As an Episcopalian, I attend a church where the weekly Sunday texts are assigned through a lectionary, readings arranged in a three-year cycle through either the Book of Common Prayer or an interdenominational resource. For Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, this is the standard way in which we hear the Bible in Sunday worship and the texts upon which our ministers reflect in their sermons. Thus, on any given Sunday, millions of Christians hear the same passages of scripture in their congregations.
Although some Christians find this is a constricting spiritual practice, I am often surprised at how relevant the texts can be-even in a moment of crisis.
This past week, the assigned texts were Exodus 16:2-15 (God giving manna in the wilderness to Israel) and Matthew 20:1-16 (the parable of the generous landowner). As they were read from the pulpit, I literally gasped as the stories told of a God who provides for God's people in the most trying of circumstances, that God gave food enough for the day.
As I glanced around the suburban parish, I saw plenty of worry on peoples' faces. On the surface of it, these are comfortable churchgoers. But, after the last several months of economic battering, I knew that there was anxiety enough to go around. Soaring gas prices have cut into our paychecks, falling home prices cause our concern about equity nest-eggs to pay college tuition bills, and never-ceasing cutbacks in insurance premiums are surely at the basis of our prayers for good health. Now, the stock market collapse threatened whatever money these nice Episcopalians have saved for retirement. I know how easy it can be to poke fun at suburbanites. But these people are those who my grandmother always called, "the good Christian folks," those who have played by the rules and lived with integrity. Now they are watching their security and future disappear. I leaned over to my husband and said, "I am really glad I'm not preaching today."
The pastor faced the questions straight on. "These are difficult days," he affirmed. He reminded us of God's provision of quail and manna, of God's generosity of the daily wage. But then, he pointed out that God does not just provide for us as individuals, but that God provides for the whole community. All of Israel was blessed with food; all the laborers were paid-not only those who deserved it or worked particularly hard. "We are in this together in suffering and reward," he proclaimed, "We are not alone. We are a community who welcomes God's provision." We care for one another, we work side-by-side, and we share in the bounty of grace.
It was a profoundly political sermon. Not in the sense that the preacher told the congregation whom we should vote for. But he reminded us that we are God's polis, a holy city-one not governed by the stock market, presidential campaigns, or housing prices, but by grace, generosity, and goodness. This alternate city, the community of grace, is ultimately strengthened by worldly hardship because it reminds us that our spiritual investment is in a realm not seen. Our community is one marked by holy insecurity-the sure knowledge that our wisdom is not an economic strategy; our power is not financial; and our trust is not in princes.
I can't say that I welcome any development of recent weeks in our national economic life. But I can say that I left church on Sunday feeling part of a larger community of faith-knowing that so many Christians across the country had read and listened to the same texts. We are all laborers in God's vineyard, working side-by-side in the scorching heat of these blistering days, as we cultivate God's mercy and justice.
And, for the moment, that is oddly comforting.
Diana Butler Bass (www.dianabutlerbass.com) is the author of Christianity for the Rest of Us. She has returned to God's Politics after a blogging sabbatical to finish her new book, A People's History of Christianity, scheduled for release next March.