Sunday, September 18, 2011

Raining Bread

Exodus 16:2-15

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.”  v. 4

I did not spend much time in last week’s sermon with the story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt because I knew that this week it would serve as the context for our scripture.  We are spending just a couple of Sunday’s in the Hebrew Bible, particularly the book of Exodus which is rich with images of people and the patriarchs and how the Israelites struggled to become a cohesive tribal nation after the ravages of slavery and bondage under the rule of Pharaoh.  The scripture today shows us the ‘inbetween’ time of the Israelites from slavery to freedom.  The interim time was not easy as we will see, but they made it through with God’s help.

Finally, ‘let my people go’ becomes a reality.  Moses high tales it out of Egypt with the people of Israel but not without drama and hot pursuit.  Pharaoh, once realizing that he let all of his slaves go, reneges on his promise, he changes his mind.  This means only bad things for the Israelites.  Pharaoh mounts his chariot and all of the other army officers mount their chariots and take off after the Israelites. 

God protected them though.  God was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and by night.  But they still doubted, they still were afraid and they yelled at Moses while Pharaoh and his warriors were rapidly approaching.  “Moses, have you taken us out of Egypt to die?  What are you thinking?  Let us alone, we want the good old days back to serve the Egyptians, we were so much better off then than now”. 
Moses by Marc Chagall
Moses was firm though and he stretched out his hand above the Red Sea and the water parted and dry land appeared.  No more time to complain.  Across they went still followed by the Egyptians. But the wheels of the chariots got stuck and they sank in the mud.  You might say this was a divine plot for their salvation.  And when the Israelites were on safe land Moses stretched out his hand again and the waters returned gushing over the trapped Egyptians.  Not one remained alive.

God the merciful heard the Israelites cries of injustice and liberated them for a new life.  And yes, God dealt with evil, oppressive powers, as scholar Miroslav Volf says, ‘not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves’[i], that is saving grace.  Perhaps we do not want to hear about our God in that way but something needed to be done to liberate the Israelites from their suffering and injustice.  God delivers them for a particular purpose, just what that purpose was though they didn’t know.       

For 430 years they had been enslaved by Pharaoh.  That’s one heck of a long time, approximately 14 or 15 generations worth of slaves.  They probably had gotten used to Egyptian ways, Egyptian food, Egyptian fashion, Egyptian idol worship to life as slaves. It is no wonder that once liberated, and in the wilderness left to their own devices, that they panic. 

It reminds me of the movie Shawshank Redemption, in my opinion one of the better movies ever filmed.  The character Brooks.  He’s finally released after a lifetime in Shawshank Prison.  You think it would have been a joyous time for him but he was old and had gotten so used to life behind bars that he could not function in the outside world.  He had changed, life and times had changed.  It was a major disorientation in his life and sadly, he did not make it in the outside world.  People get used to their surroundings and situations. 
Brooks - Shawshank Redemption
But the Israelites had a real chance here.  Even though they didn’t go from slavery and oppression to the land of milk and honey they had someone who would lead them during the in between time.  Wouldn’t that have been just grand to go from slavery to freedom?  No they spent a fare amount of time in the wilderness – 40 years or so in reality.  Tensions mount as they look back longingly and toward the future anxiously.  But they just weren’t there yet.

They were stuck in the wilderness of Sin, the hot, desolate, sandy, and repressively sunny Sinai.  It’s a place where ‘not a cloud in the sky’ does not mean some idyllic day but means the rays of heat from the sun pelt down upon you like razor blades slicing your already crusted skin. To this day it’s relentless.  Everywhere you turn the horizon looks the same.   
 Mt Sinai
They begin to kevetch.  Kevetch, kevetch, kevetch.  Complain, complain, complain, in Yiddish.  Moses, we are hungry.  Moses, we are thirsty.  Moses, we are hot and our skin is burning.  Moses, where are you taking us?  They were in a ‘zone of bereftness’ as Walter Bruggeman puts it.  They were in between knowing and unknowing, between one certainty and the next certainty. 

When you are in that zone of bereftness or the wilderness you feel anxious, deprived, with a sense of scarcity rather than abundance.  They were feeling a real sense of loss and familiarity.  For them while the old way was pretty bad, but at least they knew what to expect.  These times test your faith in God’s benevolence and omniscience.  It can rock your understanding of normality. 

Wouldn’t it have been nice if they had gone from generations of slavery, oppression and refugee status to the land of milk and honey across the Jordan?  That they didn’t have to take a very long detour around in the Sinai for 40 years.  We often want to skip right over the unpleasant nights of uncertainty or those parts of the terrain that are not flat and smooth. But where would there be an opportunity for learning?  For introspection?  For reevaluating, for getting in touch with their own customs and values again or for figuring out who they were and who their God was that they could trust?

I bet that some of you have had those wilderness experiences where you wonder what in the world the purpose is for your wandering.  Maybe you are just waiting for your next direction to appear and although you would not call it the wilderness it is a place of ambiguity and questioning. 

I too, had been there wrestling with God about why and why not, about when or how long.  I ended my last interim position in February.  February to August is a very long time without direction as to what’s exactly next.  Opportunities came but not all opportunities are the right opportunities.  While this time did not corrode my faith it did take it to a different level.  I had to go to a deeper level in my trust of God that things will work out, that there will be a place for me in ministry, that this time was an occasion for me to connect again with friends and the things I like to do.  It was a time to come to God on my knees, stop complaining and accept the manna that God rained down and the way in which it was provided to me.  And it sustained me.

There was a purpose for the Israelites wilderness experience that only God could see and envision.  Whatever the reason was, their exodus was not complete until all things were made ready for them.  And during that time God rained down life sustaining manna.  Perhaps Jesus had this story of the exodus of his people in mind from his Jewish tradition when he multiplied the loaves and the fishes for the hungry people that day on the side of the mountain, or when he taught his disciples to pray, ‘give us this day our daily bread’.  Daily manna is all you need and it will be deliciously abundant and grace filled.

You are a people of God and you too will be given manna during this interim time, it will rain bread until it fills your quest for the love of Christ and for the next chapter in your story.  It will be the manna of hope, of life, the manna of discernment, of living that will sustain you.  It will be the manna of ministry and love.  And one day you will not question this interim time.  You will not ask how will God provide for us you, will be able to say with absolute resolve, ‘we can witness how God provided for us and God can do it for you too’.  This is what faith and witness and our lives together  is all about.


[i] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 297-98.

1 comment:

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