For Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011: Proper 20, Year A

The Reading            Exodus 16:2-15

Our reading of the book of Exodus continues. The Israelites are grumbling against Moses and Aaron and against God, this time because there’s nothing to eat. It sounds whiny to us, but they had some ground: they were former slaves from a land of harvesting and storing up, and they’re on the loose in something like the Mojave Desert with no cars, no picnic coolers, and no cafes at Anza-Borrego. Learning to depend on God can’t have been any easier for them than it is for us.

 

The Epistle            Philippians 1:21-30

The experience of the Israelites in the desert is a far cry from that of Paul. He writes his letter to the church at Philippi from jail, where he may very well be awaiting execution—and he’s ready to go either way: ready to keep living, so he can keep helping others in the faith, ready to die to go be with God. Furthermore, he tells them—us—that not only is believing in Christ a privilege, but so is suffering for Christ. Are we ready for this?

 

Further thoughts

The Israelites in our first reading have come out of a land in which it was very clear who mattered and who didn’t. The ones that mattered had it easy, while the ones at the bottom of the social scale had to work hard. At the same time, as slaves they would get enough to eat because their labor was of value. The culture of Egypt was also good at amassing and storing up—not unlike our culture. That fact had even saved Israel in the time of Joseph. But to souls enslaved to rank and hierarchy or to the mindset that enough is never enough, the earlier means of salvation can serve later as the means of destruction.

Paul tells us to think very differently. As a Pharisee by birth, he has known abundance and privilege in the world’s terms, and he knows what abundance and privilege are really worth. He therefore exhorts the Philippians not to let themselves be divided or misled by what the world thinks. Living is good, in order to serve God and God’s people. Dying is good, to go home with Jesus. Living in one spirit and one mind—not divided by hierarchy, and standing firm in the faith—is right and worthy, and suffering for the sake of the faith is a privilege. In short, Paul tells us, what looks to the world like destruction is evidence of our salvation.

Each of these readings turns things upside down. So does today’s Gospel. As long as we show up ready to work for God, we’ll get what we need. Sometimes it will look like just barely enough, if we insist on comparing what we get to what everyone else has. But if we do that, we’re missing the point, and we’re missing the real abundance of spirit that Jesus has prepared for us and prepared us for.

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