April 22 2018
Now the children of Israel are unhappy campers. Their leader, Moses, has led them out of slavery in Egypt, and now they are one month into their journey. They find themselves in the desert. Life is harsh; water limited; food scarce. So they begin to murmur. I love that phrase. They begin to murmur. They begin to whine. “Oh, life in Egypt was so much better than this. Living under Pharaoh was so much easier than this. I don’t know why I let Moses and Aaron talk me into doing this stupid thing. At least back in Egypt, we had something to eat every night.”
They have been freed from slavery, but now they look back and feel that the security of slavery is better than the insecurity of freedom.
They have been given the promise that they will have their own land, but they prefer the comforts of an enslaved known to the discomforts of liberating unknown.
And so as they grumble among themselves, out here in the wilderness; they long for the good ole days. The back-breaking toil they experienced in Egypt, the cruelty of their Egyptian overlords, the humiliation of being slaves are all preferable to this scary freedom they had been given.
I have known many people in my life who are like the children of Israel. They prefer the security of misery rather than the insecurity of freedom. I know a woman married to an abusive alcoholic. She has been counseled by family and friends in Al Anon that she should leave him, but it is so difficult to start out on your own when you are 53 years old and have no employable skills. So she stays with him in a kind of bondage. She stays in her nice home, and drives her nice car, and wears her nice clothes, and is abused every night.
I know a pastor who serves a church where he receives unremitting criticism from a group of vicious lay people. He has been so stressed and anxious that he’s on anti-depressants. But rather than seeking a new call, he stays because moving is so frightening. Maybe he won’t be able to find a new call. Maybe he won’t be able to make the same money he is now making.
When God offers us freedom, the changes we must make are always excruciating. Freedom isn’t free. It comes with a high cost of challenge and painful growth. But I will tell you this: God is a God of liberation. God is a God who calls us out from Egypt. God will not rest while we live in slavery, whether it’s the slavery of our decisions and habits, or a slavery imposed by the principalities and powers of this present age. God wants us to be free….whatever it takes or whatever it costs us. God wants us to be free.
So the children of Israel are murmuring. They whine to Moses: “You’ve brought us out here in the desert, and look–we are going to die of hunger.”
A valid complaint. We do not live by bread alone, but we cannot live without bread either. How will we survive? Where will we find food and water?
Lots of us have asked similar questions. I’ve lost my job; how will I make ends meet? How will I make it through this tough class? How will I make it through my teenager’s adolescence? How will I make it through my spouse’s illness? How will our church survive with so many of us in the winter of our lives?
At one time or another, we’ve been in the wilderness and we’ve murmured against God, “God, why did you lead me here? I don’t know how I’m going to make it”
Poor Moses, their tour leader. He’s the lightning rod for their complaints. Like any leader of any organization, he hears it all. He’s blamed for everything bad, and whatever good happens, well, they think they’re entitled to.
On this occasion, the Lord says to Moses: “I am going to provide for my people. Each morning I am going to rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion, that I may prove myself to them.”
And so it came to be. They woke up the next morning and found a layer of dew upon the ground. It was a fine flaky substance. The Hebrew people looked around and asked, “What is it?” And Moses replied, “It’s what the Lord sent you to eat. It’s manna. It’s bread from heaven.”
There’s been a lot of speculation about the composition of manna. Being from the south, I think it was like grits. Being from the southwest, you might think it was like a thin tortilla. Some scholars tell us that in the desert there’s a kind of insect that feeds on the tamarisk tree. The bug eats more than its fill and begins to excrete the excess which forms a kind of white, flaky substance. It has a very sweet taste, and to this day, it is gathered by the locals and baked into a type of bread.
Whatever it was, manna was a gift of heaven. A sign from God saying, “I will provide for you. I will never fail or forsake you. I am the one who brought you out of the House of Egypt and the Land of Bondage. I will provide for all of your needs, spiritual and material.”
