This was an interesting week as Washington negotiated a $700 billion bail out for Wall Street. Pundits proclaim this is the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. They do not report the fact that robber barons similar to those on Wall Street today looted the United States three times in a row before the Great Depression back in the 1800s. Our children don't learn about that part of our American history because the people who run our education system are the same ones who did the robbing. It's sad to witness them doing it again right now, especially as we continue to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ike.
Let it be known that the wealthy elites of this world are complainers. Like the Israelites of old, they complain and they get results. Meanwhile, the poor folks who are living on the street today because they defaulted on their mortgages are not supposed to complain. According to our New Age religion, these people are supposed to live "in the now, in the present moment" and be grateful for what they have. Never mind they and their families may now be homeless. The poor unfortunates are not supposed to complain. Only the rich elites have the right to complain. It's enough to make you wonder if the rich elites created the New Age religion and use it as a means of controlling the poor masses.
Singer Leonard Cohen describes the situation in his song, "Everybody Knows."
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
Put our present situation into the Bible story today and we notice a snug fit. This sermon is the start of a series about Moses. Everybody knows how the world works but no one knows the true identity of the mysterious Biblical figure named Moses. I'm leaning toward agreement with scholars who think he a mythical figure representing the Egyptian Pharaoh, Akenaten. We are on shaky ground to claim if we claim these stories about Moses are historically accurate or literally true. What is undeniable is that these stories fashioned the identity of the Jewish people for many hundreds and thousands of years and still shape our Christian lives today. So let's listen to these stories and let them teach us about God, ourselves and the world system in which we live. We may learn from these ancient stories that not much has changed. The poor stay poor. The rich get rich. That's how it goes. Everybody knows.
In our story today we find Moses again in the desert as when God first appeared to him in a burning bush and challenged him to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land.
Moses surrenders to God's call even though it requires personal danger. He agrees to do it only if God provides a co-leader, which God does in the person of Aaron. Moses and Aaron work through the problems to get the enslaved Hebrews safely out of Egypt and finally escape into freedom in the desert. As they sigh in relief they hear the people moaning as they grumble against Moses and Aaron, saying: "You have brought us out into this desert to starve to death this entire assembly." Now, isn't that the way it goes? After all Moses and Aaron had been through in this national liberation project, including risking life and limb, the freed Israelites claim they have finally figured out their leader's motivation. Moses and Aaron plan to starve them to death in the desert. The Israelites grumble against Moses and Aaron and they groan out a chaotic chorus that throws all logic to the wind. The amazing thing about this story is not that people grumble. That happens all the time. The amazing thing is that this story does not say complaining is wrong. It says that complaining works. Complaining gets results.
We haven't had to look very far to find something to complain about around here lately. No power. No air conditioning. No TV. Sweat but no internet. Traffic signals don't work. Or, I should say, half the traffic signals work and half of them don't, which is even more dangerous because it is not always clear whether one should act as if a working traffic signal is now functioning as a stop sign or a traffic light. And that's just what's happening in Houston. On the national stage, negotiations among our so-called representatives are about to achieve the biggest handover of wealth from tax payers to wealthy bankers in the history of the world. American taxpayers are once again victims of financial blackmail sponsored by Wall Street and the US Government.
No wonder we want to complain. According to our story today, complaining gets results. The Israelites complain they are hungry and God sends them manna or bread from heaven. Notice the pattern: Problem; Complaining; Solution. It's as simple as manna from heaven. Is that not the formula Wall Street has followed this week? Problem: They can't pay their bills. Complaining: They complain to the US government that they $700 billion to cover their bills. Solution: The US government gives them manna from heaven in the form of a $700 billion bailout. Problem. Complaining. Solution. That's how it works for the big boys. How does it work for us here at St. John's?
The teacher was going to explain evolution to the children.
The teacher asked a little boy:
"Tommy do you see the tree out side?"
"Tommy, do you see the grass out side?"
"Go out side and look up and see if you can see the sky."
"OK." He returned a few minutes later and said, "Yes, I saw the sky."
"Did you see God, Tommy?"
"That's my point. We can't see God because God isn't there."
A little girl spoke up and wanted to ask the boy some questions. The teacher agreed and the little asked the boy:
"Tommy, do you see the tree outside?"
"Tommy do you see the grass outside?"
"Yessssss," said Tommy, who was getting tired of the questions by this time.
"Did you see the sky?"
"Tommy, do you see the teacher?"
"Tommy, do you see the teacher's brain?"
"Does that mean she doesn't have one?"
Tommy remained silent. Tommy was a good politician.
Is the Lord among us or not? That is what the people of Israel wanted to know way back then and that is what we at St. John's want to know today. Will God hear our cry when we are desperate?
A Presbyterian woman is on top of a roof during a great flood. A man comes by in a boat and says "get in, get in!" The Presbyterian woman replies, "No! I have faith that God will grant me a miracle."
Later the water is up to his waist and another boat comes by and the guy tells him to get in again. The Presbyterian woman responds that she has faith in God and God will give her a miracle. With the water at about chest high, another boat comes to rescue him, but she turns down the offer again saying, "God will grant me a miracle."
With the water at chin high, a helicopter throws down a ladder and they tell her to get in. Complaining, with the water in her mouth, the Presbyterian woman again turns down the request for help because of her faith of God. She finally drowns and arrives at the gates of heaven with broken faith and complains to Peter, "I thought God would grand me a miracle and I have been let down." St. Peter chuckles and responds, "I don't know what you're complaining about, we sent you three boats and a helicopter." You refused to be helped.
The danger for us is not in the complaining. We Presbyterians are competent complainers. The danger for us is that we will refuse to receive manna from heaven when God sends it to us. For example, some of us were distraught earlier this year because we lost a staff member in the area of Christian Education. Like the children of Israel some of us complained to the Pastor and the Session of this church. Like Moses and Aaron, the Pastor and the Session took your complaints to God. I am here today to report that God has heard your complaint and has answered your prayers in the person of Mary Sterner. She is God's manna from heaven to St. John's. She is evidence that God has not forgotten about St. John's needs, hopes, and dreams. Today we receive Mary Sterner into our congregation as evidence that God has heard our complaint and answered our prayer and sent her to us as manna from heaven. Thank you, Lord, for sending Mary to us as manna from heaven. You heard our complaint and answered our prayer and sent her to us as manna from heaven.
The manna from heaven principle works on the macro level and on the micro level. For big Wall Street financiers their manna from heaven is a $700 billion bail out from US taxpayers. We little people have smaller demands. For some of us here today, manna from heaven came to us when electricity was restored in our homes. We complain about not having power and our scripture today says nothing against complaining. There are other Biblical texts that speak against complaining but not our story today. This story describes the way our system operates. The one who complains gets rewarded. This is particularly true if the one who complains already has money, status and power. Those who do not have money, status, or power are told not to complain but to live in the now, grateful for the air they breath, which, at present, is still tax free, but the United Nations is working on that one too, and will shortly have us all paying a carbon tax in addition to all the rest. That's how it goes. Everybody knows.