Sunday, August 26, 2012

Manna Season? Or, Objectivism?

26 August 2012/Proper 16B   - John 6: 1-71/Psalm 34: 15-22
“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears,
And rescues them from all their troubles.”

Perhaps our cries are not loud enough. This of course is our hope. The alternative would appear to be that we are no longer righteous. For what else explains the seeming disconnect from what Psalm 34 promises: the righteous cry out, the LORD hears, the LORD sets his face against the evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth, and thus rescue us from all our troubles.

We would like to forget the evildoers. I would like to forget them. We would like not to remember the evildoers. Yet they keep popping up all over the place in real life and in the dark recesses of our mind’s memories. It is like some kind of insane version of Whack-a-Mole: now they are in Aurora, now in Oak Creek, now on the streets of New York City, always always always in my office at 3695 Rogers Avenue, Ellicott City, MD, 21043.

We cry out: “Please, Lord, remove them from our midst, remove them from my memories, remove them from all remembrance, just remove them, please! Rescue us from all our troubles, Lord. ” We recite Psalm 34 over and over again. We want to be rescued from all our troubles, and yet….And yet, said troubles continue to pile up higher and deeper each time we turn on the news, each time we look to see what is happening in this world.

Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory Hallelujah!

So we seek distractions from it all. We look for ways to get past it, get around it, get over it. “Get over it,” we say. “I’m going to get over it. Time heals all wounds they tell me. Just give it some time.” We keep ourselves busy. But when the busyness stops, it all comes back again. It is just like it just happened. Again. And again.

So the ancients give us these texts – words that linger, texts that explode as Walter Brueggemann has said. Psalm 34 has lingered for a long long time – perhaps this text has been with us for as much as 2500 or 3000 years. This is a long time to linger in our collective consciousness. Embedded in this text are the words: The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

There is comfort in these words. There is a healing balm in these words. The Lord is near. This is no mere intellectual claim. The great mystics like Meister Eckhart strive to help us know the Lord is so near that the Lord lives in the deepest, darkest recesses of our souls. We are never separated from the Lord no matter how much we feel we are. Which seems to be the sense of chapter six of John’s Gospel, that extended meditation on Bread. Which itself is a meditation on Manna – Manna Season – that period of forty years when bread was given daily. That period of forty years when we allowed the Lord to be near us, when we knew the Lord to be near us, so near as to feed us one day at a time. That was the time when we were nearest to the Lord – for forty years in the wilderness.

Then we sought to take care of ourselves – we deceived ourselves into believing we can be self-sufficient. You can read all about it in the book of Joshua, how after we crossed the river into the Land of Promise we began to live off the produce of the land and the manna ceased. The minute we desired to become self-sufficient, the manna ceased. Manna Season was switched off. Read further to see how once we became self-sufficient we began to hoard more and more stuff – stuff that was meant to sustain the whole community was being held back in Achan’s tent. It is why a key battle was lost, because one man held back stuff that was meant to sustain the whole community.

This all gets replayed in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles when Ananias and Sapphira hold back the proceeds from selling their property, when in the early church such proceeds were meant to be shared with those in need. There was to be no setting aside a little for yourself. When confronted about this by Saint Peter, and they lie about it, one at a time Ananias and Saphira drop dead. It’s all there in the Book of Acts. It is the sin of Achan all over again. Today we call it the Objectivism of Ayn Rand, a sad little woman who imagined a lonely life of isolation, one individual pitted against all others, competing for the stuff of the world, stuffing one’s tent for one’s own self-interest. You can read all about it in Atlas Shrugged. Rand magically transforms the western canon. Rand turns the Sin of Achan, Ananias and Sapphira into a Virtue with a capital “V”.  Some believe this to be “the American Dream.”

The Objectivism of Self-Sufficiency is in direct conflict with a Biblical World view of collective dependency on what the Lord seeks to provide on a daily basis. Even Jesus, when asked how to pray, suggested that we pray for “daily bread.” Jesus imagined a return to Manna Season.

Maybe our striving for self-sufficiency explains our cries seemingly not being heard. Or our sense that the Lord is far off and evil so close at hand. Maybe a world driven mad by Objectivism and Markets drives some folks over the edge. Maybe a world that has lost touch with the kind of collective spirit imagined in the Bible drives people to extreme acts of violence. Maybe self-sufficiency is not all it is cracked up to be. Maybe a world that has walked away from Manna Season has crushed our spirit.

Maybe that is why the evildoers have not been erased from our remembrance. Has it ever occurred to us that in our drive for self-sufficiency we actually create evildoers? It is worth thinking about as we ponder what we need as a vision moving forward from what looks more like Mass-Murder Season than Manna Season.

Somebody does know the trouble we see. That somebody is always near to the brokenhearted. That somebody seeks to revive our crushed spirit. God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk. When will we have had enough of this bad dream and come home?

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