The GenerUSity of Contribution
This is the final week in our stewardship campaign, which has supposedly been focused on generUSity, on what it means for us to be generoUS people in a generoUS church, a church that is ready, willing, and able to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. And as we get started this morning, I need to confess something to you. I have done a bad job with this campaign. I hesitate to say this to you for many reasons, not the least of which is it kind of makes this about me. But you know what, making it about me is the core of what I’ve done wrong because I tried to do this by myself. A stewardship campaign in not the job of one person, especially the pastor, and I’ve tried to do this by myself. I am forever encouraging you all to be honest about your needs and ask for help and I didn’t ask for help. Originally we had a few people who were going to work with me, but I didn’t get us going soon enough or call on them often enough and I didn’t figure out ways to incorporate those of you who offered to speak, and now it’s the final week. And it once again feels like NPR during pledge week, which is the worst. I hate pledge week. Everyone hates pledge week. And as long as I try to do this by myself and have that framework in my head, everyone’s going to hate this too. And that’s a real tragedy for all of us. For our congregation. So there we go. Start with confession and repentance. I have not led this stewardship campaign well and I am sorry.
What I’d like to do this morning is to read together a story from the book of Exodus that is so poignant to me and then we’ll talk a little about money and our plans for next year and we’ll see what happens. OK?
Now I also have to tell you that I struggled with this story this week because it completely defies what I usually think about how God works. This is a story in which God directly miraculously meets a need and doesn’t use any humans and that has never happened to me. God has met my needs in ways that felt miraculous to me but it was always through someone. I have had times in my life when I needed groceries. But God didn’t rain them from the sky; God prompted someone else to buy them and bring them to me. Still miraculous to me but through another human. That’s how I expect God will work. This story is not what I’ve experienced so I wasn’t sure how to talk about it with you.
But you know what I finally realized? It doesn’t matter that this isn’t what I’ve experienced. Because this story is not about one person’s experience. If I try to read this story from the perspective of one person, I will totally miss the point. Because this story is not about one person. This story is about a community, which is made up of individuals, but the point is the community. That’s very hard for us to understand because we live in an individualistic society. In American culture we are focused on me and not on we. Which makes it hard for us to understand the Bible sometimes, because the Bible is usually focused on we. It’s a story about who we are and how we became who we are. And so my wrestling with this story because I haven’t experienced it only proves that I am still allowing my individualistic white privileged American culture to influence how I read my Bible. After all these years. I did it again. Once I shifted my perspective, the story didn’t bother me anymore. In fact, I found it extraordinarily healing, and I pray that you will as well. It’s a long story and I don’t want you to miss any of it’s beauty so we’re going to take it in chunks this morning.
We are still in the book of Exodus. Moses has done what God called him to do and with the help of his brother and sister, has led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They escape Pharaoh and his army when God parts the Red Sea and start journeying through the wilderness towards the Promised Land, which is actually where their ancestors lived generations ago. God leads them the long way around so they don’t run into any enemies and get scared and turn back to Egypt. But this takes them into the desert where food and water are scarce. The fear of scarcity is real and humans have very strong reactions to it. This story takes place 4 to 6 weeks after the people left Egypt, when we assume whatever provisions they brought with them from Egypt have started to run out. So let’s read this story from Exodus chapter 16.
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 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.”
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. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 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?”
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 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. 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.’”Exodus 16:1-12
The first thing I was us to notice is that God hears the complaints of God’s people. It’s been about six weeks since they left Egypt. Whatever supplies they brought with them have just about run out and they are getting scared. And when people get scared, they get mad. So here we have a community of people who have been dramatically miraculously freed from slavery and led through the Red Sea yelling at God because no miracle ever lasts long enough. We are humans and we have short memories and weak trust muscles. I do. As if God would actually bring them out of slavery to let them die of hunger in the wilderness. As if that would ever happen. As if that makes any sense at all. As if God would do all of what God’s done in my life just to leave me by the side of the road now and make me finish the rest of the journey on my own. As if God were like that. No. No. God is not going to suddenly fail you, or me, or us. The God who brought us through in the past is going to bring us through again now. This is not going to be the year we fail, the year we fold. God is not playing with us. And even when we get scared and then get mad at God, notice how God reacts: not with anger but with reassurance. Aaron tells the people, “Draw near to Yahweh the Lord for God has heard your complaining.” Draw near. Draw near. Not so God can smite us. But so we can look to the wilderness and see God’s glory. God hears the complaints of God’s people. … Let’s read a little more.
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. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.Exodus 16:13-21
The second I was us to see is that God meets the needs of God’s people. God meets everyone’s needs; God meets the needs of the community. God provides for each of them and for all of them, and everyone has what they need. People gather as much as they can and when they measure it, it turns out that everyone winds up with the same amount (about a two-liter per perso). Maybe they gather a lot on purpose, maybe they physically can’t gather that much, maybe they are just really bad at estimating how much is an omer, but somehow everyone has what they need and no one is able to hoard it. God challenges their fear of scarcity by giving them enough for that day. This is the origin of the phrase “daily bread.”
This is revolutionary for the people. Do you know what they were building when they were slaves in Egypt? Storage cities, it’s in Exodus 1:11. They were building massive structures that Pharaoh used to hoard food. And so when God establishes the Israelites as a community on their own, one of the first lessons God teaches them is “no hoarding.” No hoarding. Because it’s really not yours anyway. It all comes from God so just take what you need. Everyone does what they can and the community has enough. God meets the needs of God’s people. Let’s read a little more.
