Like so many characters in the stories of the Scriptures, Moses is relatable. Because he isn’t a perfect person or the perfect candidate to lead God’s people out of slavery, we can find reflections of ourselves in his story.
My call to ministry began with a piece of Moses’ story, that burning bush, and his reluctance to be someone who speaks in front of people. That was me.
Of course, we preachers can sometimes have a hard time seeing ourselves in much of Moses’ story. He’s leading a huge congregation. A mega-tabernacle, as it were. Attendance in the millions.
He makes miracles happen. Well, technically, he doesn’t, God does, but nonetheless, we see waters parting and plagues overcoming a nation, water coming out of rocks, the 10 commandments, and now, manna and quail raining down from heaven, all under Moses’ tenure.
We preachers, especially the Baptist ones, can sometimes have a hard time finding ourselves in Moses’ story.
And then we get to the first verse of today’s reading.
“The whole congregation complained…”
In all seriousness though, it’s the congregation I relate to most.
They almost have a Baptisty-flare to them, voicing their dissent like Baptists do, and then making-up over a big potluck dinner of biscuits and fried chicken. I think that’s how you translate the word “manna” — biscuits and fried chicken.
In my holier-than-thou days of fundamentalism, I couldn’t stand how the Israelites were behaving in this story. Had they already forgotten the 10 plagues that afflicted their oppressors, and how they escaped the land of Egypt safely because of it? Had they already forgotten crossing the sea on dry land as it swallowed the raging Egyptian army behind them? Had they already forgotten that they were deliberately following a floating pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night as God’s miraculous way of leading them toward deliverance?
How could they possibly doubt that this God who’d banked quite a few miracles already, would somehow abandon them or suddenly come up short?
Interestingly, the text doesn’t say that Moses was irritated by their complaining. It doesn’t even say that God was.
Maybe it was my strict upbringing that correlated complaining with misbehaving, but isn’t this what prayer looks like?
We don’t like how things are; they don’t seem whole or fair, so we pray to God, sometimes we cry or scream or beg God to change it. Fix my marriage. Heal my body. Let them go peacefully, God.
But isn’t this what prayer looks like?
It may not be complaints of physical hunger, though some of us know the depths of hunger pangs too, but we know what it means to experience a hunger for God’s provision. We crave the healing balm of God’s care. We, too, need this bread of heaven.
Moses will grow frustrated with the Israelites later on, and probably God, too. But here in this moment, he can surely relate to them, we can surely relate to them.
Their complaints are drenched in short-sighted fear and revisionist history: we would have been better off in slavery, they say, where at least we had food to eat. Out here, we’re going to die!
And isn’t that just like us?
Better tha Pharaoh you know that the God you don’t…
How often do we pick what’s safest or easiest or most familiar because we don’t know what to expect otherwise? God calls us to lay down our partisanship, but that’s scary because we’ve always been Democrats or Republicans. What would happen if I quit seeing the world through this lens? God calls us to give our money to the work of God, but how will there be enough for me? God calls us to join in the work of God, but how will I have enough time for the beach or the theater or golf or fishing or hiking or gardening or reading?
Better the Pharaoh you know than the God you don’t…
Every time God calls us to something more, to becoming someone more, we are confronted with the fear of the unknown, of change. And so many times, those voices drown out the small, persistent voice of hope and truth:
God has been there before; God will be there again.
It’s not that easy though; trust me, I know.
These changes we have a hard time embracing, these ideas we have a hard time believing, maybe it’s because our entire lives have been an attempt at trying to answer the deep question we all live with. In our lifelong pursuit of happiness, we are ultimately trying to answer the question:
Do I matter?
Do I matter to anyone?
Do my gifts and joys matter?
Do my concerns matter?
Do my thoughts and opinions matter?
And so, we try to convince ourselves that we matter by accumulating enough wealth for people to take us seriously;
we try to command as much power or authority as we can so that people will hear us;
we try to become the life of the party or the social elite so that people will notice us;
we try to earn a lot of money and keep it in our family so that people will remember us when we are gone;
we talk over people or overwhelm them with ideas or requests because it gives us at least a moment of control;
we try to pastor the biggest church with the best ministries because that would mean we’re great at something, and that would mean we’re good enough…to matter to someone.
At our core, we need to know that we matter.
The Israelites needed God to provide physical food to prove that they mattered to God. We turn to a lot of other things to try to fill that need. And in spite of all our human and hollow attempts, God provides us with bread again.
Because we learn in the story of Jesus, that this Bread of Heaven is Jesus the Christ. And that Christ’s body is now Christ’s Church. We are God’s answer to the question: do I matter?
We all do.
and to one another.
The reason we exist, this church, the Church Universal, is to remind ourselves, to remember, to hear over and over and over again through our words and songs and actions: we matter to God.
In just a few moments, we will celebrate communion together. A tangible reminder that you matter to God, this Bread of Life that symbolizes the body of Christ, this communal act that reminds us that we are also, mysteriously, the Body of Christ together, where we all find our belonging.
But before we do, I want to give us a few minutes to reflect.
Prayers of the People:
In this moment, what are those things that you turn to for meaning, to believe that you matter? How have you been answering the question?
What would it look like for you to believe something different, that you matter not because of what you can do or say or earn or command, but simply because you are you? Simply because you are a child of God’s?
What would it look like for you to believe you matter, no matter what anyone else says or thinks?
And lastly, what would our church look like, if we perfected what it means to be a place of belonging for everyone?
O God, grant us the grace to know that we matter, to rememberthat we matter, to live like we matter — to you, and to one another.
Sermon preached at FBC Worcester August 5, 2018
Exodus 16:2–4, 9–15; John 6:24–35