Summit Presbyterian Church
September 21, 2008
Exodus 16: 2-30
The Whole Congregation
My official start time at Summit was this past Monday, September 15th, at 9:00 a.m. Because I had so much to do in leaving New York, and because all the books say pastors should practice self-care from the very beginning, I was careful not to do any Summit-related work until 9:00 on Monday -- with one exception. I studied the picture directory. I tried to imprint names and faces on my brain, to figure out who was related to who, to match names and faces from the directory with people I had met in August. I realize the directory's not up to date -- you may have had a child since then or changed your name. And even with all this study I’ll probably need to ask you to introduce yourself - repeatedly. But my plan and hope is to visit with each of you – at home or in a coffee shop or at the office –and to hear as much of your story as you’re willing to share. I’ll be asking : “What led you to become a Christian?,” understanding that not everyone may be so sure they are a Christian. I’ve already learned that the people of Summit do not toe a single doctrinal line, theologically or politically – and that’s a good thing. This week I’ve also started learning about the particular responsibilities of the committees and boards: that the evangelism committee is in charge of the coffee hour, that the trustees are the ones keeping their eyes on the rentals and the stained glass windows. I’m looking forward to learning more about each individual, each family, each different committee and project of the church.
In our scripture this week, by contrast, when the congregation of the Israelites enters into the wilderness, Moses and Aaron do not spend time visiting, or learning the stories of individual members (not that I'm comparing myself to Moses or Aaron!) They didn't have a chance, for the whole congregation - not just a few malcontents - the whole congregation was complaining against them. Complaining that Moses and Aaron had brought them into the wilderness so the whole assembly could die of hunger. (And who can blame them, since everyone was hungry?) Likewise, when God heard their complaining, and told Moses about the bread that would rain from heaven, Moses and Aaron spoke immediately to the whole congregation -- they didn't pull aside a few trusted leaders. The whole people then looked toward the wilderness and saw the glory of the Lord. God fed the people as one. In the evening quails covered the entire camp, and the mysterious bread that appeared in the morning surrounded all of them. God instructed the congregation as one: all were to gather, each as they needed, saving none for the morning. And although different people gathered different amounts, they all had the same in the end -- just enough. It says later that those who disobeyed and acted on their own - by trying to save some for the morning, or by gathering on the sabbath - were foiled. They weren't punished, but the bread they saved rotted, and on the Sabbath there was no manna to find. The congregation heard, they saw, they gathered and they ate as one. The Israelites ate this manna forty years, and for generations a measure of it was put in a jar, and placed before the Lord, so all could remember how the whole congregation was fed in the wilderness.
In the Bible, God always calls a people. God speaks to individuals; God comforts, scolds, challenges and teaches them. We know their names: Moses, Sarah; David, Elijah; Mary and Elizabeth, Matthew, Paul, Dorcas and many more. But none of these people are called out for the sake of their private salvation or their own spiritual journeys; they're called to serve,to join, to build up, to lead, the whole congregation, the Whole People of God. God called and continues to call the whole congregation of Israel to proclaim that God is one and to be a blessing to the nations. God calls the whole congregation of the Church to proclaim forgiveness and hope for the world in Christ. We all have a part; we have our particular gifts and vocations, our opinions and quirks, our joys and our struggles; but we're called to love and serve God as one body. That's hard for us. It's countercultural to be the Church in a world where we are urged day and night to think about our individual needs, wants, desires and investment portfolios. It's even harder when we remember that the Church includes not only the Summit congregation but the Philadelphia Presbytery; not only the Presbytery but Presbyterian churches around the country; not only Presbyterian churches but ecumenical partners around the globe --- even megachurches and orthodox communions. It's hard because we don't agree on so many things, and because other people can be difficult. But it's the way God has called God's people.
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In the news this week, the headlines had an air of unreality. For most of us, I'm assuming, day to day life continued as usual. But apparently, by a hair's breadth, we've escaped a world-wide financial meltdown matching the crash of 1929 -- if indeed, we have escaped it. Lawmakers from both parties are putting together the rescue operation, an operation that comes with a price: perhaps 700 billion, perhaps a trillion dollars. It's hard to know what that 700 billion will mean, especially when coupled with climate change and the continuing war. But it may be that we're entering into a wilderness time ourselves, a time when the shelter and security, even the food and water we've taken for granted may become scarce -- especially for the most vulnerable among us, and certainly for the very poor of the earth, whose situation is already dire. In the wilderness, each one for himself works even less well than in a land of milk and honey. In the wilderness, we don't really have the option of striking out on our own.
So what a blessing that God calls us, and feeds us, in Word and Bread, together. What a blessing that we can share what we have, so that all can have enough. What a blessing that we've been given scripture in community so we can discern with one another what God is calling us to do. So as I begin my time at Summit I'm looking forward to getting to know each of you, to having many one-on-one conversations. But I'm also looking forward to getting to know you as a church. To see how, together, we'll nourish each other in prayer and study, care for those who are hurting, or in need, make decisions about money and time, and worship God as one, proclaiming the love of Christ. Please join me in prayer: