Narrative Lectionary Text: Exodus 16:1-18
Have you ever asked “Why?” or maybe, “What’s the point?”
I run into these questions all the time as I interact with students and adults. I wrestle with this question in my own life. There are days and seasons in life when it seems like all you are doing is walking in circles and there is really no point. This leaves us very hungry, doesn’t it?
The question for us today is, “How do we find meaning when it feels like there isn’t any?” Our big theme for the year is “God with us: Are we in step?” How do stay in step when you wonder if God is really with us?
Our story today speaks to this. It is the story of the Exodus, we are going to look at Exodus 16:1-18. This is a famous story. It is the most important story of the Israel’s history and of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Bible.
I like this passage, because it focuses on the newly freed slaves. Let’s look at the story from the Israelite’s perspective.
They are walking along in the blazing hot desert. I’m sure their thoughts and conversations went something like this.
Who is this Moses character?
80 years ago he was spared from the river and raised in the palace. He doesn’t understand us.
40 years ago he had a moment of self-righteousness and murdered a slave-master, then he fled for his life to who knows where? He’s a coward.
Now he shows up and claims that God spoke to him in a burning bush. Yeah right.
Granted, he got our attention with the showdown with Pharaoh thing. That was impressive. Maybe he’s got something to say.
He made us eat the lamb and the unleavened bread and we left in the middle of the night. The army purused us, but the waters parted and we made it across the Red Sea. The Eyptian army was destroyed. That was pretty cool.
But now, it has been six weeks. It is hot. Any provisions we brought with us are gone. The only thing we have to go on is this ancient promise that our parents told us about. Supposedly God promised “father Abraham” that he would become a great nation…[looking around] how’s that workin’ for ya?
You can’t eat a promise from an ancient god. We are hot, we are scared, and we are hungry. Wouldn’t it have been better if we had stayed in Egypt?
Can you blame them? Have you ever felt like that?
Maybe there was a time in your life when you felt God was real and that things were really happening. But now, life just seems so out of control. I’m busy all the time, but it seems to be spinning in a circle with no meaning. Or, life just seems so monotonous.
If Pastor Steve says the word Promise one more time I think I might puke.
I think of my Dad. It has been six weeks since his surgery. Here is a 75 year old man who is incredibly active and healthy. He takes care of his body. He’s dedicated his life to serving God and people as a pastor. He’s up on a ladder building a tree house for my brother’s kids, and then the ladder slips, he falls, and breaks his back. Why, Lord? What’s the point?
I think many of our high school students that went on the mission trip are starting to feel that way. When we were in Wyoming it was amazing. God seemed so real and at work. Friendships were forming. But now that school has been going full steam for a month and all the drama of people and the pressure of family and classes and activities, and the future. It just seems like we’re moving, but not going anywhere.
How do we find meaning in this? Is God really with us?
I read a book recently by Robert Wuthnow. It’s called After Heaven. He talks about three kinds of spirituality in the United States since the 1950s. This helps us create a picture of what this passage is teaching us.
First, he talks about a Spirituality of dwelling. This characterized the spirituality of the 1950s. It is the kind of spirituality and faith where people find identity in a location or a specific group. They belong to the church on the corner. This is their group, and if they follow these rules, then all is well. It is an institutional faith. Ultimately, the spirituality of dwelling become hollow and meaningless, just a following of empty and stuffy ritual.
The 1960s brought a great deal of cultural revolution and people began to shed the institutions and found, what Wuthnow calls, a spirituality of seeking. People began to look for meaning within self. It was a kind of spiritual smorgasbord mentality where you borrow a little from this religion and read a little from that self-help book and mix up a custom-made spirituality, that didn’t need anybody else. You believe what works for you, and I’ll believe what works for me. Ultimately, Wuthnow discovered, a spirituality of seeking leads to despair, because the world is bigger than self.
Wuthnow suggests a third way. He discovered that the people who have found meaning are those who have tapped into, what he calls, a Practiced Spirituality. They have found an ancient tradition of spiritual practices that have been observed by groups of people around the world for centuries. It is not the same as the external rituals of a local church, but it is not the self-made, self-centered spirituality, either. It is the classic spiritual disciplines like prayer, scripture reading, fasting, solitude, simplicity, service, etc.
I think this is helpful for where we are today and helps us connect the Exodus story with our story.
Let’s look at it in this picture.
You can’t go back to Egypt. That is in the past. No matter how good or bad it was, you can’t go back.
In the present, we are on the move. The only constant thing in our society is change. Friends come and go, each year you move up the ranks in school. Children grow up and move out. Government leaders change from election to election. We live in our cars as we move from home to work to school to activities. We are definitely a traveling people.
You have two choices. You either don’t believe in the promise and make it up as you go.
Or, you learn the lesson from this passage. You Practice Daily Bread.
You see, God heard the grumbling of the people. God knows that you can’t eat a promise. God provided for the people. He provided them the promise of a better future. And he provided daily bread. That bread is called Manna. It literally means, “What is it?”
Here’s the really important part of the story. If you want the daily bread that God provides, you have to gather it, every day. The people had to gather the manna daily, because it wouldn’t last until tomorrow. Then, once a week, they didn’t have to gather it for themselves, but they gathered together around the tabernacle and connected to God’s promise.
What does daily bread look like today?
Here is the central truth. The daily bread is Jesus. The Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life. He is the incarnation of God’s promise. Jesus is the promise of God in the flesh. His life, teaching, death, and resurrection demonstrates God’s love for us, provides the forgiveness of sin, and demonstrates that God has conquered death and is making all things new.
We eat this bread of the Gospel in two ways. We gather weekly for the bread as a community. Just like in Exodus, the people didn’t have to gather the bread on the Sabbath. Instead, they gathered at the tabernacle and worshipped God collectively. That is why we gather every Sunday to worship and to come around the body and blood of Jesus, to be reminded that we are part of God’s bigger story and that Jesus is the bread of life.
But we must also gather this bread daily, on our own. This is the purpose of daily spiritual practices like centering prayer, meditation, scripture reading. In the midst of our busy or mundande schedules we need to set aside time to breathe deeply and connect to the bigger picture. It is not all about us and our problems. God is at work in the world, bringing about healing and reconciliation and God invites us to join in on it every day.
I want to highlight one really practical tool that we have available. If you go to our website, www.graceandover.org, and look at the right column, you will see a link to devotionals. Cick there and you will find a page that has a short devotional based on the text for that Sunday’s sermon. Then there is a daily reading plan that will fill in the gaps from Sunday to Sunday.
If you don’t already have a daily quiet time plan, then I encourage you to do this.
I have posted an article on my blog about how to Have a Quiet Time. I call it making a date with God. I encourage you to go there and learn how to take the first steps of practicing daily bread.
This is not a magic problem-solver. It is a spiritual practice that will help you to gather the daily bread that God provides for us. It doesn’t take away the drama at school. It doesn’t remove the pressures at work or the screaming babies. It doesn’t heal my Dad’s back. You can’t go back to Egypt. What it does do is remind you that God’s promise is real, and that no matter how difficult today is, God is with us. Gathering daily bread is what helps us keep in step with God.