Text: Exodus 16: 12-15; Matthew 20: 14-15
In our first parish my husband served as Scoutmaster, and as happens today, the troop went on hikes and weekend camping trips. At a winter jamboree, he prepared the breakfast which began the night before with putting long cooking oats and water in a cast iron pot hung over glowing logs in the fireplace in the cabin.
Early in the morning he stirred in milk, brown sugar, and raisins. When everyone came to the table, and saw what they had for breakfast, they said, “What’s this?” and when told, “It’s oatmeal,” they grumbled and said they weren’t going to eat it!
But since that was all there was for breakfast, they tried it, and when they did, they said, “This is good.”
Centuries earlier, the hungry Israelites camping their way through the wilderness of sand and stones, complained to their Scoutmaster, Moses, to give them something to eat, and in the morning there was a fine flaky substance on the ground which had them asking, “What is it?” Moses said, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
And their grumbling stopped when they tried it. It was good.
Fast-forward to the time when that forty-year wilderness camp out ended and the Israelites settled into planting and harvesting and seasonal laborers were needed in the vineyards; so, lines of workers waited to be hired at the start of the day and through the hours till the grapes were picked.
Then everyone was paid.
In Jesus’ story, the last hired were the first paid and all received a full day’s wages; those paid last grumbled, saying,
“These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
And the grumblers were told,
“Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?
Or are you envious because I am generous?”
We read these stories filled with grumbling silenced by responses, with the first credited to God and the second meant to be heard as coming from God,
now we hear them as the Scripture scheduled for this Sunday on the calendar of the Church Year to which we add a newer sub-title
“American Indian Sunday.”
Listen to counsel our nation’s first settlers, coming thousands of years before Christopher Columbus,
bring to today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings.
First, when a strange bread-like substance silenced the grumbling of the hungry Israelites, and Moses gave the credit to God: It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
I recall a portrait of an American Indian kneeling by a stream polluted with trash that is killing the fish and poisoning the water. He is pictured with tears rolling down over his cheek. His is the grief of a person who sees that we humans do not see the food we eat is “bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
We are not listening to our trash – the trashed containers from fast food pickups, the processed and packaged food we do not know to think to trace back to their source:
to the sweat of the laborer planting and harvesting what God as provided for us to turn into what we eat and drink.
When driving on High Street in Pottstown, and waiting for the light to turn green, I watched two pre-teen boys pause to cross in front of me. As they crossed one took a last sip from a can of soda and then tossed it into the street. And I thought, “Someone must have taught him to stop and not walk till the light turns green, but no one is teaching him to toss the empty can into the receptacle hanging on a post at the corner.
No one is helping him to work his way through the food chain and trace what he drank to the sources beyond our making.
No one is showing him how to respect this earth which is God’s gift to us.
A reason why, when hearing today’s Old Testament lesson, we need this to be American Indian Sunday!
And a second reason being when hearing how Jesus answered the laborers who grumbled that those hired for the last hour were paid that same as those who had worked all day, and were told:
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
The Gospel words of Jesus we hear today are not about workers picking grapes and expecting to be paid for the hours they labored. It’s about the un-timed hours of caring for this earth so it can produce with the abundance God intends.
Last week as we dove through South Jersey’s farmland, then to Delaware and on to the southern tip of Maryland, we saw some of the best agricultural land in the nation, land that is God’s gift to America;
then we saw a large sign reading: “400 acres for sale.”
And here and there more signs, listing more acreage – all for profit of sprawling houses with estate-like yards.
Sights that echo the words of an American Indian:
“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Sights that challenge us to kneel and weep as we listen to Jesus’ story and hear it’s about being so grateful that we do whatever we can to restore earth and air and water to what God made them to be,
knowing that it all belongs to God Who has chosen to lend it to us.
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”- the Gospel for today with it’s subtitle: “American Indian Sunday” with its wisdom of Old Crowfoot:
“As long as the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will be here to give life to men and animals.”
It’s time to listen to our trash and then – no matter what we list as occupation or status in the world of employment – commit ourselves to our last breathe, to Paul’s charge:
live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, … in no way intimidated by your opponents…”
opponents who choose to defy the Psalmist’s song:
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is on it, the world, and those who live in it.”
Today’s Scripture and those who were here long before us, confront us to listen to our trash and do something about it, and in responding, find the joy of caring for all God has given.