Sermon Proper 20 9-20-2020
September 20, 2020, 12:00 PM

Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 20

 

No matter what part of the political spectrum you are on, the last few months have been especially stressful.  Unless you are absolutely neutral about politics, you have been bombarded by some political ads that make you stressed and longing for a fact based campaign. Now with the death of our beloved Ruth Bader Ginsberg, things are getting worse.  I have never as a priest taken political sides in church and I am not going to start now, but I am reading the first reading from the book of Exodus in the light of the stress and the anxiety we feel right now.  The scripture reads

“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.”

 

 Do you remember Zora Hurston, the African American author who was at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in the first half of the 20th century.  She rewrote the book of Exodus in novel form to capture how we might feel if we were there.  This is how she put the same thought:

 “I wish to God we had of died whilst we was back in Egypt.  There we was sitting down every day to a big pot of meat and bread.  If this God you done got us mixed with just had to kill us, we sure wish He had of killed us down in Egypt on a full stomach.  We don't care if they did work us some.  We would much rather die tired than to die hungry.”

 

 So when you hear those words, do you recall life in Egypt being so pleasant, such a great alternative?  The children of Israel are practicing some mighty wishful thinking.  These fleshpots of Egypt never really existed and memory plays tricks on you when you are stressed.   In this case hunger was a great source of stress.  Zora Hurston imagines Moses responding to these complaints and she puts these words of reply on the lips of Moses: 

“I had the idea all along that you came out here hunting freedom.  I didn't know you were hunting a barbecue.  Freedom looks like the biggest thing that God ever made to me, and being a little hungry for the sake of it ought not to stop you.  Your wives and your children are your own now.  I lift my eyes to the hills.  I have been hungry a lot of times in places just like this, but I felt that getting what I went after was worth it, so I made myself  satisfied.  I found out that want won't kill you half as quick as worry will.”

 

 We are each under stress and it might not just be the stress of politics, It could be the stress of this covid crisis.  It could be the stress of family relations or the opposite kind of stress, loneliness.  We are each under burdened with worries and Zora Hurston is right, worry can kill us. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about the struggle for freedom in the bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama.   During that struggle for freedom, he received death threats, his home was bombed, he feared for his wife Coretta and his child Yolanda, and he spent time in jail.  He struggled as Moses struggled to lead the people of Montgomery toward freedom.  Martin was under a great deal of stress, and he had more than enough worry to kill any human being.   But so did the people he worked with. In his account of the Montgomery bus boycott called Stride Toward Freedom, Martin writes:

“In every movement toward freedom some of the oppressed prefer to remain oppressed.  Almost twenty-eight hundred years ago Moses set out to lead the children of Israel from the slavery of  Egypt to the freedom of the promised land.  He soon discovered that slaves do not always welcome their deliverers.  They become accustomed to being slaves.  They would rather bear those ills they  have, as Shakespeare pointed out, than flee to others that they know not of.  They prefer the 'Fleshpots of Egypt' to the ordeals of emancipation,”

 

Martin Luther King knew that our loving Father in heaven knows our ordeals and our struggles and our worries.  Martin Luther King often said that “God walks with us” and he said “God struggles with us.”  God is struggling with us.  God is walking with us. He feels our burdens, He knows our worries, God feels our pain, and God walks with us all the way to the end of our journey.  And so we call God Emmanuel which is Hebrew for God is with us.

In that lesson from Exodus, God does not argue with the children of Israel who complain.  God doesn't question their hunger or their resentment about the journey.  God acts and he acts immediately.  Without a pause, God says 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.

 

God listened to their complaints and God provided.  But God also taught a lesson.  As he did for the children of Israel, they were to do for others.  God provided manna in the desert.  God provided enough for the people to gather for each day.  But the Israelites were not to hoard or take more than they needed. If they did the manna melted and turned to maggots. This is God's way, the way of the Kingdom of God, that all God's children should have what they need.  He provides the manna and he teaches us to provide for others.  The kingdom of God is based on this principle that we should all have enough and that we should share with others.  No human being, none of our brothers and sisters should ever go hungry.  God is always walking with us, God is always struggling with us and God is especially with us when we reach out and when we share our food with the hungry and those in need.

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