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Exodus 16:1-20

Matthew 20:1-16


September 24, 2017




We pray every Sunday, give us this day our daily bread.  The 25th Anniversary of our chartering as a congregation and we will break bread at dinner on Sunday October 22 and since the silver anniversary is coming next let me share a story from our past.  About fifteen or seventeen years ago the youth in Ark and Dove Logos and Sunday School found themselves in a dilemma.  One of their leaders taught a lesson using the two scriptures we read this morning and then presented them with some facts about people who pick tomatoes in Florida.  The Presbyterian Church has for a long time supported the Coalition for Immokalee Workers and this teacher came across an appeal from our National Church to boycott Taco Bell.   Taco Bell was paying substandard rates to tomato pickers, they refused to sign an agreement with the Immokalee Workers and people were therefore underpaid and impoverished.


In the days before Chipotle, give us this day our daily bread, Taco Bell was more popular and our youth debated among themselves whether they would join the boycott.  Some youth felt the boycott wouldn’t make a difference, some youth didn’t see why they should have to give up something they liked, some were highly committed from the first moment, there was much discussion and debate, but our youth boycotted Taco Bell with only a little cheating.  They felt that God was calling them to support the workers who were unfairly paid and the boycott did indeed work.


The Southern Poverty Law Center has studies on their website that document that many poor farm workers both citizens and undocumented don’t get paid enough to provide three meals a day to their families.  Surely they must pray give us this day our daily bread.  Many people who pick our food don’t have enough to eat, and the vast majority of farm workers have no health insurance. 

It might interest you to know that some Presbyterians are now boycotting Wendy’s because of their refusal to sign on to the fair food programs in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and our National leaders are keeping the pressure on.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  It’s part of the what we call the Lord’s Prayer. In both Biblical tellings, which we have read this morning daily bread is at the center.


In first century Palestine, there were no coalitions for fair pay.  Your average laborer and family were often on the brink of hunger.  The next meal was a worry.  Sick days could be hunger days. When they prayed Give us this day our daily bread, it was a heartfelt yearning.   When men lined up for work they needed that day's wage to feed the family.


Early morning it was in the sleepy market place.  A loud cry interrupted the thoughts and quiet chatter of friends: "The grapes are ripe and ready for harvest!  Come everyone willing to work!   There is plenty for all to do!”  The poor eagerly gathered around the owner of the vineyard and negotiated one denarius for a day’s work.   It bought dinner and some breakfast.   There wasn't much left after food shopping; but off they went into the cool morning air eager for the chance to earn.


Three more times during the day the owner of vineyard returned to the market place looking for labor.  He was worried that the grapes would rot right on the vine.   Each time he still found willing workers and sent them to the vineyard.


When evening came, all the workers were called in from the vineyard to be paid, beginning with those who had only worked for an hour.  They got a denarius.  The folks who had worked three hours got a denarius.  The folks who had worked one half of a day received a denarius.  “Hearing that he paid the latecomers the full daily wage, the early birds are full of anticipation, then seething with resentment when he paid them the same wage.”   Those who had worked all day were confused, hurt and angry that they had not received more for the time they had given and the burdens they had endured.  They took their case to the labor relations board, and threatened a class action suit.  But the owner of the vineyard reminded them that they had agreed upon a denarius.  The contract was kept. His literal response was, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” The evil eye expression in the first century was associate with covetousness.[1]  Are you envious because I am generous?  Jesus told this parable in response to Peter's question, "look, we have left everything and followed you.   What then will we have?”   Answer is; the same as everybody else.  Jesus is messing with Peter and with us.

Divine grace does not depend on the merit system and it could be that, we insiders are prone to grumble.  Doesn't this generous grace shtick practically undermine the whole reason for being faithful – my ticket to heaven?   And you mean to tell me that my accommodations in the eternity mansion will be no more luxurious than those of the criminal who converts on his death bed? God is goofing up the world with this willy-nilly wild and wide goodness; and we second guess a God who breaches the system and equalizes the pay like this.  Yet in one way or another most of us have lived the experience of showing up at about quitting time and getting the full benefit.  And luckily this parable promises us a God who gives us not what we deserve, but what we need.


