September 24, 2023
Scripture Reading: Exodus 16:2-15
So, if you can imagine yourself as one of the children of Israel, you’ve lived through years of slavery to a cruel leader (the Pharaoh) who had no moral foundation and you have witnessed the amazing experience of being set free from a life of slavery in Egypt through the leadership of a man, Moses, who is trying his best to lead his people while he follows God.
You have seen that leadership working in the frightening setting of being pursued by a powerful and hostile army of Egyptians and at the same time being caught in an impossible trap between that army and the Red Sea.
Every day seems like a new learning experience in a way of life where tangible and physical problems are being resolved in the crucible of both temporal and spiritual solutions. How can you come to grips with what it means to be a follower of God in the real world? And you have no clue how long this particular life lesson is going to go on, but it doesn’t look encouraging.
Every turn you make takes you further into the desert. If you knew what your grandchildren would know, you would realize that this life lesson was going to last more than 40 years! But right now, you are hungry! And you’re scared and not just a little angry! Honestly, you signed on for the deliverance part, but not the exhaustion, thirst, hunger, and death!
You and your friends have already tangled with Moses (and God) over the thirst issue in the middle of this desert. You came across a water source, but it was undrinkable.
Exasperated, you grumbled to Moses and he put a certain kind of wood into the water, and it sweetened it to make it tolerable. But this is hunger! Now you are really angry. Who takes a crowd of travelers through the desert with no thought of what they would eat? You really believe that people are going to start to die. Things are truly that bad!
What are you doing to us, Mr Moses? You and your god! You kept us from being run through by Egyptian swords, and now you starve us to death? What kind of love is that?”
You ever have a situation when you are at your limit taking care of the kids the best you know how and you are tired to the bone and haven’t had a minute to yourself and one of your kids looks you in the eye and says: “You don’t love us!”
The God-answer to this very real threat in the desert was two fold: 1) a migration of quail every evening. 2) bread. A substance like ground coriander powder that collects on plants like dew in the morning that can be baked or boiled. This substance came with a caveat:
You’ll get enough each morning for one day! “Trust me,” God says. It will return tomorrow morning. Don’t collect extra or it will spoil except on Saturday you can collect two days worth so that you can have a day of rest on Sunday. This is not just to meet your physical needs, it is also to teach you a spiritual lesson. Pay attention!
When your child says: “I’m hungry,” you immediately do a silent assessment to determine if it’s real or not. If it’s real, you’ll do anything to feed your children. In turn, you say to your child: “Here’s your supper. What I need from you is this: Listen to me and mind me. I’m here to keep you safe. I’m here to help you set a proper and God-like direction for your life. Deal?”
There in the desert, there in the middle of their thoughtless and hurtful grumbling THEY WERE FED! THEIR HUNGER AND THEIR THIRST WERE COMPLETELY RELIEVED. Both their physical and spiritual needs were taken care of. They were taught that day but did they listen and learn? Like most of us it was to take time and the work of God was not finished in a day. They had not yet learned this important lesson.
You see, it’s in that messy mixture of fear, mistrust, misunderstanding, unkind words, great need, and great compassion that something happened there in the desert to turn the DESERT INTO DESSERT!
I suppose you think that this desert tucked between Egypt and the Promised Land of Canaan is a long way off and unrelatable!. I think not! I think it is as near as tomorrow or this afternoon. It is as near as what you go through when you hit a terrible dry spell in your life, when you face the anger or anguish of your child’s latest tantrum, and when you face the crisis that looks like death.
It is as near as the words we mouth Sunday after Sunday: “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is as near as the moment we reach for the little paper container with the torn bit of bread and we hear the words: “Make this be for us the body of Jesus Christ.”
You have a wonderful Shepherd who loves you unconditionally even when it feels to you like God means you harm and can’t be bothered with your needs. You have a wonderful Shepherd who loves you even when you shout out your anger and grief.
You have a shepherd who, if you will trust and do what you know is the right thing to do, will give you quail in the evening and bread in the morning. This shepherd will turn the desert into your dessert.
Now, I want to close with the short devotional Nevin offered to us at our recent Council meeting. It works for Harvest Home Sunday:
“A pastor asked an older farmer, decked out in bib overalls, to say grace for the morning breakfast. “Lord, I hate buttermilk,” the farmer began. The waiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wonder where this was going. The farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now, the pastor was growing concerned. Without missing a beat the farmer continued: “And Lord, you know I don’t much care for raw white flour.” The pastor once again opened an eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn’t the only one to feel uncomfortable. Then the farmer added, “But, Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I do love warm fresh biscuits. So, Lord, when things come up that we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we don’t understand what you’re saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits. Amen”