On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”
On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.Exodus 16:22-30
The third thing I want us to notice is that God expects God’s people to rest. God expects the people to rest. This is the first time since Genesis 1 that we hear about sabbath. Noah doesn’t practice sabbath. Abraham doesn’t practice sabbath. Isaac doesn’t. Jacob doesn’t. Joseph doesn’t. Moses doesn’t. At least not that the Bible bothers to tell us. But at this moment, the sabbath is reintroduced. The next lesson God teaches this new community is “take a break.” So far the rules of the community are “no hoarding” and “take a break.” Communities need rhythms, patterns, habits. God tells us how to live and how we live reveals what we actually believe about God. God asks the people to trust that everyone will have enough and no one will be overworked. These are slaves. They have literally been worked to death. So when God is helping them establish their own identity as a community it is crucial for them to observe a sacred rhythm of resting. For some of you this is the hardest thing I’ve said so far today. Beloved this is why I’m so serious about not burning out our volunteers. Because what does that say about what we actually believe about God? When we work too hard, it says we don’t really trust that God is providing for us. I know you think you have to take care of yourselves. I know. I’m the one who tried to do a whole stewardship campaign without asking for help! I know. But we can’t live that way. WE can’t live that day. At this church no one has to do everything, and everyone can do something. At church everyone needs a friend and a job. Meaningful relationships and meaningful work. The stuff you want to do and not too much of it. God’s Kingdom has no slaves. God expects God’s people to rest. Let’s finish the story.
The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.Exodus 16:31-35
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
The last thing we must pay attention to is that God wants God’s people to remember. God hears the complaints of God’s people. God meets the needs of God’s people. God expects God’s people to rest. And God wants God’s people to remember. Fill you up a mason jar with this weird flaky coriander honey flavored stuff and put it on your altar. Because you’re going to forget. We forget. God brings us out of slavery and we are afraid Pharaoh is going to get us at the Red Sea. God parts the Red Sea and we are afraid we won’t find fresh water. God leads us to a paradise in the middle of the desert (read Exodus chapter 15) and we are afraid there won’t be enough food. So this time, remember. Because you are going to face another crisis. You are going to need something else in the future. You are going to be afraid again and the feeling of a miracle doesn’t last. So get a jar. Fill it up. And remember.
Friends, this is why we have ritual. This is why we eat and drink and baptize and dedicate and light candles and make vows. This is why we use the same language for our confessions. This is why we come to the same place each week to worship. Because we need to be reminded. We need to remember that God has met us in the past and God will meet us this time and God will meet us in the future. God wants God’s people to remember.
Which, actually, is why I gave you commitment forms in your stewardship packets. Partly it’s because we need to get a sense of what’s truly possible for us next year, but also it’s because you need to remember. Once we’ve made note of your generous intentions, we’re going to send these back to you. So you can keep them and remember. Not just what you plan to do, but what God has done and will do for each of us and for all of us. Because truly, this is about us. It’s not pledge week. I get scared that you’re not going to like me if I talk about money and so I get all twisted up about it, but that’s not what this is. This really truly is about us as a community and what God is calling us to do.
If we really want to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God; if we really want to show this city a version of Christianity that is progressive, inclusive, humble, bold, and loving; if we really want to find lasting joy and participate in God’s plan to heal the world— we can only do it together. I can’t do any of that by myself. You can’t do any of it by yourself. We have to do it together. We have to faithfully attend, regularly contribute, consistently participte, and joyfully evidence a Christian lifestyle. That’s what a stewardship campaign is about. It’s about remembering what God has done for us and through us in the past and asking what God wants to do for us and through us in the future. It does not and cannot depend on one person or just a few families. It takes all of us showing up, giving, and helping.
So with these commitment forms in front of you, either paper forms or the one online, here’s the question “Are you doing what God wants to do through you?” That’s it. I swear it’s not a guilt trip. It’s just a question. Trusting that God will meet all of our needs together, are you doing what God wants to do through you? Have you prayed about it? I have to pray about it, because on my own, I will do too little. I’m not pressuring you to do more, I’m saying that we are human and we have the same problem as the Israelites. We would rather be secure and oppressed than uncertain and free. I’ll say it again: we would rather be secure and oppressed than uncertain and free. We would rather be in slavery where at least we know where our next meal is coming from than turned loose in the world and unsure where God is going to lead us next. We’d rather be secure than free. So we hedge our bets and just do a little bit. I’m not pressuring you to more this morning. I’m inviting you to do what God wants to do through you. In terms of showing up, in terms of giving, and in terms of helping. The only way we will know is if we actually ask.
So I’m going to shut up now and let the Spirit speak to you. All I’m inviting you to do is ask God, “What do you want to do through me?” I hope you’ll get an answer about giving and helping here, but I expect you’ll hear other things. God is going to meet our needs. I’ve decided to stop worrying about that. My job as a pastor is not to pressure you to give more money. My job, my holy privilege is to encourage you to trade your security for freedom and step out into the wilderness adventure of what God wants to do through you. That’s the really exciting question. Scary yes, but really for those of us who follow Jesus, the only question worth asking: God, what do you want to do through me? So settle in, relax, and ask the Spirit that question.