A table in the wilderness

Proper 13 (August 2, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ex. 16:2-4, 9-15; Ps. 78:23-29; Eph. 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

This week we visited MCC partners in northern Jordan and met with an Iraqi partner to discuss a new water project.

Water pours from a hillside spring in Youbla

The Jordanian community of Youbla is building small canals to channel precious water from several hillside springs to fields below where pomegranate and fig trees are grown, providing families with an important source of income.

Canals carry water from springs to crops in the valley

The lush green spring-watered valley, near the border with Syria, stands in stark contrast to the brown hills that surround it.

Spring-fed pomegranate trees flourish amid brown hills

Across the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee, the Jordanian village of Adassiyeh is installing water tanks on top of houses to provide a clean source of water for some 250 families. We heard the remarkable story of the careful process that community leaders used to decide which households would receive tanks. In an arid place where temperatures regularly swell to well over 100 degrees, water gives life.

A new white water tank provides a 10-day supply of water for a household in Adassiyeh

In the region this week, more than two dozen Iraqis were killed by bomb blasts outside five Shia mosques in Baghdad as worshipers were leaving Friday prayers. On a lighter note, the children of Gaza set a world record for the largest number of kites flown at the same time from the same place!

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about God’s generous provision.

In the Old Testament reading, the Israelites complain to Moses and Aaron about the food rations in the wilderness. “If only we had died in Egypt where we ate our fill of bread,” they grumble (Ex. 16:3). God responds by sending bread from heaven each morning and quails each evening.

Young pomegranates

The psalmist tells the same story. In spite of the fact that God has provided gushing water, the Israelites whine, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? . . . Can God also give bread or provide meat for his people?” (Ps. 78:19-20). God is angry because the people have not trusted God’s saving power. Still, God opens the skies and rains down manna – the bread of angels — and sends birds for them to eat (vv. 23-28) so that all the people were “well filled” (v.29).

In the Gospel reading, after Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000, they follow him, hoping to be fed again. They remind Jesus that God sent bread from heaven to feed their ancestors. Jesus tells them to work for the food “that endures for eternal life,” not for food that perishes (v. 27). “I am the bread of life,” he tells them, “whoever comes to me will never be hungry” (v.35).

In the Epistle reading, Paul urges the church at Ephesus to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1) and to use whatever gift God has given them “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (v.12).

This week we saw evidence that God still spreads tables in the wilderness. In places that are dry and hot, in situations that seem hopeless, God gives gifts that sustain life and build community. God calls us to do the same.

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