It’s that time of year, pledge season, when it is suggested that we hear what some call, the “sermon on the amount.” Conveniently, the lectionary gives us these two texts about people wondering if there is enough, for them, for their families, for the community.
We might wonder the same? Will there be enough this year? So many beloved people from this congregation have moved away in the past several years. Will there be enough energy, enough committee members, enough pledges, enough money to cover all the things we want to support and be involved in?
In Exodus, Moses and Aaron have led the Israelites out of Egypt. Miriam has led them in dance and song and rejoicing. They are finally free from, free of, the outrageous, unjust, murderous Pharaoh. And now in the dry, unknown wilderness they are anxious. They are worried and hungry and wondering what is next. Their life in Egypt seems like a far-off dream. The Israelites were enslaved, treated with contempt and disrespect. But oh, the abundant food they had, those pots of meat and all the bread they wanted. Life should have just ended there.
Of course their memories are a mirage. But at least in Egypt they knew where to return home to at night. At least they knew where their next meal was coming from.
Now, in the wilderness, life is unpredictable and uncertain and no one knows where home is. So they idealize what was and close their eyes to what might be. They are pretty certain there will not be enough, ever again.
The parable from Matthew gives us a different twist on enough. There is a landowner, there is a vineyard, there is work, there are wages, there is enough. And yet those who work all day, receiving a full day’s wage, protest that it is not enough – when they see that all the workers are making the same. Those who work all day protest that they should get more pay; the others only worked part of the day, some only an hour! Why do those latecomers get paid the same as all day workers?
The workers (and probably the listeners) don’t understand that this is not an ordinary vineyard, this is the kindom of God, where the usual economic rules do not apply. It may be that the vineyard owner has so many ripe grapes on the vine that they will rot if they are not picked that very day. But the text doesn’t tell us that. Here in the economy of God, the owner understands something about work that the all-day workers do not. It seems almost as if the owner doesn’t really need the workers all that much but sees that the workers do have a need.
The owner keeps going back to that Home Depot where people are hanging out: going out late in the afternoon, the owner finds still others standing around and says to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” ”No one has hired us,” they reply. So the owner gives them work too. There is enough work for all of them. Perhaps the owner hopes that the workers will learn to see that though the work is hard, it is also joyful, that welcoming additional workers makes the work more gratifying. That lesson may need to be learned after a second or third day of work or maybe it will take much longer for them to learn that “the last will be first, the first will be last.” Last or first, first or last, it is of no consequence. There is enough work and enough pay for everyone in God’s economy.
For thirty years, I have seen this small church expand and contract and expand again. There is enough room for everyone – long time members, new attenders, Warm Nights guests, MVSers, children, adults, Jubilee folks, International Guest House workers and guests. At Hyattsville Mennonite you are enough if you have been wounded by the church or have always loved the church or never been part of a church before. You are enough if you believe, if you doubt, if you question, if you are certain, if you want the church to be more than it is, if you want the church to live up to what it says it is. Enough already. We are enough already.
And yet as the world changes, as injustices become more apparent, we also change. Are we still enough? Last year at this time I wondered aloud about a change. I wondered if maybe I could relate to the Hyattsville police department. I asked:
“Is praying with and for the police a way to live out Christ’s love? Or is it siding with Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans? Is supporting the police so that maybe their fear is slightly alleviated a small step toward peace? Or is it reinforcing their sense of power with the option to use violence? Could extending care to police officers, getting to know them and their pain, could this be a small step toward hope in the midst of a nation at war with itself? Or is the chance that this could have any impact at all so slight that I shouldn’t get involved? Is it better to seek transformation in the system that exists or work to create a new system all together?”
I was seriously seeking your counsel and secretly hoping that you all would say, ‘this does not sound like something a Mennonite pastor should be involved with.’ But I was also, secretly, feeling like I needed something more, that all the enoughness here was not quite enough for me any more. So when you all said ‘this sounds like something very interesting’ and ‘this is an opportunity you should explore further,’ I moved ahed, if apprehensively.
Now a year later, there is a group of five pastors that meet with the Hyattsville Police chief and several lieutenants every month. We are community chaplains with the police, we are a work in progress.
We talked about my experience in Charlottesville. We wondered together about the strategy of police being heavily armed with helmets and body armor. One pastor said he imagines walking through a tense crowd of protestors and white supremacists offering the bread and chalice to all, protestors, police and white supremacists. While the clergy nodded, inspired by the vision, the chief said he didn’t like the idea, it goes against protocols the police learn and teach. One pastor named the very difficult and dangerous reality he lives with every day, that of being an African American man in this country. We are having hard conversations, trust is developing; we are finding our way.
Most of the time when we gather as police and clergy, I am the only woman in the room. I am old yet, I feel inexperienced and inadequate for the task. But in this space, I have learned that I am enough. I am grateful for the opportunity to go beyond the walls of this building, beyond the Mennonite Church, to learn and understand what ‘enough’ can mean in a very different context.
The hungry Israelites whine and complain as they wander in the desert. (I love how Moses and Aaron always deflect the blame back to YHWH.) God tells Moses it will be all right. There will be meat at night and bread will rain down in the morning. And remember to keep sabbath, collect food only six days a week. Trust that the food will stretch, that there will be enough for the seventh day.
While Aaron is explaining all of this to the people, they look out to the desert, toward the thing that scares them the most, toward uncertainty and unpredictability. They turn toward the unknown and there they see it, the cloud of holiness, the ineffable presence of God. They are not alone, they will not be alone; the mystery of God goes ahead of them.
It happens just as God said: in the evening the quail come as food and in the morning the ground is covered with something strange. We call it manna, which in Aramaic means “what is it?” It is enough.
It seems a strange time to speak of enough. You probably saw the pledge letter that was sent this week. We have seventeen less households in this pledge cycle than we did two years ago. We might complain and whine and worry that we will not have enough pledges to cover the budget this year. We might wonder and pray and wonder some more. And we might remember the Israelites in the desert and what we ourselves have learned in the recent past.
Several years ago we did not have enough people for the service committee. Energy and interest seemed to have gone dry. Church Council decided that the committee would go on hiatus – take a sabbath. Amazingly, it didn’t take long for there to be something in the morning dew. New energy appeared for the refugee support committee. A sanctuary committee was revived after several decades. New connections with the local community are developing: an ESL baking class will start in the fellowship hall this week; the Washington Women’s Chorale now practices here each week; there was a 12 week self defense class here for LBT women; yesterday there was a suicide awareness and prevention training here.
Can we as a congregation now do as the Israelites, look into the wilderness, into the unknown and catch a glimpse of the “glory of YHWH?” It might be a little blurry, the mystery of God usually is. And it will take trust that there will be enough – enough people, enough creativity, enough worship, enough joy, enough compassion, enough justice, enough love, enough money. May God give us the faith to live into the belief that in God’s economy, there is enough.