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  • Writer's pictureRev. Drew Stockstill

Manna Ahead

Tuesday, May 18, 2020

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

O God, make speed to save us;

O Lord, make haste to help us.

Scripture Reflection

When the Israelites were living in slavery in Egypt, the Lord heard their cries, saw the injustice, and sent Moses to lead them to freedom. Moses led them out of captivity and into the wilderness on the way to the Promise Land. But the wilderness was vast, full of uncertainty, and hard. The people of God leaving slavery, living free in the wilderness, complained mightily about the quality of life now that they were free. And they began to look back on their lives of slavery and wondered if it was really all that bad.

Here is one of my favorite scenes of the people of God in the wilderness:

Numbers 11:4-10 The riffraff among them had a strong craving. Even the Israelites cried again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our lives are wasting away. There is nothing but manna in front of us.” The manna was like coriander seed and its color was like resin. The people would roam around and collect it and grind it with millstones or pound it in a mortar. Then they would boil it in pots and make it into cakes. It tasted like cakes baked in olive oil. When the dew fell on the camp during the night, the manna would fall with it. 10 Moses heard the people crying throughout their clans, each at his tent’s entrance. The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. 1

Remember the good old days? Wasn’t life so much easier back then? Times were simpler. People knew how to act. Children were all little paragons of virtue, living for ice cream at the old soda fountain, window shopping on Main Street at Christmas, Sunday dinner at grandma’s; movies cost a nickel, the American Family was an untarnished rock of society. Ah nostalgia. The gift each generation of society passes on to the next with a dose of passive aggressive pining: “Back in my day.” I’m being tongue-in-cheek here, but a large part of the American experience is a deep longing for certain characteristics of a past that seems to be slipping away. But memories are reliably unreliable and research demonstrates this. No matter what, our memories are hazy, sometimes taking on a glow, the rougher edges faded.

I’m often struck when I read sermons or speeches or journals from figures who lived generations ago, as they seem to debunk a bit of the nostalgia, reminding us that then, just as now, people struggled. In every generation people faced incredible poverty, inequality, vicious racism, uncheck sexism, corporate greed, and political corruption. There were illnesses and diseases that devastated, wars that devastated families, there was brokenness and deceit in families, and always a hand wringing about the future.

I recently came across a commencement speech that the soon to be PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt gave to the Oglethorpe University, graduating class of 1932. It sounded very much like the one President Obama gave to the graduating class of 2020. Roosevelt decried the inequality and unfairness the students would face entering the job market in the middle of the Great Depression. But Roosevelt’s day was one many Americans look at as a simpler time, and it some ways it was, but in more ways, in human ways it was basically the same. I invite you to take a look at his speech and listen to Obama’s to see both similarities and uniqueness. Both cast hope for the future rather than grumbling for the past. As FDR says: “We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking!"

And Obama: “So, if the world’s gonna get better, it’s gonna be up to you. That realization may be kind of intimidating, but I hope it’s also inspiring. With all the challenges this country faces right now, nobody can tell you, “No, you’re too young to understand.” Or, “This is how it’s always been done.” Because with so much uncertainty, with everything suddenly up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape… build a community. No one does big things by themselves. Right now, when people are scared, it’s easy to be cynical and say, “Let me just look out for myself or my family or people who look or think or pray like me.” But if we’re gonna get through these difficult times, if we’re gonna create a world where everybody has opportunities to find a job and afford college, if we’re gonna save the environment and defeat future pandemics, then we’re gonna have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed. And set the world on a different path.”

You hear both Presidents encouraging the virtues of living and working not just for ourselves but with compassion for others and for the good and wellbeing of the whole community.

Each generation faces the wilderness; the future has a uniquely wild flavor about it. We can shape the future but not control it, we must imagine and work on behalf it, but we cannot know it. What we feel we do know is the past. But, as the Bible shows us, the past is never just as we remember it. How could the people of God forget the decades of suffering and abuse that led them to cry for freedom and at great cost run. In the wilderness, they revise the past so what stands out is that which made them feel safe: free food, fresh produce, meat. Sure, it was dribbled out by the hand of the Empire, but when we got it, wasn’t it so delicious? Times were simpler back then: go to work, come home, enjoy a meal, enjoy the family. Slavery? Yeah, I guess it was, but well, it wasn’t all that bad.

God was providing for them in the wilderness, sending them food from heaven every day: manna. In the wilderness we rely on God, in our past we rely on memories. Those memories may or may not be nice to visit, and it’s meaningful to do so, but what is most real is what is right here, right now – wilderness, freedom, and the nurturing presence of God. This is the world God has given us and called us to remake for the good of all. Forward, into God’s promises is where he leads, much to the chagrin of the rabble and the riffraff pointing and pining for the past.

“There is nothing but manna in front of us.” And thanks be to God.

Let us Pray:

Satisfy us with your love in the morning,                  

and we will live this day in joy and praise.

Eternal God, we rejoice this morning in the gift of life, which we have received

by your grace, and the new life you give in Jesus Christ. Especially we thank

you for:

the love of our families . . .

the affection of our friends . . .

strength and abilities to serve your purpose today . . .

this community in which we live . . .

opportunities to give as we have received. . .

People of God, for what else do we give thanks? Add your own prayers of thanksgiving.

God of grace, we offer our prayers for the needs of others and commit ourselves

to serve them even as we have been served in Jesus Christ. Especially we pray for

those closest to us, families, friends, neighbors . . .

refugees and homeless men, women and children . . .

the outcast and persecuted . . .

those from whom we are estranged . . .

the church in Africa. . .

And for the family of Joan Harris, Dick Shepley and his family, John and Susan, baby Kellan, Mary, Sharon and Tom Herrold, Duana, Larry, Jennifer Watkins, Brenda and Cliff, Bob, Rochelle, Karen and Steve, Barb and Butch, Sharron Blezard, Marcia, Rose, Phil and Alice, Stanley Hope, Jake, John, Julie, the nurses of our Medical Outreach Clinic and…

People of God, for what else do we pray? Add your own prayers.

Eternal God,

your touch makes this world holy.

Open our eyes to see your hand at work

in the splendor of creation,

and in the beauty of human life.

Help us to cherish the gifts that surround us,

to share your blessings with our sisters and brothers,

and to experience the joy of life in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over us. Amen.

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