The Adventurous Lectionary – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 21, 2014
Bruce G. Epperly
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Will God provide for our deepest needs? Are we alone in the world or is there a gentle providence working through our lives, giving us guidance, energy, and sometimes surprising manifestations of grace?
The Israelites are experiencing a failure of trust. After all they have seen in terms of God’s deliverance, they want to return to normalcy in Egypt at the first signs of trouble. Freedom is risky. New lands require new duties, and when you are on the road, you can’t depend on yesterday’s certainties. On the pilgrimage of life, there are no guarantees, but plenty of adventures. With the first signs of hunger, they dream of their slave rations in Egypt. They doubt both God and Moses. Yet, their doubts and complaints don’t nullify God’s care. God sends bread and quail to satisfy their hunger. Despite their lack of faith, God continues to act; this was true of the Israelites and it is still true for us.
Manna and quail in the wilderness, a miracle? Yes – it was miracle of grace as well as perception. Could God have diverted a wind and changed atmospheric conditions? Perhaps, it was in God’s power. Or, could the quail and bread been all around them, hidden only by their fear and faithlessness? That too could be the case. The Israelites succumb to scarcity thinking, when divine abundance is all around. They believe they live in a closed system, with no possible divine energy to sustain and nurture them. Surely, the Israelites’ fears are often recapitulated in our congregations and personal lives as we limit what is possible to the obvious financial and numerical limitations we face, forgetting the divine energies all around us. The scriptures invite us to trust God’s abundance: the creative wisdom that brought forth the universe will respond to our needs.
Psalm 105 invites us to live by God’s abundance. In recalling God’s deeds, in giving thanks for God’s presence in our lives, our songs open our eyes to a world of bounty. In praise, we find fullness and see the world with new eyes. The Faithful One will continue to be faithful. Life is an open door to possibility, not a dead end. God’s mercies are new every morning; God’s vision constantly emerging in the circumstances of our lives.
Our praises and recollections of grace contribute to an ongoing ecology of grace, and may open the door to greater manifestations of God’s presence.
Writing from prison, Paul longs for God’s heavenly realm. Yet, he realizes that his primary and overriding vocation is to nurture the Philippian community. Following his calling reminds him that heaven can wait, and that earth with all its trials is the place he must now serve God. He reminds the Philippian Christians that this same vocational vision is at the heart of their lives. Live faithfully, he counsels. Live by God’s grace, following God’s ways, and the good work that God has begun in the Philippian community will be brought to fullness and it will be a harvest of righteousness. (Philippians 1:3-11)
In light of God’s presence in our lives, we can experience God as much in suffering as in comfort. The ever-present God is revealed in struggle as well as peace. This is surely at the heart of abundant and affirmative living, later revealed in Paul’s proclamations that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us and God will supply all our needs. External scarcity need not stand in the way of experiencing God’s resources for personal and community transformation. We can live abundantly regardless of our apparent scarcity or challenge.
The Gospel presents the vision of divine generosity. While such business practices, giving workers varying hourly wages, might lead to a class action lawsuit today, this is the way of God’s realm. God responds to our needs and this isn’t always fair in terms of rational calculations. Everyone needs a day’s wage to feed the family. Yet, some are only hired at the end of the day. A mere pittance will leave their families hungry and anxious. Grace is given to respond to our deepest needs, regardless of when or how we enter God’s realm. While the realization of divine possibility may vary according to our behaviors, which limit or expand God’s provisions for us, God still bestows grace upon grace. We are always receiving grace in terms of energy, possibility, insight, and intuition. Once again, we are presented with a manifestation of God’s abundant life: we receive more than we deserve. This passage invites us to consider the quotidian graces of God. Opening to grace moment by moment changes our vision and may eventually change our circumstances. Trusting God’s bounty expands rather than contracts our agency and creativity. Recognizing resources all around, we can do new and creative things, take risks, and trust that even apparent failure can provide a pathway to wholeness.