Sermon 19 Pentecost, Yr A
September 19, 2008 Leave a comment
19 Pentecost Yr A, 21/09/2008
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“God provides bread and meat in the wilderness”
James and the Giant Peach is a fairy tale about an orphan boy, James, who is forced to live with his two cruel aunts. He dreams about escaping to a wonderful place across the ocean his parents had told him about—New York City. When a sympathetic stranger appears with a bagful of magic, James (played by Paul Terry) begins his journey with a giant peach and bizarre, life-size insects.
In one scene, James and his insect friends float on the giant peach as they cross the Atlantic Ocean. A flock of birds holds and propels the peach, each tied to it with string. The centipede says desperately, “Want food. Food.” He looks at the grasshopper, who suddenly turns into a block of cheese and a bottle of wine. The centipede rubs his eyes in disbelief and then looks at the worm, who suddenly turns into a mustard-covered hot dog. He shakes his head and looks up at the birds, one of which abruptly turns into a whole cooked chicken. Salivating, he grabs the bird’s string and pulls it down. As he attempts to bite into the now live and struggling bird, the ladybug hits him with her purse and insists that he put the bird down. The centipede lets go and complains, “But I’m dying of hunger.”
The ladybug responds, “Oh, perhaps I have a bit of soda bread in here.” She takes a chunk out of her purse.
Seeing this, the grasshopper says, “Food?” and grabs the bread. He insists, “I need the food. I have a much higher metabolism.” He takes a bite as the angry centipede lunges at him. They struggle comically for the chunk before it accidentally bounces off the peach and falls into the ocean.
The worm laments, “We’re going to starve. Waste away. And not quickly. Miserably. Painfully.”
James, who has silently been watching the feud, presses the peach’s surface, which gives way just a bit. He raises his hands and happily announces, “Nobody’s going to starve! Don’t you see? We have enough food here for five voyages.”
He climbs down a small hole in the peach, then quickly reemerges with a big chunk of peach. “The whole ship is made of food.” He gives some to the centipede, grasshopper, and ladybug.
The centipede rejoices, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot.”1
In today’s first lesson, we have a similar situation as this fairy tale. The Israelites grow impatient, tired and become cranky as they wander about in the wilderness. It isn’t long before their discontent is aired, they start to complain to their leaders, Aaron and Moses—blaming them for leading them on what they think is a pointless journey to nowhere. They even lament that things were much better back in Egypt when they were slaves—at least they had food there that they enjoyed.
How quickly the Israelites and we too forget! Far too soon, the Israelites panic and fear. Their panic and fear leads them into complaining about their situation. They have forgotten what the LORD had recently done. Had the LORD not just spared their lives from Pharaoh’s army and the waters of the sea? Had the LORD not provided them with the leadership team of Moses and Aaron? Had the LORD not perfectly prepared Moses as a leader for this specific task? Earlier in his life Moses had learned the traditions of Pharaoh’s court; he had also learned as a shepherd how to survive in the wilderness. Had the LORD not been with them in the pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day?
It seems that the Israelites had forgotten the bountiful provision and protection of the LORD in their recent past. It seems instead that they were in a rather romantic mood, longing to be back in Egyptian slavery rather than here in the Sinai Peninsula freed from Pharaoh’s slavery and on their way into a new, Promised Land. They were trying romantically to convince themselves that Egyptian slavery wasn’t so bad—in fact it was the golden-olden days, “Weren’t they great!” they opined. I wonder if we are not like the Israelites a bit too when we look at the past? Do we too romanticize and idealize it like the Israelites, longing for the past rather than trusting God to provide for us in the present and the future? Do we, like ancient Israel, overly romanticize and idealize the past by complaining to our leaders and to God? Do we, like Israel complain so much that we are blind to how God is at work in our midst to abundantly provide for us and protect us in the present and in the future?
It is rather instructive how the Israelites’ complaints are dealt with. First of all, Aaron and Moses do not take their complaints personally. They rightly discern that the Israelites were complaining not against Moses and Aaron, but that their complaints were really against God. This is an important lesson for us who are pastors and leaders in the Church. We too need to be discerning and recognise not to take all the complaints of God’s people personally. Rather, we like Moses and Aaron need to recognise that at times the complaints actually need to be addressed directly to God. Not all complaints should be taken personally—that’s an important insight from this passage beneficial to all pastors and other leaders.
Notice too that God does not respond to the Israelites’ complaints by becoming angry with them or punishing them, or hitting them over the head with law. NO! Rather, God, through Moses and Aaron answers the Israelites as if their complaints were an SOS prayer for help. God has compassion on the Israelites and their plight. God answers their prayers of complaint with mercy, love, and grace. God answers by promising them provision and protection. God provides them with meat in the evening in the form of quails and bread in the morning in the form of manna. God promises to be with them in their journey through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
Israel’s story is also our story. We at Grace Lutheran can trust in God and God’s mercy, love and grace. We can trust that God in the Person of Jesus provides for all of our needs, protects us, and is with us as we journey into the future. May we respond to God’s faithfulness and grace by remembering with thanksgiving God’s abundant provision, protection and presence. May we also trust in God’s faithfulness today; and pray that God’s will be done as we move forward in trusting that whatever our future, Christ is with us.
1 Craig Brian Larson & Lori Quicke, Editors, More Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching: 101 Clips to Show or Tell (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan & Christianity Today International, 2004), pp. 154-155.