Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 25, 2021
Potluck dinners are for sociological experiments. Think about it – no one wants to go first. We have this strange ritual in which we invite the guest or the person of honor to go first through the line. I get it, it’s a sign of hospitality. But if you’ve ever been first through the line then you’ll know that you don’t actually get that much to eat. Because you don’t want to take too much because you know there is a whole line of people right behind you. The same is true for the person who is last in line. There is some societal norm that says you should leave something behind. Shame on you if you take the last deviled egg. Let this all be a lesson to you for your next dinner party – try to get right in the middle of the line.
All that is to say that we are constantly comparing ourselves with each other. We are sizing each other up. We are thinking about what we have or don’t have, and we’re thinking about what they have or don’t have. This isn’t healthy for us. It’s probably about as unhealthy as all that mayonnaise you consume in a standard potluck meal. So what is the bible teaching us about living differently?
Think back to the Old Testament when the Israelites are wandering through the wilderness. God provides manna for them to eat. It’s a pretty amazing image when you think about it. The Israelites would wake up in the morning and there would be manna, bread from heaven, all over the ground. It was free for the taking. All you had to do was gather it up, bake it if you wanted bread, boil it if you wanted a bagel, and boom! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner all provided by the Lord God.
But it’s not a Golden Corral buffet. Remember what God commands. The Israelites may gather only so much every day; the measure of volume they used was an “omer.” An omer of manna for each person; no more, no less. In Exodus, it says that the Israelites gathered the manna, some 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” (Exodus 16:18). No one is first in line; no one is last in line, this is not a buffet; everybody gets enough, everybody gets what they need. God provides.
And then Jesus provides. A small boy offers five barley loaves and a couple of pickled fish, and Jesus provides what the people need. There is enough. The Gospel of John says that everybody gets bread and fish “as much as they wanted” (6:11). In other words, no one has to take a skimpy portion because they’re first in line. No one has to worry about taking the last portion, because there is always enough, there is always more.
Imagine how beautiful life would be if we actually lived this way; if we actually trusted in this God of provision. We go through this world as if it is a potluck; always looking over our shoulder at what someone else has or doesn’t have. We have one eye on our plate and another eye on our neighbor’s plate. What if we actually acted like we believe that Jesus will provide? Can you imagine the stress, the anxiety that would lift off our hearts? Can you feel the peace that would come with knowing that, no matter what happens, God will provide? And I’m not talking just about food and sustenance; I’m taking about grace, mercy, compassion, love. Can you imagine if we all acted and lived like we really believed Jesus died for us? Can you imagine how beautiful life would be if we actually trusted in God’s salvation instead of trying to earn it? Instead of constantly trying to be good enough for God, dream with me of a world in which we were good because God made us that way; rather than trying to please God by living good lives we were good because it was our way of thanking God.
That is what my soul longs for. Because I’m tired of comparing myself with everybody else. I’m tired of the constant competition. I’m tired of everybody keeping an eye on everybody else. In my mind, when I think about this great crowd eating the bread and fish, when I think about the Israelites gathering the manna, I see that they’re not comparing what they have received. They’re just eating. I see those crowds sitting in the grass laughing, sharing, talking about the good news of Jesus. They’re simply grateful to be there.
I do think this kind of grateful, joyful life is possible. But it is only possible in the Lord Jesus. It is only possible when we see that our lives of grace have been given to us, and not earned. And the place we learn this lesson is the Church. Now, let’s be honest with each other. For better or for worse, not everybody in this church has the same amount of money. We all have varying degrees of wealth. It just is. But wealth is not an indication of God’s blessing. Whether one can afford a Brooks Brothers suit and a Mercedes does not mean you are favored by God any more or less than whether you can afford a thrift store blazer and a used Kia. The hard part is actually believing that. The hard part is actually sitting down with each other and laughing and being grateful together for what God has God has given us in abundance: grace, mercy, love.
Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we should just be okay with some people in great poverty and with some people having great wealth. I think I’m saying the opposite. Because God created us all equally, because God gives grace in equal measures, we ought to treat each other equally and ensure that everybody can live. I guess it just bothers me that some folks have enough money to blast themselves into space while others die because they can’t afford clean water. And I see my own place in this, too. I can afford a house and two cars while some people can barely afford a car that doubles as their house. May the Lord have mercy on my soul.
From my perspective, this lesson on God providing enough will suit the people of Holy Comforter well going forward. God will provide as God has always provided. It’s right there in the bible. When the Israelites were hungry, God provided manna from heaven. When the crowds listening to Jesus didn’t have food, God provided a small boy who gave away his bread and fish. When we were lost in sin and darkness, God provided his Son Jesus Christ to die and rise again. When the first Christians were unsure of the way forward, God provided the Holy Spirit to direct and guide them. And in that same Spirit, the Lord God will provide for this church in the time to come. I trust that.
So don’t go comparing yourself against everybody else. It’s not worth it. And trust that God will give you what you need. It might not be much; it might just be a few barley loaves and a couple of pickled fish. But it will be enough. If you’re first in line, you don’t have to skimp on what you take. And if you’re last, you don’t have to worry about taking everything. God will make sure there is grace enough for everyone.