Moses and the escaped slaves are now on the other side of the Red Sea.  Their miraculous getaway from Pharaoh's army has helped them to trust in God and Moses, and helped to shape them into the Hebrew people.  The writer of Exodus now refers to the people as the whole congregation, signifying the unity that has come from their harrowing deliverance from near death.  Gratitude however is of short duration and "The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.    “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 the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."  This crisis of empty stomachs leads to a crises of vacant faith.  Give us this day our daily bread.


The people of the Exodus are murmurers and grumblers who miss the grace of God.  Memories then and often now are so short, It’s the old “what have you done for me lately God” syndrome.  God hears the murmurs of the people in both stories and responds not as we expect, but as God.  And so we must learn to tune into God’s mystifying grace.


Moses tells the people that that it is going to rain bread from heaven a continuing reminder of God's providence.  Manna will be found in the morning and quail in the evening.  New life will abound even in the wilderness. The next morning the people wake up and after the frost has lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness is a fine flaky substance and the people say to one another, What is it?  Moses replies that it is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.   Um, tastes good.  Manna by the way, if literally translated from Hebrew means "what is it?" 


“Just to make things interesting here wilderness nomads, there are a few lessons that come along with the gathering of Manna.  Each one of you gets to gather what you need, which is about one omer or two quarts.”   “O.K. Moses one Omer - thank you.”  They go back to gathering.  “No wait a minute, there is something else I have to tell you.”  “What is it Moses?”  “This is a special gift and the way God has worked this out - you see you'll only be able to gather as much as you need for this day.  So don't get greedy.  It won't work.  “Not” – thought the people of Israel.  But they shook their heads in understanding and they gathered more anyway.


Some people packed up big bags of Manna for their personal pantry.  By mid-morning these people began to encounter an unusual stench, by noon it was almost overpowering.  When they realized it was coming from their not so Zip Lock storage bags - they opened them to find squirming worms   They didn't try that anymore.


This experience with manna is more than a lesson about hunting and gathering it is a teaching about grace.  Bread from heaven does not keep until tomorrow.  Now on the one hand of course this is not true at all.  A good experience with the grace of God received at right time in your life can last a long time.  A finer point is put forward here.  God's grace cannot be hoarded. It is not possible to store God’s grace in the vault of faith but we can life with the confidence that God will provide daily bread in each day and those gifts, those graces, those God present in the right places, will be enough to get us to tomorrow.  God's grace is too effervescent too wild to bottle- it can only be received used and passed along.   When we try to hoard God's grace we place ourselves in danger of losing it.  The wild and wide nature of Grace makes it necessary to share it in order to truly receive it.


Back in the vineyard those who were hired at the eleventh hour received the same pay as those who were hired at sunrise.  The grumbling on the part of the full-day workers was natural.  They did indeed begrudge the generosity of the landowner.  No one has been denied, no one cheated, no one given less than agreed upon.  The offense lies in the generosity to others.  The offense of grace is not in the treatment we receive but in the observation that others are getting more than they deserve.   God values and loves new members just the same as old timers even at the Silver Anniversary.


God’s sense of justice doesn’t always match our own. The grace of God is lavish and limitless, equally drenching each person, irrespective of status. The wideness of God’s mercy, the depth of God’s justice can be unnerving.   God resists any attempt to make God as miserly as humanity and God's richness flows continually.


Waiting at the back of the line, waiting for our daily bread, watching the scandalous nature of God’s generosity extended to others we are changed.  I can’t believe the Holy One is like that, maybe I’ll try it.   The back of the line offers us perspective.  Maybe we are too close to ourselves, too wrapped in our own skin, too bundled in our own acute needs to see truly what God gives us.  And maybe we are far too likely to assume it is our due, something we have earned.  Thus when we see God’s goodness to others in places like the church, in service to homeless people, in working to help working people live in decent homes—when we see God’s goodness extended to people we love, to friends and colleagues, but most especially to those people whom we do not think deserve such generosity—then we can see the goodness of God for the wondrous miracle that it is, All of us are beloved of God.  All of us deserve our daily bread.  The first and the last.

[1] Matthew By Anna Case-Winters Westminster John Knox Press Louisville KY 2015 page 246