Good morning, Friends!
It’s good to see you all today.
One of my wife’s cousins is always sending me jokes and stories. This summer he sent me one about a new pastor who finished his sermon one morning. He was shaking hands with everybody after the service, and a little boy came up and handed him a quarter.
The pastor said, “David, why are you giving me money? I don’t want to take your money!”
The little boy said, “My father said that you were the poorest preacher we’ve ever had, and I just wanted to help you!”
Last week I said that almost every message I give is about the love of God. This morning’s Scripture is about a foundational event in the history of God’s people. It takes us back to the days when they were wandering in the desert, not sure whether they would survive.
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer [two quarts] for each person you have in your tent.’”
The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
– Exodus 16:1-5, 9-18
God is always teaching us. Seems like we always have to learn things.
This story takes place just six weeks after God had delivered people from slavery in Egypt. God told Moses to hold out his walking staff, and the Red Sea parted in front of them. They made their way between the towering walls of water on either side. Not a single person got lost or was left behind.
Their enemies who were pursuing them tried to follow, and they were all drowned. God had told them, “Your enemies who are behind you today, who want to put you back in slavery – you will see them no more! Never again! Today you are free!”
It was such a great event, you’d think they’d remember it forever. But now, it was only six weeks later, and they were hungry. They wanted to go back. They had escaped from slavery at such a cost. God had delivered them, after they had suffered and cried for years.
But now, they were all ready to turn back. They weren’t used to their freedom. They hadn’t learned how to trust God. They were willing to give up everything they’d gained, even their freedom, to go back to the old ways, to the old days.
They hadn’t learned how to live off the land. They had no idea that God would provide for them. Their first instinct was to go back to the old pattern that they knew, as soon as things got rough.
Instead of remembering what God had done for them, and praising God, instead of asking God for help, they grumbled against God. They said, “God, why are you letting us starve to death out here? What are you thinking about? We’re hungry!”
They didn’t really believe that God was there with them, all along.
So God told Moses, “I’m going to rain down bread from heaven for you, every day. You’re going to gather it up, fresch every morning. There will be enough for everyone. No one will starve. I’ll take care of you. No one’s going to go hungry. You have my word on it.”
Moses told his brother Aaron to call everyone together. Aaron told the people, “God’s heard you!” And while he was speaking, it says, “they looked out toward the desert, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.”
I always wish I could see what that looked like. I wish the Bible gave us more of a description.
Was it a dark cloud, or a bright cloud, or a cloud with some special shape? Whatever it was, people recognized it immediately. They knew that God was there, that God was with them.
That evening, it says that a whole flock of birds settled down around the camp. There were so many, people could just reach out and grab them.
And then, the next morning, when they woke up, it says that a kind of dew had settled during the night. It was shiny, and beautiful, and it smelled good.
Everybody said, “What is it?” That’s the literal meaning of the Hebrew word manna. Manna means “What’s that?” in Hebrew.
Nobody wanted to try it at first. It didn’t look like food. It wasn’t anything they were used to. Then one hungry little boy named Mikey reached out and picked up a piece. Before his mother could stop him, he put it in his mouth. Everybody waited to see him drop dead, but it was OK. People said to each other, “Mikey likes it!”
So they all tried it. If you read to the end of the story, it says that it was light brown, it smelled spicy, and it tasted sweet. It was delicious!
God said, “Go out and gather up enough to feed your whole family. You don’t need to be greedy. There’s enough for everyone. Just gather up what you need for today. If you try to keep it, it’ll spoil. But on the sixth day of the week, you can gather up extra, so you don’t need to work on the Sabbath.”
God said, “I will provide this, fresh every day, for as long as you need it – for as long as it takes to get out of this desert. You will never go hungry, but you’ve got to learn to trust me. If you follow me, I will take care of you. I will feed you, every day.”
That’s the lesson that we all have to learn. We are in a new place. Everything still feels pretty new. And we’re not sure how we’re going to get by. We don’t know whether we’re going to thrive, or even survive.
