Pastor Dave Clark’s sermon: The God Who Provides
Exodus 16:2-21 September 7, 2014
Rev. David J. Clark
After the Hebrews escaped from slavery and passed through the Red Sea, they wound up in the wilderness where they would remain for 40 years until they crossed into the Promised Land. In the wilderness, they learned the basic lessons of how to rely on God and how to treat one another. It wasn’t so much that they got lost and refused to stop and ask for directions, it’s that it took time for these lessons to sink in.
40 years was probably more of a symbolic number than a literal count. 40 years was considered the span of a generation and a short-hand way of saying “a long time” just like we might say, “I was stuck in the doctor’s waiting room forever.” The story reminds us that becoming a faithful person isn’t something you download and install in a few seconds. It’s something that you learn through life experience your whole life long.
Let’s go to the wilderness and take a peek at the Hebrews to see what they should be learning. They are not doing well today. They left Egypt in a hurry and now they are running out of food. Already their bellies ache and they cannot foresee any outcome other than a miserable death of mass starvation in the desert. Anxious, they revert to their default mode of dealing with adversity—they complain. They complain to each other and they complain to Moses: “It would have been better to have stayed in Egypt as slaves than to follow you out here for death!”
Complaints Reveal Your Spiritual Condition
There is a stretch where 7 times in 14 verses the text uses the word complain. Moses deflects their criticism by explaining that they are not really complaining about him, he’s just the servant of Yahweh; they are really complaining about God and revealing their lack of faith. Moses figured that out that there is an inverse relationship between the intensity and frequency of our complaining and our spiritual health.
That’s bad news for me because I come from a long line of complainers; it’s in my DNA. I come from Iowa farm people who are never happy. If it’s sunny, we talk about how we need rain. If it’s raining, we complain about how much we are getting. Not once did I ever hear a farmer say that we hit the Goldilocks zone: it’s just right. Now I’ve been transplanted to southern California and I don’t have the weather to complain about any more. Thank heaven for traffic or I’d really be lost. I just substitute traffic for weather and all is right with the world, I can be as miserable and grumpy as I want because I drive the 91 all the time!
Now a certain amount of pseudo complaining about trivial things is part of the social lubrication that starts conversations. But there is a deeper and more insidious kind that does reflect a poor spiritual condition. Take an inventory: how often are you complaining, to whom, about what? Do your complaints that suggest that you don’t really trust that God is going to help you be okay?
When I get negative and start complaining, I’m usually not highlighting how bad the problem or circumstance is, all I’m doing is revealing my lack of faith, my distrust in God, my insistence to have the world run according to my schedule—like a two-year-old. I get where I want people to rally to my side. “Yeah, Dave, you’re right, I can’t believe those big jerks! Thanks for inviting me to you pity party. I’m having a really swell time.”
It’s not that it’s bad to blow off steam once in a while; it’s a problem if your friends start calling you Old Faithful because blowing off happens several times a day and all and becomes all you’re known for. If this is you, and it’s indicative of a spiritual condition, what’s your plan for getting right again? Being intentional about developing a plan in your covenant may be the best thing you could do right now. It would be like finally getting directions you can understand.
Start by taking it to God in prayer. “Hey God, things aren’t working out so well. I’m worried; unsettled. I want to trust you more, know that I should, but it’s really easier to complain.” Sometimes just naming that can help get us unstuck and moving in a positive direction again.
When the wilderness Hebrews were hit with the adversity of diminishing food supplies, they did imagine a future with God’s assistance, despite the fact that God had been there for them in the call of Moses and the 10 wonders in Egypt and leading they by a pillar of fire and walling up the waters of the Red Sea for their escape. They suffered from an imagination problem, they couldn’t imagine a future with God’s assistance; they only saw the past. “Yes we were slaves, but in Egypt we had bread to eat and sat by the fleshpots.”
