Rev. George Miller
Aug 5, 2012
In April I attended a two day conference in which one of the guest speakers gave a presentation on this very scripture.
According to him, this is the first lesson that God teaches the Israelites after freeing them from slavery.
Is the lesson about the proper definition of marriage? Is it a thesis about gun control?
No, it’s a lesson about Economy 101: to trust or to not trust God.
But 1st, a true story: as a church pastor I’m considered self-employed, which means I am responsible for paying my own taxes on a quarterly basis.
As a responsible person, I try to set aside the correct amount of money each paycheck; the key word being try. But I’m human, and life happens, and well, sometimes finances can get a little tight during tax time.
I reached a point in May where I knew my taxes for June were coming up, but not all of the money was in the savings account. I had three options: not pay what I was supposed to, pay it and charge my living expenses to my credit card or severely tighten the wallet and make my pennies stretch into dollars.
Wisely, I chose option 3, creating a next-to-impossible budget, saying my prayers and trusting that somehow I would survive.
I did pretty good combining pantry items in ways I had never thought of before, making my groceries stretch as far as possible.
Then one day I visited a parishioner; we had a pleasant visit, talking about this and that. When I was ready to leave, the parishioner asked if I liked Omaha Steaks. Turns out he had a freezer full of their frozen products, and due to a recent dietary shift, he would not be able to eat any of it.
“Yes!” was my answer, and though he tried to give me all he had, I only chose what I thought was “enough”.
Needless to say, even though I was wandering through a financial wilderness for a few weeks, my freezer looked like it was raining hamburger, chicken, filet mignon, lasagna and chocolate cake from heaven!!!
Much like today’s lesson.
I love this story and how can you not? It’s one of the Bible’s most important stories, influencing a large part of Jesus’ ministry.
Let’s review. The Israelites had been slaves for centuries. The Pharaoh preyed on their fears, forcing them to do hard work. Their job was to take straw and turn it into bricks. If they don’t meet their daily quota they are to be beaten.
So the slaves spend every day, morning to night, searching for straw, making bricks, living in fear that they will never make enough.
But God does not forget them. After a series of miracles, God sets the people free. They experience the crossing of the Red Sea in which the Pharaoh and his army is defeated, and the people begin their journey into the wilderness.
Here, in the wilderness, they are in a place of transition, a nurturing place in which they are to unlearn old behaviors and discover new ways of thinking.
This is the time for them to start letting go of their slave mentality where they were under the abusive, hateful rule of the Pharaoh and to discover what it means to live as free people under the protective, loving care of God.
Immediately the people come across a major concern: out in the wilderness, where nothing exists, what are they to eat; how will they survive?
God hears their legitimate complaints and comes up with a novel idea: God will supply them with bread from heaven; little honey flavored wafers that they can bake and boil and get all the energy they need to survive.
It may not match the kind of food they were used to in Egypt, but at least they don’t have to live in fear or hunger anymore.
However, there are some very specific instructions. 6 days a week they are to go out and only gather what they need. If they try to be selfish, if they try to hoard any of it, it will spoil.
But on Friday they are to gather twice as much so they can have Saturday off.
God’s lesson in Economy 101 is joyfully simple: trust and obey, act and rest.
Of course, not everyone listens. Some clung to the slave mentality they had learned in Egypt. Out of anxiety and greed they take more then they need only to discover the next day their bread was filled with worms.
Others couldn’t grasp the concept of taking a day off, but when they went out Saturday they discovered that indeed nothing is there.
This miraculous manna, this bread from heaven becomes a sign of God’s grace.
Think of just how radical these lessons were and still are, and how they go against all sense and logic:
-Trust that in a wilderness full of nothing God will provide something,
-trust that there is indeed enough for all,
-and trust that sometimes the best thing you can do is rest!
It totally goes against the way of the Pharaoh; it totally goes against the American work ethic.
This is God’s Kingdom Economy. A new dance for the people to learn that doesn’t go to the beat of the slave masters whip, but to the beat of God’s steadfast heart.
This story about manna from heaven is not just something from the Old Testament; it also appears in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
For example, in the Gospel of Mark Jesus and the disciples are in a deserted place surrounded by thousands of people.
When dinner time arrives, instead of sending the people away, Jesus takes what little food they have, and after giving thanks, he shares it with others. And miraculously, that little bit of bread and fish becomes enough for all who are present.
Today’s story also informs the words of the Lord’s Prayer and helps to shape the experience of the Last Supper.
And yet, thousands of years later we are still trying to learn what it means to trust in God; what it means to know that we have enough.
These are lessons that I believe any church community needs to be reminded of time and time again.
As members of Emmanuel UCC, I believe that right now we, in the very best sense of the word, are in a wilderness, in a time of transition, in which God is present and working, and God is preparing us for many new things.
For example, the Vacation Bible School we just had. Never been done before.
Some people assumed that we would never find the children to attend since we did not have children in our services.
Yet we headed God’s call to step into the wilderness of VBS and sure enough, not only did God provide the children, God provided 17 wonderful kids who each brought their own unique gifts and talents.
And even though we had only been prepared for 10-12 kids, we certainly had enough supplies and food for all.
This exciting sense of being in the wilderness continues in other ways, such as the social groups that have been started and conversations around redoing our kitchen.
If God could do this, what else can you imagine God calling us to do next?
In conclusion, when the slaves were freed, the first lesson they learned was about the Kingdom’s Economy; an economy built on trust in God and the importance of rest.
When it seems like we have entered into the wilderness, into a time of transition, how should we respond?
Should we run away, automatically assuming defeat? Do we trudge back to Ol’ Pharaoh, resuming a life filled with drudgery?
Or do we move forward, trusting that even when we are not certain where we are going, even when it seems like nothing is there; we can move ahead with the assurance that we are not going it alone?
That God, the great I AM, is present, ready to supply us with whatever we need.
Are we ready to realize that God’s ways are not our ways, or the Pharaoh’s ways, but that God’s ways are always different, always new and always for the sake of the Heavenly Kingdom?
Where miracles happy every day, work and rest do coexist and through the simple act of sharing and believing, there is indeed enough for all.
That the love and grace of God through Christ is indeed bread from heaven.
Amen and amen.