Good morning, Friends! I hope you’ve all been safe and healthy this week. These certainly are hard times. One thing after another, day after day, week after week.
The epidemic is still going strong – stronger than ever, it seems like. Over 110,000 cases confirmed in North Carolina. 18,00 deaths. 12,800 cases in the four counties surrounding High Point.
We feel blessed that no one in our meeting has died from COVID. We feel scared, because no one knows what the future is going to be like. Some people are working extremely long hours. Other people are out of work entirely.
No one really knows what schools re-opening will be like. All the parents and students and teachers and school administrators have my deepest sympathy and support. Nobody wants our young people to lose out. Nobody wants students or staff to be in danger.
It’s a hard, hard time.
Even in good times, I encourage people to read the Bible. But especially in hard times, we look to the Bible for guidance and hope.
This morning’s Scripture is about time when God’s people were in trouble. In fact, they had been in all different kinds of trouble.
Hundreds of years before, they left their home, because of famine. Then for hundreds of years, they were slaves. They cried out to God, and God delivered them. But the road back wasn’t an easy one.
They sat and watched and probably suffered, while the whole country was torn to pieces, by one plague after another:
• Water that was undrinkable
• Invasions of mosquitoes, locusts, flies and frogs
• Livestock diseases
• Skin diseases
• Hail that destroyed the crops
• Darkness over the whole country
• And finally, a fearsome disease that killed all the firstborn in Egypt, except for the people of Israel
The political leaders of the time wouldn’t listen – in fact, it says that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened against them.
They escaped, only to have Pharaoh’s army come chasing after them, to kill them or make them slaves again.
They escaped again by a miracle, with the sea itself rolling back on either side to make a path for them. And then, on the other side, they landed in a desert, and faced enemies, snakes, scorpions, and more.
They were probably saying, “If we’re God’s chosen people, Lord, could you please choose somebody else?”
Actually, they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here, to starve in the desert? We wish were back in slavery again! At least there we had something to eat!”
Yeah, that was hard times, all right. Moving on, every day. No land. No homes. Hungry a lot of the time.
Then we get to a story that shaped the people of the Bible forever after. It was an experience that they always remembered. Let me read it for us.
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, 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 16:2-5, 9-18
Like I said, this story is one that shaped God’s people forever. They were never the same again.
After everything they had been through, it was still hard for them to trust God. They’d made it through the plagues, and not one of them had died.
They’d made it through the towering walls of the Red Sea, and not one of them had drowned.
Now they were hungry, and they didn’t know where they were going. They didn’t know the way back to their own home, the place that God had promised them.
They were so scared, and they didn’t know if God was still going to take care of them.
They didn’t know how to live off the land. Instead of remembering what God had done for them before, and praising God, instead of asking God for help, they said, “God, why are you letting us starve to death out here? What were you thinking about?”
See, they didn’t really believe that God was there with them, all along.
So God said, “I’m going to rain down bread from heaven for you, every day. You’re going to gather it up, fresh every morning. There will be enough for everyone. No one has to 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 everybody 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.”
It doesn’t say what that was. Maybe it was the lightning flashing. Maybe it was the sunrise. Maybe it was a rainbow, the sign of hope, shining there in the cloud. But somehow, 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 over the ground 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. But 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. Only 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 again today. These are hard times. 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 all going to make it? Are we going to have the resources we need? Will God keep the plague away from us?
This story has echoes, all the way down through the history of God’s people. When Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer 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. When God is in charge, there is more than enough. When Jesus fed the crowd, there were baskets of food left over.
Do you remember that place in the gospel of John where Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, whoever believes in me shall not thirst. . .”?
If there is anything we need, Jesus said, God knows about it already. If we need strength, God is here. 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. 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.
We are always having to go back and re-learn the lesson of the manna in the desert. We think we’re at the end of our rope and ready to die, but then we discover that God has everything we need.
When we’re scared, when we’re hungry, when we forget 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 God 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. Are we anxious about money, or other resources? We don’t need to be. Are we anxious about our safety? God will be with us, wherever we go.
Jesus once 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 well. God wants us to be overflowing with blessings. 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.
Lord, we thank you for your care and mercy. We ask you to keep us healthy and safe. Please watch over us, and those we love. Please teach us what we need, and to be thankful for each new day.
Be with us this week, and until we meet again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.