard that Jesus offers us so much more than busy calendars, programmed lives, and the big rat-race? And if we have heard it, and do believe it, how are we responding?