Each morning when the Hebrew children woke up….there it was…on the ground. Maybe it was a boring diet, manna waffles for breakfast, manna sandwiches for lunch, manna casserole for dinner. I don’t know. But each day it was there.
And here’s what’s interesting. Moses commands them to gather enough for only a day, and at the end of the day, to throw the excess away, because the excess would decay and spoil. They are asked to trust that God will provide manna for the next day.
Talk about a test. When you are out on a backpacking trip, you always conserve food and water. Especially in the desert.
And so, as usual, they don’t pay any attention to what Moses tells them. They go out and gather up more than a day’s supply. They try to hoard it, put it in some safe place in the corner of their tents at the end of the day, so that when they wake up in the morning, they can have Manna Frosted Flakes for breakfast.
Oh, the need for security. We spend our whole lives reaching for it. Getting the right education will bring security. Marrying the right person will bring security. Getting the right job will bring security. Making enough money will bring security. Having our own home, with nice furnishings will bring security. Having a big retirement nest egg will bring security.
It doesn’t work, does it? For there’s never enough. Trying to fill the hole in our soul with relationships, or status, or possessions is ultimately so unsatisfying. And so we relentlessly pursue something more, something new, something different, something, which will shellac over our inner discontent.
So the Hebrew children wake up in the morning, and go over in the corner of the tent to get some manna for manna waffles and manna Frosted Flakes, and what do they discover? It has spoiled overnight, and it’s filled with worms, thousands of creepy, crawly, slimy, disgusting worms!
I wonder how many worm-filled messes we have in our lives because we have never acknowledged that God will provide. I wonder how many spoiled days and nights we have lived because we have never learned to live trusting in God rather than our own efforts and possessions.
And so they crawl out of their tents, wiping sleep from their eyes, and step into the cold morning air, and as their eyes adjust to the dazzling light of a desert dawn, and lying right there in front of them, glistening in the sunlight, is a dew-like substance. It’s everywhere….in abundance….so much of it than when everyone gathers it up, they could go back and gather a hundred times more, and wouldn’t make a dent in its supply. Manna…..another day…..and God has come through again.
Listen: God wants us to let go of tomorrow. God only promises us this day. God will be with us today. God will give us everything we need today. God will provide us strength for the journey today. And God asks us to trust his grace for tomorrow.
A little later in this service we will pray the Lord’s Prayer together. We will pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those words, “daily bread” in Greek, come from the Hebrew word for manna. Give us this day our manna. And in our communion service today, we will feast on the one who was the incarnate manna, the bread of heaven, Jesus Christ.
I want to end today with a little litany. I am going to make some statements, and inasmuch as you agree with them, I am going to ask you to respond with the words: “Manna–God will provide.”
So I will make a statement, and then hold up my hand, and you respond, if you honestly believe what I have said, then respond with the words, “Manna, God will provide.” If you are unable to affirm the statement, that’s o.k.. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you at all.
I do not know what the future brings. I have some questions, some anxiety and fear about tomorrow. “MANNA GOD WILL PROVIDE.”
Someone I know and love is battling an addiction, and they are on a downward spiral. I admit I am powerless over their addiction, but I trust that God will do what I cannot do, and right now I give this person into God’s hands. “Manna, God WILL PROVIDE.’
I may be facing economic uncertainty in my life. I am concerned about my debts and responsibilities. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE
I have done some things in the past I am not proud of. I don’t want to live in those self-defeating and self-destructive habits anymore. I want God to cleanse and renew me. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Someone I know and love is battling a serious illness. I am worried what may happen to them. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Our church is at a crossroads. We have many challenges ahead, as we struggle to stay alive and healthy. . MANNA , GOD WILL PROVIDE.
I want to be a person of strength, of beauty, and integrity. I want to be a warm witness to my faith in Jesus wherever I go. I know I cannot do this by myself, and that I need power from on high to be the person I want to be.
“MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.”