This sermon from September 18th was preached by Helen Manfield
n our Exodus reading for today we follow the Israelite people through the Red Sea after having been guided by the pillar of fire, after having been freed from the slavery and hard labour of Egypt. After having been saved from the plagues and pestilence, from their firstborns being slain, they find themselves in the wilderness complaining. They were hankering after the good old days. A short time of camping and the people are ready to roll up into a ball and die. They would rather have died in Egypt where at least there was good food. God hears the complaints and tells Moses that there will be bread from heaven raining down on them. The word Manna, means ‘what is it?’ A flaky white bread like substance left after the dew has gone. Each day you go and gather enough for the day, on Fridays you can gather twice as much to carry over through the Sabbath that day of rest. No one should work in preparing food during the day of rest. In the evening you shall eat meat, quail will come and make themselves available to you. So bread in the morning and meat in the afternoon. However, if you try and store any of this, it will be rotten before you wake up in the morning. God was providing enough food for each day. No more or no less. Just enough.
I think I have talked about my friend Bill Cliff before, he is the chaplain of Huron University College in London Ontario. He has three rules when reading the bible, and they especially apply to the gospels. Firstly that the gospel is always astonishing. If it is not you are not reading it right! Secondly, the gospel is never fair. If you want fair then you have the law, the gospel is about grace. Grace is when you get what you don’t deserve. The flip side of the grace coin is mercy, which is not getting what you do deserve. I hang on to those two little nuggets because they remind me often what I should be paying attention to. And his third rule is that God always acts first. So the gospel is always astonishing, it is never fair and God always acts first.
In our gospel story today, if we use these principles we should see something astonishing. As always though a bit of context around this story helps. The roman work day was 12 hours long, it started at 6am, through to 6pm. So the 3rd hour was 9am, the 6th hour was noon, and so on, the 11th hour was 5 pm. Now there was no hourly wage, it was a daily wage, of 1 denarius . It was a silver coin, that was all you got, a single silver coin. Yet, it was enough to put a roof over your head, feed yourself and your family. It was enough, you would not get rich, but you would be able to fulfil your religious obligations, take the pilgrimage you needed to. Every day after work you would get in line and receive the one silver coin that was enough. Yet in the face of this parable it seems extremely unfair. I listen to this story and feel for those who began their work at 6am, those who toiled in the field through the heat of the day, and they get paid the same as though who sauntered along at 5pm. In the world of economics, in the world we live in, this does not make sense, it is not fair. But this parable as with all parables is trying to take us past our own world, into a new world, into the kingdom of heaven. What is the usual daily wage, n the kingdom of heaven. So how much is enough in the kingdom of heaven? Bill Cliff would tell us, it is a measure of that grace and mercy which is given to us, each and every day, and it is enough, and it is the same for all of us. He says it is that measure of grace for a follower of Christ, that measure of grace, washes us, it will adopt us, it will transform us, it will forgive us, it will heal us, it will anoint us and it will give us eternal life. That is what the usual daily wage is in the kingdom of heaven. A question then is what would you do with more? What is given is enough!
This is a story not about how much work is done, but about our spiritual journey, how long we have been in the field. There are those who have been in the field since 6am, they can never remember a time when they were not serving God. There are those who responded to an alter call at camp when they were teens, maybe these are the 9am Christians. I would call myself a noon Christian, then there are those who sneak in at the 11th hour. Should those workers all been given equal amounts? Equal is about fair and the kingdom is not fair, remember, rule number 2. The usual daily wage of grace and mercy not only make you equal it makes you one. We have all been given enough, so whether you are a 6am Christian or a 5pm Christian we are one because of the grace and mercy that is given by God.
Both of our readings tell us that God is enough, that we have enough, that God will provide enough, and I believe this! It is a big part of what I base my faith upon, and yet I hear of the drought in Africa which is affecting 10 million people in four countries. I hear about the conflicts that are happening around the world, about all kinds of poverty, and it does not seem fair, I see that there is not enough justice, not enough food, not enough care.
The measure of grace and mercy that we get from God has to be enough, what we are called to work towards is becoming one, because we are equal. So in the face of poverty, in the face of drought, in the face of violence, in the face of unfairness and inequality, God is enough. AMEN