Year B; Proper 13; 8.5.2018
Exodus 16:2-4; 9-16; John 6:24-35
The newly emancipated Israelites were about six weeks into their journey into freedom. Pharaoh, his chariots and his chariot drivers had given chase to them to the Red Sea, but the Red Sea overcame Pharaoh’s chariots and chariot drivers “…and they sank into the depths like a stone.”
But as the Israelites continued their journey into freedom, natural threats emerged. They lacked potable water. They were thirsty. They needed water. Moses had led them safely this far. But the water they found was contaminated. They complained. Rightly so, because no human can survive in the desert for very long without water. So, Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD told him to put the piece of wood into the water. He did and the water became pure and sweet, good to drink. The threat had passed. God provided.
Next, came the hunger. The Israelites had arrived in the wilderness of Sin, short for Sinai. By this time, they were out of food. They were hungry. They complained. Hunger turns us into different people. Have you ever seen that candy-bar commercial when a person turns into someone else when they are hungry?
There’s this one with Aretha Franklin in a sequined dress sitting in the back seat of a car with three young dudes traveling with her. It’s hot outside and she says, “Can we turn the a.c. on? I’m dying back here.” The guy in the front seat says, “It’s on. Can’t you feel it?” She reaches over and slaps him up-side the head and says, “Can you feel that?” The guy next to her in the back seat calmly hands her a candy bar and says, “Jeff, you’re like a diva when you’re hungry.” Aretha disappears and there sits Jeff. A voice-over comes on and says, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
It’s true. Not just for a funny commercial. Humans turn into another person when we are hungry. Chronic hunger insecurity is a cause for helplessness and hopelessness. God wants no one to go hungry because hunger deprives us of our humanity and dignity.
The Israelites were hungry. They shouted to Moses complaining that they would rather lose their freedom – go back to slavery under Pharaoh than to be so uncertain about their next meal. The LORD heard their complaints and provided manna from heaven, that thin, white substance left after the morning dew had lifted. It was just enough for that day. God provided.
The LORD heard their complaint that they had no meat and provided them with quails. God acted immediately to provide meat for them. God acted with no reservation, no resentment about their complaints. God acted with compassion. God provided.
Not only did God give them the food they asked for, God provided a “teaching moment” for the Israelites. God knew that the complaining was the beginning of a relationship between God and God’s people. We don’t make a complaint if we don’t have any hope of being heard.
God says, “I hear your cry and complaints. You can trust me. This is what I ask of you: Eat the provision I give to you each day, no more and no less. Trust that I will provide for you. Don’t get greedy and don’t hoard more than your share. If you do, the excess will spoil and become rotten. It will be no good for you anyway. Learn to trust in my daily provision.”
I think one of the most difficult things for self-sufficient Americans to understand is this idea of trusting in God’s provision. We don’t have to clutch to things, to claw and scrape to add more and more to our storage bins. Jesus teaches us simply in the Lord’s Prayer to ask God to, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is not a request to fill the deep freeze or to store the over fill into a storage shed. Rather, it is a summary of what God did for the Israelites each day in the wilderness. “Like you provided for the daily provision of food in the wilderness, do that for us for today…just for today.”
I remember having a deep freeze in the basement of the Grace Church rectory in Plainfield, New Jersey. John and I had filled it with much frozen food. A friend had given him several packages of venison from an autumn hunting excursion. We never ate it because once we did, we wouldn’t have it in our possession any more. We were hoarding it.
Then Hurricane Sandy hit and I was without power for 11 days. The food in the freezer thawed and rotted. Every bit of it was ruined and I threw it out, completely wasting it. As if I hadn’t realized it before, I learned that God simply expects me to trust in God’s provision each day and that I have no need for a deep freeze.
One of the things God asked the Israelites to do at the end of Chapter 16 of Exodus was to reserve a portion of the manna and put it in their temple as a sign of God’s faithfulness. It was a holy reminder for them that God does not forsake them, even in the wilderness, even in hunger.
We do something like that when we reserve the Sacrament in the tabernacle behind the altar after communion. We follow the pattern that Jesus gave us, remembering the story of the feeding of the 5,000 from last week’s gospel. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for it, distributed it, and the people ate it, “as much as they wanted, and they were satisfied.”
They collected all the fragments so that nothing may be lost – not even one person may be lost. Every week we take the consecrated “left overs” and place them in the tabernacle with a sanctuary lamp lighted to tell worshipers that the Holy Presence, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation are present. It is a sign for us that God provides all we need through his Son Jesus.
In a few minutes this body of faithful sojourners, the people of St. Paul’s will commission a new team of volunteers called the Seasons of Renewal Team. This will initiate us into a future of hopeful provision to the glory of God and the good of our Brunswick community. For over 170 years, God has guided us and provided for our ministry right here on the corner of Pleasant and Union Streets. (Bob Patterson, I learned Pleasant Union from you!)
Our work has been to seek justice, share God’s love and mercy and faithfully serve God inside this historic building and outside in the town of Brunswick. Over the more than 170 years, like the Israelites on their sojourn, we have stumbled, grumbled and hit roadblocks. Sometimes, we have caused our own divisions and setbacks. Sometimes we have complained bitterly to our God and our leaders.
But if we have learned nothing else from the Exodus story, we have learned that God hears our complaints and acts to provide for our well-being. God so loves us and desires to be in relationship with us that God sent Jesus his Son to teach us about his love and provision.
Right now, as a body of Christ, we are strong, active, vibrant and generous. Wen desire to grow. We are a parish poised to move forward to improve our building for energy-efficiency and provide updated maintenance. We are moving forward to bring the Rev. Peggy Schnack on board as our assistant rector. She will begin her ministry with us on August 14.
Thanks be to God, the Diocese of Maine will be providing a portion of her salary to help us strengthen our ministry to families for our future.
I’m filled with joy and anticipation. My prayer for us as we move forward together is that we trust God to provide what we need when we need it. God, give us this day what we need.