Tuesday, September 26, 2017
"Just Enough" - Sermon, September 24, 2017
Community UMC, Quincy
Pastor Andrew Davis
September 24, 2017
Exodus 16: 2-23
Last Sunday, one of my friends who pastors another church had a rather catchy title for his sermon on the sign of his church. Since we were talking about forgiveness last Sunday, his sermon title on the sign was ‘The Joy of the F Word.’ Definitely grabs your attention, doesn’t it? Or might make others, groan, wince, or facepalm. I admit that I got a pretty good laugh out of it, though. In some ways this morning, and in several of our texts this next month, we could easily create a miniseries called ‘The Joy of the S Word’…Stewardship, since our texts in the Fall tend to lean towards stewardship and being good stewards of what we have in our homes, our church, and here on Planet Earth.
Unlike forgiveness last week which was quite a heavy topic, stewardship is one of the buzzwords around the church that people will oftentimes roll their eyes at because all too often they associate stewardship with giving our money to the church, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. There is a lot more to stewardship than what meets the eye. Stewardship can be joyful because it is the way that we use the many gifts that God gives us. It reminds me of the song from Godspell, ‘all good gifts around us, are sent from heaven above.’
God does give us many gifts, while also giving us a responsibility in how we use those gifts that are given to us. In a class on stewardship for the local church that I took a few years ago with Dr. Ann Michel of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley, a steward is defined as “a person who has been entrusted with an owner’s property and to act on the owner’s best interests.”[i] As we are given a beautiful world by God, we are called to be stewards of our world and all of the gifts that are entrusted to us by God, something we can sit on a little bit here. So, starting today and the next several weeks, we will be planting some seeds about what it means to be stewards of what God gives to us. Over the next few weeks, we will be thinking about what it means to keep just enough, think about how God provides for us, and what it means to give to God what is God’s. And ultimately, I hope that we can see that stewardship is something that can be life-giving for both us as individuals and as a congregation, as well as something joyful and not just something we think about when Fall rolls around, but all throughout the year.
As we engage with our text from Exodus this morning, we can also see how taking only what we need functions as a form of stewardship in its own right. Our story from Exodus is right after Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery and oppression in Egypt, leading them across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness where they will be wandering for the next forty years before reaching Canaan. After crossing the Red Sea and coming to Marah, the Israelites were thirsty and grumbled a lot, which God commanded Moses to take a piece of wood and throw it into the water which turned the water sweet and drinkable (Ex. 15: 22-25). After coming to Elim and camping there awhile by the springs and palm trees, the Israelites are now in the wilderness where they find themselves hungry and a little hangry. We’ve been in that position before where we get a little grumpy when we haven’t eaten, which is a natural reaction. Instead, the Israelites were hungry enough that they began longing to be back in Egypt because in the heat of that moment in their eyes, as they thought that they ate well there amidst the awful treatment and having to do backbreaking work for their food (Ex. 15: 27, Ex. 16: 1-3). Although we also know Egypt was not a kind place to them. Poor Moses just can’t catch a break, although God hears the people and their cries in which God tells Moses that God will provide bread for the people, which in this case will be the thin, flakey bread called manna (Ex. 16: 4-5). Throughout the journey in the wilderness, Dr. Anathea Portier-Young at Duke Divinity School points out that when God provides each time the Israelites complain, “this responsive gift of provision [from God] requires human participation in a labor economy of sufficiency and equality, rather than accumulation and disparity, and establishes a rhythm of life that mirrors creation.”[ii] This system of equality will be seen when the people are told by Moses they can only take what they need; just enough to satisfy their hunger each day; not like going to one of the buffets at the resorts in Reno where you can eat until you feel like you could wind up like Mr. Creosote when he explodes in the movie ‘Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.’
Now of course bread alone isn’t exactly enough, as we also need protein to survive, so God sends the Israelites quail in the evening and like the manna, the people can take only enough quail they will need to roast or boil at their camps. Anything kept in excess will only spoil and disappear quickly (Ex. 16: 13-16). It’s like going fishing, as anytime I catch fish at any of the lakes up here, I usually keep one or two for dinner and let the rest go, or just stop fishing and just the scenery. However, there’s always going be those out there who will test the system, and sure enough there were some of the Israelites who gathered more of the manna and quail than they needed and were in for a rude awakening when it was spoiled, because they did not listen to what Moses said that came from God (Ex. 16: 17-20). The only exception when to gather more was before the sabbath day, in which the manna and quail would not be available that day (Ex. 16: 22-23). In this case, the Israelites needed to stretch their food supply out to the next day, as they learned to trust God in being able to keep only what they needed. By providing for Israel during this time in the wilderness, “the provision for the bread becomes a model for the right distribution of food and a paradigm for a covenant community that is trustfully organized around God’s unfailing generosity.”[iii] We’ve also seen similar happen in the Gospel, in fact not too long ago when Jesus fed the five thousand with the loaves and fishes, as God provided then too.
How many of you have bought produce, bread, or perishable goods at the store with the best of intentions, only to find it spoiled and is no longer suitable to eat a few days or a week later? I often find myself in that situation more times than I care to admit. However, food waste is a real thing that we have to contend with and one way of being better stewards of what we eat is to take just enough with the intention of eating the food well before it spoils. I know that as I keep trying to eat better and healthier, I really have to be mindful when I shop for produce at Safeway, SavMor, or the weekly farmer’s market from June-early September. However, I did create a compost bin in my yard for organic waste, which makes me feel a little less guilty when I can’t eat all the packages of vegetables that don’t come in bulk and have to throw them out. Plus, it’s better environmental stewardship by returning the fruits and vegetables that came out of the ground back into the ground. However, in our text, the Israelites only have manna and quail to eat, carbs and protein, plus they don’t have refrigerators, ice chests, or other means of preserving what they take, hence why it’s necessary to take only what they need. They more or less have to eat it right then and there of what God has provided for them.
I also love going to the buffets in Reno, especially at the Atlantis, and sometimes feel that because of the high cost to eat there (which I only do once a year or so), I have to eat my money’s worth. Although I do have a big appetite and sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach, in which I find myself leaving a plate of uneaten food and feeling bad about it. When watching the Las Vegas episode of ‘Bizzare Foods America’ by Andrew Zimmern on Travel Channel, a number of the buffets and restaurants in ‘Vegas do have means of turning food waste into feed for pigs at a couple of farms, which brings the food full circle since pigs can provide food for us today. Food waste can also be repurposed into valuable fertilizer for produce that will then feed us. However, I still feel bad when I waste food, as it means that I failed to take just enough, just like the Israelites who took more than what they needed found their food spoiled. Being better stewards of our food is one of the ways that we can become better stewards of what God gives each of us every day.
On the other hand, I believe the problem we face today is fear of whether, or not, we are going to have enough in the way of food. As observed in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, the people who take more than they need “want to establish a surplus, to develop a zone of self-sufficiency” and “immediately try to replicate the ways of Egypt by storing up and hoarding out of anxiety and greed.” [iv] Of course, we know things are a lot more complex in today’s world and there are still plenty of problems just like Israel had to face. For instance, world hunger and not having enough to eat or not having clean water is very real. There are circumstances that happen such as drought, fire, natural disaster, famine, or money having to go towards bills and other expenses. And it can happen to even the people who do all they can to make sure their bills are paid and that there’s a roof over their head, or food on the table. At the same time, this is definitely where we as the community of faith are the extension of what God provides when it comes to food, as many of us step up and provide when someone may face not having enough to eat. We do so in our work with the community supper on Wednesdays, donating and volunteering at Community Assistance Network (C.A.N.), and providing emergency food bags that we have in the church office in case anyone comes by needing food. Yet, such aid might provide just enough for a day or two. Even in another sermon, if any of us have excess goods from our gardens, or around our house, don’t hesitate to give it away. In fact, I’ll be offering to give tomatoes away since my plant is loaded, since I can only eat so much being single and living by myself (although the recent cold snap has done a number on my garden too). Such examples are ways we become better stewards of what we have and keep just enough for what we need. However, given where we live here in the mountains, that doesn’t mean we can’t keep some non-perishable or canned food on hand for emergencies, such as when the snow falls or the rains come down like they did last winter, or in case the power went out during the Minerva Fire last month.
As we go into the new week, what does having just enough look like to you? How might thinking of having just enough help you consider your own personal stewardship? While we are not on the same exact journey that the Israelites were on by being in the wilderness for forty years, we have this good example of having just enough of what we need that plants an essential seed of how to be good stewards of what God gives us. Next week, we will be thinking of the ways that God provides for us, just like God provided the manna and quail for Israel during their time in the wilderness, or when God provided the wood for Moses to throw into the water to make it drinkable for the Israelites. I look forward to thinking about the many ways we can become better stewards in our homes, in our church, and on Earth.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say AMEN!!
[i] Ann Michel, “What is Stewardship?” in Stewardship for the Local Church (Washington, DC: Wesley Theological Seminary/The Lewis Center for Church Leadership, August 27, 2014), class notes.
[iii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. I (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 813.
[iv] Ibid., 814
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