Pentecost 16 2017 ~ Rooted Pilgrims

September 24, 2017 

Readings: Exodus 16:2-15 ~ Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45 ~ Matthew 20:1-16

When Israel came out of Egypt, they didn’t arrive in the land of promise overnight.  It was a 40-year journey that happened in stages – stages that allowed the community to be transformed from a ragtag group of runaway slaves into a holy nation.

As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, getting Israel out of Egypt was the easy part. Getting Egypt out of Israel was so much harder because that way of life was all they had ever known.  And as with any major life change, the time in between the old order and the new had some rough moments.

Last week, we left the Israelites dancing and praising God for rescuing them from Pharaoh’s army.  But that was last week…

After spending some time at the springs of water in Elim, the Israelites head out into the wilderness.  And it doesn’t take long for the congregation to begin complaining against Moses and Aaron. The people are hungry and cranky – and begin the lament that it would have been better to die as slaves in Egypt than out here in the wilderness.

Once again God intervenes. The God who knows how to make a path through the Red Sea also knows a path through the wilderness. There is manna in the morning and there is quail in the evening and, with their bellies full, the people realize God is with them and the journey continues.

As the church continues to journey into a new way of being, wilderness is an apt description for the time in between the end of one way of life and the beginning of the next. And there are times of grumbling and lamenting; times of thanksgiving and joy; and times of total confusion.

Today’s gospel glimpse of the commonwealth of God tends to bring us all up a little short as we encounter a God who practices a totally different kind of economy from anything we’re used to.  At first glance, it seems unfair that the labourers who work only an hour or so get the same wages as those who have worked all day. If the land owner wants to be generous to the group that did little of the actual work, that’s up to him.  But surely he didn’t have to rub it in the faces of the exhausted workers unless he was going to give them a bonus for their labour.

But the parable isn’t actually about money or labour practices.  It’s about life in the commonwealth of God.  And in the commonwealth of God, everyone is equal.  No one is favoured. It doesn’t matter if we arrived 5 minutes ago or we’ve spent our whole life working with and for God.  God loves and values us all just the same. And that puts us all on a level playing field where we discover that the grace and love of God are not earned or deserved. They just are.

As Philip Yancey writes, There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. And while that’s hard to get our heads around, it’s really good news because it means that God loves us whether we are grumbling, stumbling and pouting our way along  or singing and dancing with joy and thanksgiving.  And no one can take that love away from us for God will not be bought, manipulated or indebted to any of us.

And when we allow ourselves to be touched by this unconditional love of God, it changes us.  It changes the way we view the world. It changes the way we view and treat one another, both inside and outside of the church. It helps us realize that we are on a spiritual journey together.  There is no room for things like jealousy, judgment or resentment for we are all pilgrims on the same road.

The speaker at this year’s clergy conference was from the Society of St. John the Evangelist.  At the closing Eucharist, he spoke of the importance of being rooted in God, of being rooted in the gospel – especially at this time.  And then he asked us if our churches are also rooted in our local communities – or just taking up space.

Our communion song at that closing Eucharist was Lovers in a Dangerous Time.*  Rather unorthodox but in this this time of change and uncertainty it’s important that we stay rooted in the God who loves us, rooted in the gospel, and be a blessing to our surrounding community. The idea of being rooted pilgrims sounds like a bit of an oxymoron but ours is a God and a gospel that travel with us on the way.

As we travel through this wilderness time – between what was and what will be – we can be like the Israelites and grieve and grumble and lament.  And sometimes that makes us feel better in the moment. But its also good to keep in mind that, as much as it can be a time of anxiety, this in between time can also be a time of incredible spiritual growth, both for individuals and faith communities.

This is the time when we are being transformed by the love of God into the people God wants us to be. And as we travel, we get to listen and respond to the teachings of Jesus, the one who knows the ways of the kingdom and who calls us to be a blessing to the community around us.

So, grumble if we must but there is no need to despair for our faith history shows us that we can trust God’s lamplighter Spirit to guide us safely through this wilderness time.

Pat Martin +

* Lovers in a Dangerous Time, by Bruce Cockburn, originally released in 1984.

Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by
You never get to stop and open your eyes
One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall
The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time

These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This vibrant skin — this hair like lace
Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime —
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight —
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
And we’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time.