“There Is Enough. Really.” Exodus 16:1-30
Rev. Sean Weston Mark 6:34-44
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
June 10, 2018
We humans seem to have to basic understandings of the past and the people who lived there. One is to imagine that the past was so much better than today. The people were better, stronger, more faithful. The world was a better place. Life was just more simple. The other is to imagine that the past was just horrible, that the people were stupid and silly, that life was misery and thank God that we people today are much more intelligent and sophisticated than people back then.
Think of those two understandings as a pair of glasses: everything you see is filtered through them. If you believe the past was a better place than the present, you’ll find evidence to support that believe. If you believe it was worse, you’ll do the same. You’ll see what you expect to see. We all do it.
Let’s take this morning’s story from Exodus as an example:
If you believe the past was a better place, chances are you’ll hear a story about God providing food to the people in their time of need. “Back then, people were just closer to God. There were more miracles. God directly provided all that food, enough for everyone. They even were provided enough to rest one day a week! It’s too bad we don’t have miracles like that today.”
If you believe the past was a worst place, you’ll probably hear a story about God’s people complaining over and over again and never getting anything right. “How could they be so silly when they were literally getting food from heaven? How could they complain so much when God had just freed them from Egypt? Those people were just whiners and complainers. If God provided for me like that in my life, I’d be grateful and I’d do as God asked.”
As it turns out, though, the past was not really better or worse than today. It was different. There were things that people way back then did better than we do today, and there are things that we do better than they do. People in the past were people like we are today – they loved and laughed and cried and struggled, they experienced moments of total joy and freedom, and moments of utter pain and desolation. All of us throughout the ages have tried to make the best of our circumstances, to squeeze out a life that matters, keeping our tents in good enough shape to withstand the changing weather.
This is how we find the ancient Israelites this morning: people, doing their best in the circumstances they find themselves. They were not super-humans living in some miraculous wonderland. Neither were they pathetic, sniveling, complaining creatures unable to see a blessing if it hit them upside the head. They were people on a journey, figuring out this life thing one step at a time.
We, too, are people on a journey, figuring out this life thing one step at a time. And when I think about the journey the Israelites took, I am filled both with wonder and with terror.
After all, they were in slavery in Egypt, forced into hard labor. But God finally sent Moses to set them free, and they got to see some super cool stuff on their way out – seas parted, pillars of fire, that sort of thing. Their leader was having one-on-one conversations with God. I mean, are those things not just the coolest ever?
But you can’t eat a pillar of fire. So I’m also filled with terror, because the people were freed from Egypt just to be stuck in the wilderness of Sin – which is just a shorted name for Sinai, not a way of saying the people or place is sinful. They didn’t know where they were going, they had nothing to eat, and they were in a dangerous place. Yes, they were on the way to the Promised Land. They were on their way to a better place. But they weren’t there yet. They were still stuck in the land of the not-yet. They had seen and felt amazing things. And they still needed to eat.
It was there in the wilderness, in the land of the not-yet-there, that God provided God’s people bread for the journey. God was very clear that they would each be provided exactly what they needed: not more, not less. God was also very clear that they would be provided double before the Sabbath so that they could honor the day of rest.
The stuff they were given to eat was not anything they had seen before. So they called it manna: “what is it?” Their need was provided for, but not in any familiar way, not with the food they expected, not in the ways or places they may have chosen. Even so, they went from having no food to having what they needed. There was enough. But they had a hard time believing it. God said their needs would be provided for each day, that they need not store any for the next day. But the people we’re really sure there was enough, so they stored some just in case. It spoiled, and Moses was angry. Did they not trust that there was enough? God had provided enough on the sixth day for the day of rest, and promised it wouldn’t spoil. But some of them didn’t think there would be enough, so they went out to gather. God was angry. Didn’t they trust there would be enough?
Do we trust there will be enough? We live in a culture and an economy where there is one consistent message: there is not enough. You don’t have enough. We don’t have enough. The enough can be anything: food, money, space, time, love, joy. There isn’t enough to go around, so make sure you get yours and hold on tight, lest everything you’ve worked so hard for be taken away. There isn’t enough to go around, so we just need to accept homelessness and poverty and disease. The fear of not having enough drives so many choices: Those lucky enough to be the “haves” guard against the possibility of losing out – building bigger houses and bigger storage units: doing what Jesus called storing treasure on earth and not in heaven. Then at the same time, those who struggle daily to make ends meet are denied even the most basic of necessities: food, water, healthcare, shelter.
It is true that for far too many people in the world there is not enough, but that is not because of how God created the world. That is because of what we humans have made of the world. The world God created is one of abundance – one with enough for everyone – not too much, not too little. Like our ancient ancestors wandering in the wilderness, most of us wouldn’t know enough if it showed up miraculously before our eyes. And, like our ancestors, as long as we keep acting like there isn’t enough to go around, there won’t be.
On this uncertain journey called life, it makes a whole lot of sense to wonder if there will be enough. Manna didn’t seem like enough food to the Israelites. But it was – as long as they didn’t hoard, as long as they saw to everyone’s needs. Enough may not often seem like enough to us. But like God’s ancient people Israel, our task is to learn to see that there is enough, if we will only use it as God wants us to. It’s a hard change, to look not for what’s missing but what’s there. I imagine as they wandered along their wilderness journey, our ancestors were truly glad to be out of Egypt. They were excited for the next step in their journey. And they were realizing that this part of their journey was a lot different than the last part. That the food they used to eat was no more, the life they led – with all its ups and downs – was firmly in the past. It was time to focus on the now. Faith tells us that there is enough make a life – a good life – out of what we have right now. Perhaps not the life we expected, or the life we used to lead or the life we wish we could lead. But a good life. Now.
We aren’t the same people as the ancient Israelites, for a lot of reasons. Even so, they were people and we are people. Each of us today – in our individual lives, and as a church – is in this strange place called “now” which is a nice way of saying “sandwiched between the past and the future.” None of us are today who we were yesterday, much less a year ago or ten or fifty years ago. The past is done and gone. We ways of life, ways of thinking, ways of moving through the world that no longer take us forward. In some ways we grieve, and in other ways we are excited. Yet we do not know what is next. We wonder if we will be able to make it. We wonder what life might be like in whatever is next. And there’s no way to know, really, because we’ve never been there, and we are in the strange land of not-yet-there. Also known as now.
But it was there in the wilderness, in the land of the not-yet-there, that God provided God’s people bread for the journey. Not what they expected. Not what they were used to. But bread for the journey. God’s enough may not look like what we expect. But there is enough, even in this strange land, if we can learn to see and to share. There is enough. Really.