Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16
A friend of mine posted a link on a Facebook page to an article on the Momastery website, called “Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt”. The writer, Glennon Doyle Melton was talking about how she had posted some pictures of her rather cluttered and outdated kitchen, and received all sorts of well-intentioned advice on how to improve, renovate and update it. At first, it made her see her kitchen the way others see it – and long for that fancy new place everyone was describing. Those of you who watch home makeover shows know what I mean! But then she started to look around and see her kitchen differently:
The refrigerator, which almost magically keeps things cold and is never empty; “Inside …is FOOD. As Glennon put it, “Healthy food that so many parents would give anything to be able to feed their children. Almost 16,000 mama’s babies die every day from malnutrition. Not mine [writes Glennon]. When this food runs out, I’ll just jump in my car to get more. It’s ludicrous, really. It’s like my family hits the lottery every freaking morning.”
A water faucet: “I pull this lever and CLEAN WATER POURS OUT EVERY TIME, DAY OR NIGHT. 780 million people worldwide (one in nine) lack access to clean water. Mamas everywhere spend their entire day walking miles to and from wells just for a single bucket of this- and I have it right here at my fingertips…. We use clean drinking water to WASH OUR FEET. Holy bounty. “
A well-stocked medicine cabinet; a slightly grubby floor where the family dances together; the coffee maker that keeps her awake and sane; the kitchen corner where she keeps her children’s stuff: including school projects – what a gift! Public education!
She coins a wonderful world: “perspectacles”. It means looking at what we have with a healthy perspective, a perspective informed by realizing how differently most of the world lives. In putting on her perspectacles she realizes how full her life really is, and how much of the stuff advertisers are trying to sell her is completely unnecessary. She writes: “Sometimes it seems that our entire economy is based on distracting women from their blessings. Producers of STUFF NEED to find 10,000 ways to make women feel less than about our clothes, kitchens, selves so that we will keep buying more.” Give me gratitude or give me debt, indeed! What is true for women is increasingly true for children and for men, too. We’re all becoming victim to what Glennon calls “The Tyranny of Trend”. When your grandchild doesn’t want the lunch box you gave her because it doesn’t have the latest Disney princess on it, you’ll know what I mean.
(- See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/08/11/give-liberty-give-debt/)
The Israelites have a little trouble with gratitude in the stories we’re hearing this month. Admittedly their situation isn’t easy, but they do a lot of complaining, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. God got them out of Egypt, but that wasn’t enough. They’re tired and hungry and thirsty, and they want more. So God sends them a substance called manna to eat, and flocks of quail for meat. But the complaining still doesn’t end. A chapter or two from now, we’ll hear them complaining again – they’re sick of manna and want something else. So when I read that article from Glennon Doyle Melton, I was wondering if there are complaints in our own lives that need to be turned around into thanksgiving? The Hebrew people were facing some real hardships, but surely that was better than slavery and genocide? They really needed some “perspectacles” – and sometimes we do, too.
I’m reminded of how often we complain about the rain in Victoria – yet the rain is what makes this such a beautiful green place to live. We complain about the cost of living – yet aren’t we grateful that we CAN live here, that we’re not living in Ebola-ridden West Africa, or the violent Middle East? We complain about getting overweight or over having to watch what we eat, but isn’t it wonderful that we have such bounty in front of us every single day! Some of us may struggle to find meals from time to time, but we live in a country where many people and our government work hard to ensure that people are fed. We complain about long waiting lists for surgery and inadequate health care, but we’re not being bankrupted by a car accident as my grandmother in the US nearly was, or watching loved ones lying helpless and dying because we cannot afford the care they need.
Some of us look at what others have in their lives and wonder what they did to deserve it. Our consumer culture is built on the keystone of wanting what our neighbours have or what the people on TV have or the celebrities in the movies have. We can get resentful of the lives others lead and see our own lives as less valuable, less worthy, less abundant in comparison – even though we have enough and more than enough to live! This is a big part of what has created the huge debt problem in our nation: we want what we can’t afford, and instead of learning to appreciate what we have and do without, we go out and buy it! Gratitude is a powerful antidote to this kind of culture. It teaches us to put on our perspectacles and see how full our lives truly are.
Gratitude can also help us see the needs of others – like the labourers who could not find work until late in the day and might not have made a day’s wage if not for the generosity of the landowner. Gratitude can celebrate the grace that gives others what they need, not what we may feel they deserve. A member of the congregation who works at the Food Bank was telling me how easy it is for people to judge those who come for help. I’ve heard it myself: “Oh, that person drinks or smokes all their money away – they don’t deserve any help.” Meanwhile, their children are still hungry and need to be fed, and they still have to pay their bills, just like everyone else. Isn’t it a blessing that we have enough generous people in our community that those who are in need can be fed, regardless of what some may think about the life they live?
One of the reasons the Community Dinner is what it is, and not a Soup Kitchen or a pay-as-you-go meal, is we didn’t want it to be about deserving or not deserving, needing or not needing; we wanted it to be about sharing, and generosity, and building community. That’s what we see each time we serve a meal – and believe me, there is gratitude – gratitude for the meal, gratitude for the community, and gratitude for the opportunity to serve.
The lessons today are about God’s generosity. They are about how God reaches out to us, whether or not we deserve it, to touch our lives.
The readings are also about whose food we eat. In the midst of difficult circumstances, the hardships of Egypt began to take on a rosy hue for the people of Israel. They began to forget what it meant to be slaves to a harsh master. This difficult, God-driven life they were leading seemed much harder than living a life directed by the Pharaoh and his slave-masters: foolishness, yes, but perhaps, understandable foolishness. It seems to be ingrained in humans during difficult times to look back on the past as some kind of Glory Days. It is tempting to want to return to what is familiar, even when what is familiar was not all that great to begin with!
This story asks us as people of the 21st century here in Canada: what food do we crave? The food of slavery, the food of our consumer culture, the food that isn’t good for us, the food that drives us to want more and more and more? Or do we eat the food of God, that is daily bread – enough for today, and only for today – needing to trust that in living the Christ life, there will be enough, once again, to feed the body and the soul. One of the oldest names for God in Scripture is “El Shaddai”: the One who nourishes. This is an image of God as mother, almost a fertility figure, who feeds the people from her own substance. It is El Shaddai the people of Israel meet in the wilderness. It is the one who feeds and nourishes us with the food that will not run out.
It is to El Shaddai that we offer our thanks today. El Shaddai, who is patient, and gracious, generous and giving, steadfast in love and abundant in blessing. Put your “perspectacles” on this week, and know that God is good. Amen.