Wednesday, September 24, 2014
On third Sundays our service is contemplative. This week’s service included a guided meditation and culminated in an opportunity to visit various prayer stations. In solidarity with those participating in the Climate March in New York on this day, we heard in the Hebrew Bible lection God’s command that we “gather enough” for each day, a caution against greed, waste, acquisitiveness, and carelessness of the earth’s resources. See below the guided meditation followed by a description of our 4 prayer stations.
Guided Meditation that follows Exodus 16: 2-15
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
Moses’s congregation fled into the wilderness, the place of wildness, of testing and danger, the place where the new and unexpected happens. And though the Israelites had been recently rescued from bondage to Pharaoh, they faced new dangers. So they engaged in one of my favorite pastimes: complaining.
Change is a key provoker of complaint. We react badly when we must leave the old ways behind. Even when the old ways are going to lead to our death, we complain about giving them up—giving up gas guzzling modes of transportation, reducing our use of fossil fuels, finding new forms of energy.
It’s okay to complain about these significant challenges. The Israelites found themselves without food in the hostile desert. We find ourselves now without clean and renewable energy sources on a warming planet. Many of us are angry we must retool in order to survive into earth’s future. Although there remain a few voices denying climate chance, the vast majority of scientists concur that human activities have altered our climate. Understandably, we are complaining. The biblical stories assure us that God hears our complaints. The Psalms are filled with angry songs of complaint that were part of the early liturgy of the Israelites. Complaining is one way of praying. You’ll have the chance to pray that way at one of our prayer stations later. But we can’t stop there. Pause now to consider the difference between a whine and a protest. How can you move from whining to protesting to problem-solving about a global injustice—or a personal challenge?
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 (pots of meat) and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Verse 3 reminds me how cynical we can be when, as a group, we find ourselves in a challenging new situation—and ascribe to a leader or others evil intentions. Sometimes the prophets who name the “inconvenient truths” are hated. The extremists made the preposterous accusation that Moses and Aaron intentionally led them out to die of hunger. Let’s give thanks for those who have named societal ills that others wanted to ignore or deny.
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.
The word I need to hear in verse 4 is enough. God promises Moses there will be enough bread from heaven. On this Sunday when thousands are marching in NYC to raise awareness of climate change, I want us to pause over the word enough. Our climate has changed, in part, because we are not satisfied with enough. People with whom we share this planet are hungry. They are living out in the food-scarce wilderness. But we have been taught to acquire more and more. If you’re like me, you sometimes continue eating food on your plate after you’ve taken in enough nourishment to fuel you for that day. But in today’s story we see the sacred way of living is to know when we have enough. This is not a Gospel of prosperity. Nor is it a religion of scarcity. It’s the Good News of enoughness. God gave the Israelites food for the day. They were not to store up more than a day’s supply. Probably Jesus had this story of daily manna in mind when he taught his followers to pray by asking God to give them their “daily bread.” Think how much freer we’d be if we could live one day at a time.
I admit it’s hard for me to know when I’ve had enough. I eat more, spend more, do more than needed. Pause while we do a spiritual inventory. Do you have enough . . . clothes? And before you answer—think about what’s in your closet compared to the belongings of refugees fleeing hostilities in Central America, the Middle East, Africa elsewhere. Do you have enough food . . . enough shelter . . . and by “enough” let’s use the “bread of heaven standard—enough for today. Can you live trustingly, taking one day at a time?
Friends, isn’t it our inability to recognize and appreciate the enoughness in our lives that has led us to climate change? We’ve exploited our natural resources so heedlessly that our planet is now groaning from our excesses—particularly our excessive use of fossil fuels. This iconic story of sacred provisions and generous care remind us to appreciate and care for what we have. We return to the story:
On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”
In God’s economy, there are times to prepare for long-term needs. There must be Sabbath time for rest, for instance. Rest for the planet. Rest for the people. One reason we come here weekly is to carve out some time away from our usual mode of getting and spending. Here we sort out our priorities. Here we find others who share our commitments. Here we try to define ourselves less by our possessions.
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.’“ 10And 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.
Notice that God works through nature—through the quails, the dew. If we disregard the natural world, we may miss a deeply spiritual encounter. The sacred is often transmitted and perceived through the natural world. But let’s not thank God for the beauty of nature in some empty cliché. Let’s also pay attention the wisdom of nature and take responsibility for the healing of the earth.
In SILENCE we consider our unity with everything on this planet. If we can truly appreciate our connectedness with all creation, we will usher in the fullness of God’s realm that Jesus preached.
1st Prayer Station: Complaining
Complaining is easy. But the Bible’s Israelites made it an art—and a deeply spiritual practice. Of the 150 Psalms in our Bible, about 65 can be categorized as psalms of complaint or lament. Since these songs were used regularly in the early liturgy of the Hebrew people, we know that complaining to God was part of the worship life of our spiritual ancestors. Below are a few excerpts from just one of the complaint psalms, Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
You are invited to write a complaint prayer. It could be a simple sentence. For example: “I’m tired of people cutting me off in traffic.” Or you could imitate the poetic parallelism the above psalm uses. That means you’d write a statement expressing your complaint or anguish and follow it with another parallel statement that says the same idea but in different words. If you would like the pastor to read your complaint aloud later, place your complaint face down on the table. Feel free to write more than one complaint prayer.
2nd Prayer Station: Contemplating
Select one item from the natural world that “speaks” to you about “enoughness”—a flower, a seashell, a pine cone, etc. Take it with you to your seat for now. Let it continue to speak to you about vastness, depth, fullness, hardiness, endurance, or abundance. What does this aspect of nature teach you? Why is it important for a healthy planet and healthy persons to grasp that our planetary and personal resources are abundant but not inexhaustible?
3rd Prayer Station: Giving
Often people think of prayer as a way to get something for themselves. But what if prayer is about the inner work we do to become lovingly generous? You are invited to give your offering today to practice the spiritual art of enoughness. If you are not able to give financially today, think of other ways you can give generously from your life, trusting there is enough for you.
4th Prayer Station: Receiving
God continues to “rain bread from heaven”(Exodus 16:4). Early Christians understood the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes in light of the story of God providing manna in the wilderness for the people Moses led. Jesus, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is often compared to Moses. Like manna, the bread of heaven that reappears at Christ’s table each week reminds us of God’s loving care. As we recall the story of Jesus’s life, death, and life again, let us also remember this bread from heaven tastes like Love, which we’ve seen most clearly in the life of Jesus. Take, eat.