Toilet paper and the pandemic. Do you recall the rush on toilet paper last March when the pandemic hit? The most frequent topics of Facebook posts at that time, at least in the Glenwood area, concerned the previously mundane issue of purchasing of toilet paper: which stores had toilet paper in stock, what the limit was as to how many packages could be purchased at one time, and at what time of the day toilet paper shelves were stocked. One thing Eric and I learned during this ‘crisis’ was that we have definite preferences in toilet paper brand and type!
Things in life that we once took for granted, such as the availability of toilet paper, gained appreciation once the pandemic hit. Along with it came the addition of stress in our lives. Although the toilet paper crisis has ended, for now, all of us are carrying ongoing stress in our lives, thanks to the pandemic. For many parents, it has been finding childcare and re-arranging work schedules to accommodate distance learning with kids of school age. For the ‘sandwich’ generation—like myself—the ongoing stress has been on how to spend time in new and safe ways with elderly parents and young grandchildren. And for the elderly, there is the ongoing stress of additional restrictions to daily life, especially concerning get-togethers with friends and family.
Naturally, scripture offers guidance and comfort during this time of ongoing stress. Take for instance Jesus’ descriptive teaching on learning to trust in our loving God:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6: 26)
This message of divine provision is echoed in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread. . . “
My personal interpretation of these passages is not that people of faith have no need to care for themselves (think of those congregations reported in the news that believe following CDC guidelines on gathering for worship during the pandemic is a sign of lack of faith in the power of Jesus), but rather to trust that God has gifted us with the ability to adapt to adverse conditions through wisdom, compassion, community, and experience, all while maintaining faith in the God who provides.
During the entire month of October, the theme for Sunday worship will be on the providence of God at work in a world whose mindset is that of continual scarcity. The title of my sermon series, Scare City, is a play on the word, ‘scarcity’. Its theme is on God’s call for us as a Christian community to be the visible expression to the wider community of God’s abundant and ever-flowing grace. My prayer is that you will take this journey with me, either through in-person worship or through online worship.
May you experience peace through God’s provision during stressful times.
And remember, you are not alone!
"Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat." (Matthew 20: 10-12)
"It's not fair!" How many times as a kid did you cry out these words in response to a sibling receiving what you perceived as preferential treatment? I know that I tried it repeatedly with both my parents. You would think that I would have learned after my first attempt that absolutely no adult sympathy would come my way. Learning that whining to my parents over my big brother getting to sit in the front passenger's seat of the car 'all the time!', or over my little brother getting to mow the yard while I was stuck inside doing Saturday morning house cleaning, taught me how to parent my own kids better whenever they cried out "It's not fair!"
The gospel lesson for this Sunday worship could be subtitled, "It's not fair!", for in it Jesus tells a parable about day laborers, who at the end of the work day whine about receiving the same payment as those who had worked less number of hours. If I had been one of these day laborers who had toiled from sun-up to sun-down, I probably would have joined in the whiny chorus, myself!
Where does one find meaning in this text? Is Jesus telling us to buck-up and stop whining about life not being fair? Is he instructing us to keep our feelings inside, and to let them fester?
The opening of the parable gives us a hint to its meaning: "For the kingdom of heaven is like a. . ." Jesus is giving us a glimpse into how things work in God's kingdom (the kingdom of heaven). Rules that are opposite to the rules we live by on earth. Ridiculous rules, by human standards.
Thankfully, God lives by God's standards, not by human standards. Think about a time when you said something hurtful to another person, and that person forgave you for what you had said. It may have been easy for you to hurt the other person, but not so easy for that person to forgive you; they could have chosen to respond with cruel words, or to hold a grudge against you--easy responses by human standards. Instead, they took the kingdom way. God's way. Although kingdom of God/heaven rules are not easy to follow, they offer a reward to both the offender and the offended. This reward, in church lingo, is referred to as GRACE. Grace is God's gift to us, lavishly offered. And God offers grace as God sees fit.
