Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (text from The Bible in 90 Days) 9/20/2009

Blessed as Test

Lessons:     Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22     Psalm 54 (4)     James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a     St. Mark 9:30-37     Semicontinuous Series         Proverbs 31:10-31         Psalm 1 (3)

Prayer of the Day     O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text from "The Bible in 90 Days"

16:2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 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 and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 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. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 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, 7 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?” 8 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.” 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” 10 And 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. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “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.’ ” 13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 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. 15 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.


Exodus  16:2-15 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Here at Saint Peter Lutheran Church in the Denver area, 78 of us have made the commitment to read through the entire Bible (the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament) in 90 days. We began this past Sunday. We’ll be reading about twelve pages a day. That means we will finish up on December 12th or so. The lesson to which we turn this week, Exodus 16:2-15, will be part of our reading this Friday (September 18th).

It is the vaguely familiar story of the manna and quail that God provides for the people of Israel, while they wander in around the Sinai Peninsula after escaping from their slavery in Egypt. I say “vaguely familiar” because although we know of the story, most of us probably haven’t studied it well enough or read it recently enough to remember many of the specific details.

For instance:

  1. God’s gracious attempt to feed Israel is in response to their grumbling against Moses and Aaron, which begins all of eight verses after God delivers them from Egypt in a spectacular way through the Red Sea (by this time, they have already given up on God).
  2. The people suspect that Moses and Aaron only brought them into the wilderness to kill them (and we thought mistrust of community leaders was a recent development!).
  3. God provides not just “manna from heaven” – but in the evening their camp is covered with quail as well, and the people gather them in for food.
  4. And interestingly enough… this gift from God is given for a specific purpose: it is given to test the people.

At the center of this story, of course, is the profound message that God will take care of us. Not an insignificant message for our time.  Ben Bernanke’s comments today notwithstanding, there is more uncertainty in the world now than has been the case at any other time in my adult life. Many wonder if they will have jobs a month from now, if their homes are worth what they are paying for them, if they will be able to afford a college education for their children,… The message of God’s care and God’s providence is an important one. I don’t for a moment want to diminish that – and if you find yourself in a hopeless situation, I pray that this ancient story will remind you that God does care about your situation, and will be your strength and hope during these challenging times.

Yet tucked away in this story, is the (almost) shocking revelation that Israel is not being blessed because they deserve it, or because God is a habitual blesser. Israel is being blessed as a test. God is giving them all the free food they need, in order to see whether or not, once they have become so blessed, they will continue to obey God’s instructions.

I’ve talked for my entire ministry about what it means to be blessed. That message has found a place at the heart of almost every Stewardship program I’ve helped to run.  Year-after-year we’ve said that our prosperity is a blessing from God. The implication is that we do well to return a healthy portion of that blessing to God, so that it can be used to share faith with others through the church. The assumption is that the more prosperous we are, the more richly blessed by God we have become.

But what if our prosperity is not a blessing from God? What if, instead, it comes to us as a test? What if it is a test to see whether or not, immersed in prosperity, we will continue to “follow God’s instructions?” Then this text becomes not only a word of comfort for those of us who are struggling, but also a word of challenge for those of us who are more prosperous than our ancestors ever imagined possible (which, frankly, includes most people who can afford a computer, high-speed internet access, and have the leisure time to read devotional messages that are posted on the internet by Lutheran Pastors).

The question posed by verse 4 in this week’s text is this: “How faithful are we, in using what God has entrusted to us, to do that which pleases God?” From this perspective every entry in the checkbook ledger and every line on the credit card statement makes a testament to how we are answering that question. The plans we craft, the investments we consider, the purchases we make, the lifestyle we choose – all of these become answers to the important question of how faithful we are in using what God has entrusted to us.

I pray that God might give each of us the spirit and wisdom and courage to be faithful with all that we have. And I pray that through our faithfulness, others might come to know the grace of our God, who does indeed bless us so richly.

David J. Risendal

Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. How did the manna and quail that God provided serve as a test for ancient Israel?
  2. How well did the Israelites do at that test?
  3. What was God trying to teach them?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. How might it change my attitude towards possessions to think of them as being a test as well as a blessing?
  2. What does God ask me to do with the resources I have at hand?
  3. How could I become more faithful with what I have?

  

 


 Scheduled Readings for "The Bible in 90 Days" 9/13/2009 - 12/12/2009

 

Date Begin Reading At Sermon Based On
9/13 Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1-19
9/20 Leviticus 1:1 Exodus  16:2-15
9/27 Deuteronomy 23:12 Deuteronomy 6:1-9
10/4 1 Samuel 28:20 Joshua 24:1-3, 14-18
10/11 1 Chronicles 1:1 1 Kings 3:5-12
10/18 Nehemiah 13:15 Nehemiah 1:4-11a
10/25 Psalm 89:14 Job 38:1-11
11/1 Isaiah 14:1 Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
11/8 Jeremiah 33:23 Isaiah 25:6-9
11/15 Daniel 9:1 Ezekiel 2:1-5
11/22 Matthew 26:57 Micah 6:1-8
11/29 Acts 6:8 John 20:19-31
12/6 Hebrews 1:1 Romans 5:1-11