Are we going to make it? Are we going to have the resources we need? From where we’re standing right now, things look pretty barren. Looks kind of like a desert.
In that situation, the temptation is always to go back to the old way, even if the old days and the old ways were pretty bad. That’s true of churches. It’s true of families and individuals. It’s true of communities and societies.
In a fearful and hungry situation, we always tend to turn back to the old patterns, to the old ways of doing things. People who are sick go back to the same unhealthy habits that got them sick in the first place. Have you ever seen that?
People who are in bad relationships or who are in destructive behavior patterns, go back to doing the same things, even if part of them knows better.
Sometimes it seems as though nations and political leaders have no memory at all. They keep returning to terrible mistakes and destructive ways of thinking, which cost people their lives.
The people in today’s story were willing to give up the miracle of their freedom – the deliverance which God had given them – because they were afraid to trust God again. They would have starved to death, even though God was willing to provide them with all that they needed.
This story has echoes all the way down through the history of God’s people. When Jesus taught people to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it was an explicit reference to today’s story. God is willing to provide for our needs. All we need to do is ask.
When Jesus fed thousands of people one day on the hillside, he was re-enacting the story of the manna in the desert. God can take a tiny amount of food, and turn it into a banquet to feed a multitude. There is more than enough. When Jesus fed the crowd, there were baskets of food left over.
Do you remember Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, whoever believes in me shall not thirst. . .”?
If there is anything that we need, Jesus said, God knows about it already. If we need strength, God is there. If we need more faith, God can take a mustard seed, and turn it into a mighty forest. We can move mountains. We can overcome obstacles. We will be given the right words in scary situations.
When we need new leaders, God will raise them up for us, from the humblest of people. When doors seem hopelessly closed, God will open new doors instead. If we feel that we don’t have enough resources, remember that God has all the resources in the whole world.
God will provide. God will make a way. God wants us to be fed. God wants us to be free.
It may not look like what we’re used to, or what we asked for. The manna in the desert was something new. Nobody wanted to try it at first. People wanted to go back to the old ways, to the old patterns they were used to. It wasn’t until they were starving, till they were desperate, that they finally became willing to try this new food that God had provided.
If there had been just one Egyptian convenience store out there in the desert, they wouldn’t have even tried the manna. They would have gone back to that slave food, that junk food that had poisoned their lives for generations.
Maybe they had to be scared. Maybe they had to be hungry. Maybe they had to be afraid and out of what they’d brought along, before they would try something new.
I think that we are always having to go back and re-learn the lesson of the manna in the desert. We think we’re making it 100% on our own, but then we discover how much we depend on God. We think we’re out of resources and going to die, but then we discover that God has everything we need.
When we’re scared, when we’re hungry, when we’re ready to turn back and even turn away from the miracles of deliverance that we’ve already seen – we discover that God will provide, in spite of our disbelief, in spite of our readiness to give up.
Because God loves us. Not because we’re perfect. Not because we have more faith than anyone else. God simply loves us, and wants to feed us. God has a new word for us. God has new life for us.
We could all spend a lifetime learning this lesson. It’s true for us as individuals. It’s also true for us as a congregation. Are we anxious about money, or other resources? We don’t need to be. Are we worried about leadership? God will find us the right leaders, at the right time.
Are we concerned about whether our meeting will have the new people we need? There’s a whole world out there, waiting for us to welcome them in.
Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. . .” (Luke 12:32)
God wants to feed us. God wants us to be full. God wants us to be well. God wants us to be overflowing with blessings. God gives us our daily bread.
Let’s take it into our open worship together. During open worship, remember the times when God has helped you and provided for you. Ask God for what you need today. If you have an experience of God’s love and generous provision, please share it if you can.
God gives us our daily bread. God’s mercies are fresh, every day. Our resources are limited, but God’s resources are infinite. That understanding can change your life. Let’s spend some time praying over this together.
Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Brown