Monday, September 5, 2011
Manna--A Lesson from the Wilderness- 16th Sunday after Pentecost
For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, 'It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.'"
--Exodus 16. 15
The towering mountain peak in the Old Testament is the Exodus story. That journey that led them from slavery to freedom. That winding precipitous road from Egypt to Red Sea through desert after desert to finally the Promised Land. The Japanese theologian Koyama talks about the "three mile and hour God." Three miles an hour is the walking speed which would finally take them to their destination. Did Yahweh, their God just walk off and leave them traveling that slow, slow pace? Three miles an hour. No. God was with them every reluctant step of the way. That wilderness was a place of danger. God had told them it was a place of promise. But mostly they saw the danger and they forgot the promise.
Early in their wanderings they murmured and complained because they had little water and no food. Has God brought us here to starve in this wilderness? God heard their cries and sent them manna from heaven. Manna? they said. What is it? And Moses said: "It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat." Little, day after day the manna would come and finally they made it to the Promised Land.
For years scholars have thought that manna was a secretion from the tamarisk tree. But after further investigation, many now feel that it was produced by two tiny insects--one scale insect that can be found in the mountainous regions and another that can be found in the valleys. And the chemical analysis of those excretions reveals that they contain three basic sugars with pectin which contains a great deal of nutrition.
And in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus we have a most interesting story that clusters around this word, manna. They were told to go out every morning and gather up enough manna for the day. Day by day the manna would come. And so fresh every morning they found the sustenance they needed for that particular day. They were warned not to take more than they needed.
There is nothing new here. But these are lessons we need to be reminded of. The first lesson is this: we are dependent on God and we are dependent on one another.We are not any different from those on that first long journey. In the wilderness they learned some scary, scary things. They learned that you could die out there. Sand, heat, oppressive heat, water scarce--scorpions and disease and enemies always over the next hill it seemed. And so, out of necessity, they began to rely on God and they began to rely on one another--even some they did not like. But they needed one another.
Every Sunday we pray the same words. The Lord's Prayer. It really is the Disciple's Prayer. It is a prayer for us, not God. Once I was counseling a couple about to get married. And we were talking about church. The man was big and strong and used huge earth-moving equipment every day and worked with a very rough crew. He said: "You know what I like most about Church? The Lord's Prayer that we pray every Sunday." Why, I said. "Because there is so much in it that I need to tell God over and over again. It always sends shivers up my spine when we pray it together. It's my favorite part of church."
And you know, there are something that we need to say again and again. It's like Bach's Two-Part Inventions that people play on the piano. You never do finish. You have to keep practicing over and over again. You don't ever graduate. You've got to keep doing it over and over--again and again.
Jesus said: "Pray like this: Give us this day our daily bread." It is the recognition that we live all of our lives by the hand of God. Give us what we need for whatever it is that we must do. Give us our daily ration, somebody calls it. Enough to make it through operations and kids leaving home and life changes and family disruptions and disappointment and moving and all the difficulties the journey brings.
We really are a dependent people. When my youngest granddaughter was about four, would come up half-dressed and I say, "Let me help you." And she would exclaim: "I can do it myself!" and marched off in a huff. Two minutes later she would be back saying: "Granddaddy, could you help me with this?" You don't say: "I offered to help you a while ago." I do not say: "I helped you yesterday." No. My Granddaddy heart would just melt and I would say: "Sit in my lap and we'll tie those shoes or put that band aid on or buckle her seatbelt."
AA knows about how dependent we all are. They sit around this little table. They've all been to hell and back and there is no pretense. Their faces are lined. Some of them are beet-red. The sorrows and hurts of the years are written in their faces and on their hearts. And they have learned the hard way that it's by giving and receiving that it really does happen.
A friend of mine who is a recovering alcoholic called the other night when he heard I was retiring. He said: “I was in a mess back there years ago”. And I said: “Yes”. And he said: “Do you remember establishing the first AA chapter in our church and how furious some people were because they thought we would mess up their church? You really had to take a lot of heat”. I had forgotten all that. “Well”, he said, “it's still going. I'm still there every Monday night. We have fifty people every week. I couldn't have made it without them.” We really are a dependent people.