GOD’S CHURCH, NOT YOURS, NOT MINE, NOT OURS

JOHN 6:24-35
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR

This morning’s Collect of the Day is a plea from the church for the church: “Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness.”

         “O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church.”  Your Church, not mine, not ours.

         I often hear and use the words “my church” or “our church”, and I know what those words mean when I hear and use them.  They mean the local church I attend or the national church of which I’m a member.  It’s not that we own our local church or national church.  It’s about identity.  We identify ourselves with a local church or a national church, and that’s important.

         Still, if we overuse the phrase “my church” or “our church”, we run the risk of forgetting whose church it really is.  “Lord, cleanse and defend your Church.”  It’s God’s church, not mine, not ours.  The Church belongs to God.  We church members belong to God.

         In God’s church we talk a lot about commitment.  We remind ourselves of our commitment to Christ and each other.  We need to talk about commitment, to be mutually accountable.  We also need to recognize the danger of committing too much.

         What does it mean to be over-committed?  A lot has been written about this subject.  Much has been made of psychological terms – codependency and so forth.  There’s much talk about burnout of both clergy and lay leaders.

         For our purposes this morning I’ll describe over-committed this way: When we’re over committed, we forget whose church it is.  Unknowingly, we take on too much responsibility.  We take on God’s responsibilities.  Whether my church succeeds or fails is up to me.  It’s resting on my shoulders.  My energy, my gifts, my commitment make all the difference.

         This, of course, is fantasy.  Yes, each of us has responsibilities.  Our responsibilities are important, and when we neglect them everyone suffers.

         But no individual carries God’s responsibilities.  It’s God’s church, not mine, not yours, not ours.

         Today’s lesson from Exodus is about a people on a journey.  Moses and Aaron have led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  They have come to a new place, the wilderness, and they are very unhappy there.  The whole congregation complained: “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, where we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread: for you have brought us into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

         I love these Children of Israel.  I love them because I’m one of them.  You see, I love the good ole days back in Egypt, back when things were easy, back when we were looked after, taken care of (how I miss those fleshpots and bread).  We were like children then, and now in the desert Moses and Aaron expect us to have faith.  They expect us to look to God for our sustenance.  They expect us to grow up.  Give me the security of Egypt any day at any price – even slavery.

         I thought freedom would be easy.  I thought leaving Egypt would be the hard part, but it wasn’t.  I thought we’d go directly to the Promised Land, but we didn’t.  We’re here in the desert wandering and waiting, and Moses tells us to rely on God.

         As individuals, as a community of faith, our journey parallels the journey of the Israelites.  It’s a journey through the desert.

         There are times of joy and celebration.  There are times of pain and disappointment, too.  But the Good News is: God provides.  God provided the Israelites with food from heaven.  They called it manna.

         Our psalm describes that scene:

                  He commanded the clouds above

                           and opened the doors of heaven.

He rained down manna upon them to eat

                           and gave them grain from heaven.

So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

         God provides.  God provides enough.  However, (and this is a big however) God usually provides in ways which are unexpected.  The Israelites did not recognize the manna.  “They said to one another, ‘What is it?… Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.’”

         God provides, but God provides in God’s own time, in God’s own way.  Often we fail to recognize God’s provisions.

         It makes me wonder; “Are there ways in which God provides that go unrecognized?”  When we focus on the desert – our size, our financial crunch, our whatever, do we miss the manna right before our eyes?

         When I look for it, I see lots of manna at St. Augustine’s Parish.  Here is just some of the manna I see:  I see a community of believers faithful in worship, generous in giving of time, money and talents.  I see a choir which rehearses Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings in order to lead us in worship each week.  In the heat of Summer, I see volunteers sweating on lawn mowers.  Others prepare our bulletins and newsletter.  Some provide us with breakfasts and other meals.  Some give altar flowers.  Our Vergers, Altar Guild, Ushers, Lay Readers, Greeters, and Acolytes enable us to worship.  Our Teachers teach us and love us.  Our youth leaders provide a sympathetic ear.  Our Treasurer and Vestry Clerk assist the vestry faithfully.  Each Vestry Member attends monthly Vestry meetings during three years of service.  We have volunteers doing outreach ministries

         There are many people giving in a multitude of ways.  I can’t list them all.  In fact, many of you give in ways unknown to me.  All of you give, not for recognition, but for the glory of God and for the love of God’s church.

         When I look around for manna, I see it in you: who you are, how you love so freely, how you give so generously.

         The journey of faith may be a desert journey, but we walk together, and God provides.  So keep your eyes on the manna, recognize your blessings and be grateful.  There’s so much to be grateful for.

Amen.

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