I believe that if I had been one of the day laborer in this parable who only worked a fraction of the day and yet received a full day's wage, I may have felt a tiny twinge of guilt, but also thankful for the generosity of the landowner. My family would have benefited from a full day's wage with a full meal in their tummies, and I would have learned to be more generous in the future with others.
God's grace is always lavishly given. Enough so that there is more than enough to spread around. As Christians, we know that we receive God's grace, even when we don't deserve it. Just like the day laborer who cried, "It's not fair!"
In thanks for God's grace,
I love to laugh. I was raised that way by parents who relished the silliness in everyday life, and passed this way of not taking themselves or life too seriously, on to their three children. So my brothers and I grew up reading Mad magazines, listening to Spike Jones on the phonograph (as newly-weds living in San Diego in the early 1950’s, my parents enjoyed seeing Spike and his band perform live on stage), and watching Laurel and Hardy and Pink Panther movies on the television. To this day, whenever my family gathers, laughter fills the room.
What a wonderful discovery it was then, when early on in my seminary Old Testament class I learned from my instructor Dr. Lester (another relisher of the silliness in life) that the Hebrew Bible is chock-full of humor! For instance, in the third chapter of Judges, an evil king is killed by the sword while sitting on the ‘throne’ (the text refers to the toilet as the ‘cool roof chamber’), while in the twenty-second chapter of Numbers, God speaks through a donkey! Hee-haw!
Whoever said the Old Testament was dry and boring?
A subtler type of humor is going on in the Exodus text that I will be preaching from this Sunday. The Egyptian pharaoh, who is feeling his power threatened by the rapid increase in the population of the Hebew slave community, orders that all male Hebrew babies be killed (harumpf!), only to be duped by a couple of Hebrew women. Here is a summary of events:
May your days be filled with opportunities for laughter--especially during the pandemic, for laughter is truly good for the soul! And if you are in need a couple of belly laughs, take a look at the biblical texts I mentioned. After all, the Old Testament isn’t dry and boring, as most of us think, but full of humor. You just need to look for it.
With joy and delight,
It has been a good year for gardeners who love tomatoes. They just keep coming and coming. Even my own container-garden tomato plants have produced a lot of fruit. This has been a summer of experimentation for me in container gardening. Because we moved to Stewartville in June, it was too late to plant a garden. So instead, I grew plants on the back patio. What I learned about growing container tomatoes is that they need a lot more watering, and that extra needs to be taken in avoiding watering the leaves. In spite of my learning curve in container gardening, the tomatoes keep coming and coming.
Although I have been harvesting a lot of tomatoes from my container garden, there haven’t been enough tomatoes for me to make freezer pizza sauce. The daily pickings go right into that day’s cucumber/onion/tomato salad (thank you, Gib and Darlene for the cukes!) or regular-old green salads. Thankfully, I have been gifted a plethora of tomatoes from the gardens of a couple of generous SUMC folk (thank you, Dave M. and Gretchen O.!), which will become the base for my special freezer pizza sauce. Then, when the frigid winter Minnesota temperatures call for a supper of Eric’s delicious homemade pizza, this summer blessing will offer itself up as a winter blessing, sparking oohs and aahs to taste buds and stomach alike!
I never tire of the many ways God provides when there doesn’t seem to be enough of something in life. A garden of vegetable delights provided by generous church friends. A long, soaking late-August rain on parched lawns and fields. Reconnecting with a good clergy friend via Zoom after an emotional and spiritual drought caused by the pandemic. The cup of God’s abundant love and providence keeps overflowing with blessings.
It’s been a long, tiring two weeks for me, for the added responsibility of attending (online) three days of Conference events got my schedule out of whack. I guess the older I get, the more I am like a baby, in needing a regular schedule! Although I appreciate the opportunity to participate in Conference events, I’m looking forward to some big-time sabbath time this coming weekend: celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary with Eric (how can it be 37 years already?!) and spending an afternoon in Kenosha with Leif and Beyza and our two adorable granddaughters, Kysi and Clea.
May you too, delight in the cup of God’s abundant love and providence in your life!