They were a little too much Paul McCartney, Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it seems they are here to stay and not enough Billy Joel, Say goodbye to the Oldies but goodies/’Cause the good ole days weren’t Always good/And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.
Their salivating over fleshpot succotash turned out to be fleshpot sabotage. They were called to trust in God for a new future, but once adversity hit, they clung to the past. Many times when we are trying to make some change in our life, it feels as if we are making some progress, but then it’s as if we have a bungee cord around our waist and the other end is attached to some post and it snaps us back to where we started. In any change things are going to get tense, but if your focus is through rose-colored glasses staring at the past, at what is familiar, that is where you are going end up. Often the bungee cord is your own sabotage of reverting to the familiar rather than facing the discomfort of the wilderness and stepping forward in faith.
This same dynamic is something that churches have to continually be on guard against. Yes, we ought to learn from our past but not to recreate the structures, programs, events that were the right thing for that moment for the people who were there. What we should learn from, be inspired from is their spirit; their spirit of risk, adventure, of committing to one another. Gal Glanville reminded us that RUCC was started from a real step of faith into the unknown.
What’s important in this transition time for RUCC, before you enter the Promised Land, is for a new generation to catch that same spirit of faith, risk and commitment to step up and lead—even if you have no idea how you can do it. I know that future pastoral candidates will be asking, “Are they calling me to lead the church that is already being what they want to be, or do they have unrealistic expectations of Super Pastor who will come in and fix it all.” This is no time for fleshpot sabotage; it’s a time for pressing toward the goal. It’s a time of dedicating ourselves to the notion that all people are welcome and should be included in the full life of this church that stands for something, that stands for people that helps them on their spiritual journeys.
What is it?
Yahweh provided for the starving Israelites by sending quail and manna. Alan Killpatrick put me onto a book Consider the Birds, by Debbie Blue who says that it’s always been true that quail have the right body fat to be considered a tasty delicacy. They often follow the wind currents so as not to consume too much energy from their pudgy bodies. So God not only provided meat, but yummy stuff. Yeah God! It reminds me of Jesus turning water into wine, where everyone was surprised by the extraordinary quality.
Exodus zeroes in on the qualities of the bread, called manna, which literally means, “What is it?” The narrator draws our attention to the qualities of manna: it has to be harvested fresh every day except for the Sabbath. There was enough for everyone and it got wormy and spoiled if one tried to hoard it. There are twin lessons to be learned.
The first we reiterate in the Abba prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We learn to rely on God and to be thankful for our necessities and try not to get so worked up about our wants. Maybe you are more familiar with the way Mick Jagger sings it, “You can’t always get what you wanted. You may try sometime and you will find; you get what you need.” We pray for our daily bread, not tomorrow’s bread today to pacify our anxiety.
The second lesson of manna reveals God’s economic system where everyone has enough and no one hoards. We are challenged to ask the questions that our economy never considers such as: how much is enough? One of the things that made the character Walter White in Breaking Bad so intriguing is his answer to how much is enough was always, “More.” Driven by the thrill of accumulating more he destroys all that is important to him. More. But scripture asks of us, how much is enough and if the answer is always, More, you’re breaking in the wrong direction.
I liked the way John Wesley, the founder of Methodism talked about it. He said we should do three things: make all that you can in a way that honors your neighbor and yourself; save all you can in a way that honors your neighbor and yourself and give all you can in a way that honors your neighbor and yourself.
One of the great problems in the world today is not that there are not enough resources to go around. There is enough food to feed everyone, there is enough shelter to provide for everyone there is enough money to ensure a good quality of life for everyone. The problem is about distribution and human greed not limited resources. That problem is that we still haven’t learned the lesson from the wilderness. Take only what you need; share; be fair. If we learned this we could step out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.
Pastor Dave Clark sermon.
Formerly from Iowa, pastor Dave Clark is now the interim senior pastor of the Redlands United Church of Christ, Redlands, California.