Read Exodus 16:2-21
Someone noted that this story we heard today, from the book of Exodus, has kind of turned into an episode of the reality TV show Survivor.
Survivor shows you what happens to groups of people who have to survive in very difficult conditions together. When they get hungry and thirsty they can turn on one another very quickly. And I understand there is a lot of complaining.
The Israelites have been freed from Egypt. This is where we left off with this story last fall in church. And now, we will pick up again in the Old Testament for this summer, picking up where we left off.
The people, freed them from slavery to the oppressive Pharaoh, now set off into the wilderness on the journey to the Promised Land. And they discover that it’s no picnic! No hotdogs or hamburgers, no Pizza Ranch, no Yellow Mushroom, and no smoothies.
They’re hungry! And they complain to Moses: “At least back in Egypt there was food. At least there when we toiled and struggled they gave us something to eat. Here we toil and struggle and get nothing.” And they look back longingly on their time in Egypt as a kind of Club Med, forgetting that in Egypt they were slaves. It’s like they’re saying, “God rescued us, now isn’t our life supposed to be easier?” Sometimes, I wonder what we expect from God.
I had a very interesting conversation with a man once, who was very frustrated by the struggles and difficulties of his life. He said, “I’m not sure it’s worth it – being a Christian. My life doesn’t seem any better for it.” The Christian faith is no guarantee of an easy life. Rather, it is a calling to a new life, a new purpose, following Jesus in loving God and loving our neighbor.
The Israelites at this point, however, only know one purpose in life, to fill their stomachs. That was the purpose they worked for back in Egypt, when they served Pharaoh as slaves. They don’t know anything else. How could they?
But God, ever patient, ever gracious, sets aside their complaining in the wilderness, and starts to school them in a new purpose, a noble purpose, a godly purpose.
What God starts teaching them today is going to take them an entire generation, an entire lifetime, to learn. I can identify with that, because there are things that are definitely taking me an entire lifetime to learn! And I am thankful that God is patient with me. Can anyone else say “Amen” to that?
And so we’re going to follow them, on most Sundays this summer, as they journey in the wilderness, and learn from God. On the Sundays we have supply Pastors, there will be a different theme of the supply Pastor’s choosing. And so, I included, in the bulletin announcements, the Sundays that we will be in the wilderness and the Bible readings. And I invite you to come to our worship on those Sundays, as we benefit from what the people of Israel learned, and we also learn and grow.
Today the lesson starts with manna. We turn to Exodus, chapter 16.
When the people first lay their eyes on the food God provides for them, we read in verse 15, that they look at it and say, “What is it?” and Moses tells them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you…”
A few verses beyond our reading today, we hear that “They called it manna.” Now, if you google “Manna,” you can find out that the manna may have been a resin from a Tamarisk Tree, which were once common in the Southern Sinai region, where this story takes place.
However, here in this story it’s not called “food that a tree has given you.” No, it’s called “the bread that the Lord has given you.”
The good news in this story is that the God generously gives us everything. Every moment, every morning, every neighbor, every breath, every flower – not to mention food – is a gift from God.
What a wondrous way to live: to see everything as a gift from God. I need this reminder, every day, that everything in my life is a gift from God. Can anyone else say “Amen” to that?
And then, we read this interesting piece of instruction in verse 4 of our reading: “And each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.” And again in verse 18: “they gathered as much as each of them needed.” No more, no less.
What we see hinted at in these verses is the purpose God has for our lives: to ensure that the gifts of God, included the gifts we possess, are shared for the benefit of our neighbors.
This is how, through us, God’s mission to love, bless, heal, and set free this whole world and every person in it is accomplished.
God begins here, the long, slow process of forming a new kind of community, one based not on competition but caring, one based not on hoarding but sharing, on sharing the gifts of God; For this is no less our task than the Israelites’ – For we too are God’s children through Jesus and God graciously gives us a purpose worthy of being called children of God. I am so thankful that God has given us his purposes for our lives. Can anyone else say, “Thanks be to God?”
Jesus spoke of that purpose and that life when he said, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus’ life was lived as manna for others: sharing food, healing, forgiveness, mercy, love, life, himself. Jesus refused to stop sharing God’s mercy and love with others, especially those that the religious leaders of the day didn’t consider worthy of God’s mercy and love, and it cost him his life. And yet, even on the cross, Jesus looked at his tormentors and said, “Father, forgive them.” And when the criminal on the cross next to Jesus said “Jesus remember me,” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” And then, when Jesus died and they put him in the grave, three days later he rose to life. The resurrection was God’s way of saying “Yes” to Jesus’ life of mercy and love for others.
And that same purpose lives on here in us, in the people of St John Lutheran Church.
We see Jesus living in our gifts to feed the hungry. Over $100 a month of coins is received through our noisy offerings. That money goes to world hunger and local hunger concerns. And we say, Thanks be to God!
We see Jesus living in our quilts and Lutheran World Relief projects, and the many missions we support, like Pine Ridge Reservation and Operation Bootstrap in Africa. And we say – everyone join me, now – Thanks be to God!
We see Jesus living in our youth – the day of VBS we are planning this summer, our 3rd Gear ministry, mission trips with our Jr. High and Sr. high youth. And we say, Thanks be to God!
We see Jesus living in our men in mission meetings, Women’s Bible circles, our choirs, events we have here at St. John, not to mention the daily lives of each of you. And we say, Thanks be to God!
We see Jesus living in caring visits by our members to folks in their homes, in hospitals, in Nursing Homes and care centers. And we say, Thanks be to God!
We see Jesus here in our worship, in the peace we extend to each other, in the prayers we offer up for one another, in the faces of one another: Jesus is here, given to us to share. And we say, Thanks be to God!
And we see Jesus living here at St. John, a church that lives on purpose; a church that lives as manna to one another and to our neighbors in need.
We are a community with a gracious, God-given purpose.
So let all God’s children say, “Thanks be to God!”
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