We have a lot going on in this morning’s service. We are joining Protestant churches all over the world in singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” You and I today are part of larger tribe – connected in history to reformers, rabble rousers, and radicals. I like that in a church!
We will be welcoming new members into the church – adding to our band of roving wanderers who continue the pilgrimage of life together in the wilderness. We simply can’t do this alone.
You and I, really, are not that different from the Jews heading into the unknown – away from the slavery of Egypt and towards the promise of a land, and a home.
We have all come from a variety of past situations – not always positive. There have been struggles. You and I have been formed and forged in the refining fires of life. There have been periods, just like the Jews when they first came to Egypt- when you reveled in the triumphs of success. There have been periods, just like the Jews when they were in slavery – when the inevitable “stuff” happened and you felt cut off, not heard, bereft, alone, enslaved.
You and I are all coming from somewhere and heading somewhere else into the promise. But we are not there yet. Just read the headlines and look at your life.
We have heard a Stewardship moment – as a community on the move – we have to share the resources – we have to pay for the upkeep of the “tent,” so to speak AND its priests; it isn’t free – we all have to ante up. So we bring our best gifts of time, and talent and YES treasures (money)… everybody should pledge and try to give a little more than last year.
This morning we will read the names of members of our traveling band who have died this past year. Our confidence and hope is that in Jesus Christ, they are part of something bigger and more wonderful then we can imagine – we call it the communion of Saints. Pay particular attention to the words of communion today when I say “with the angels and arch-angles and all the company of heaven…” folks we know and love are part of that expansive heavenly tribe.
We will be breaking bread together today – one can’t get through the wilderness called life unless we are fed on the bread of presence, the manna, the loaf, the cup – the body, the blood.
And this afternoon at 4:00, Robin Craig will be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Just like in the Exodus days – we need more priests and preachers – folks who can point the way and make connections between the things we see and the things we don’t.
And just like the Jews in the wilderness – we are prone to complaining, we are prone to dwell in the wilderness of the sin of nostalgia – things were better back then, at least you knew who the enemy was. The present is too difficult, the future too murky.
Reminds me of the time when I was travelling through Europe and visited a friend in Rome. My friend was a priest staying in an apartment with other priests. They had an Italian lady who was their cook and house keeper who was, probably 70 years old at the time – so probably born around 1915 or so. In broken English and translated Italian all I heard from her was about how bad the present was, how out of control the kids were, how messed up the government was, how faithless the church, how violent the society, how troublesome the immigrants, (sounds like our present day politician and pundits)and how bad the “vapors.” She said, really – “I didn’t like Mussolini, but when he was in control the trains ran on time and there as law and order!”
Read Exodus chapters 12 up to our chapter 16 – goodness me there has been a string of awesome acts of godly power and might that would quell the doubts of the sternest cynic. Not only do the Jews get out of Egypt (alive!), they make it through walls of water that then come crashing down on their pursuers, they get a pillar of fire and smoke. In chapter 15 there is a community song fest – “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” (15:21). Then, the people come to a spring that was undrinkable and God shows Moses a piece of wood that he throws into the water, “and the water became sweet.” (15:25).
But now, one month and fifteen days into the trek – the people complain; “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (v. 3) “O God, what have you done for me lately?” Unbelievable really – but typical of us all.
A great many in our nation fall into the temptation towards the sin of nostalgia. “Back in the 50’s… when things were simpler. Before so-and-so was President.” I saw the review of the new book on the two girls -forever caught in the photograph … one girl an African American walking with the National Guard trying to get into a high school in Little Rock; One girl, white – calling the black girl every name except “A beloved child of God.” Ok, let’s go back to those days.
I fall into it all the time. I see Jack, Meg and Sarah – so big – going off to college, getting dressed up for Homecoming, acting all adult and I wish I could hold them again. But then Deanne reminds me of diapers and ear infections and sleepless nights. Maybe it is better now.
We fall into the sin of thinking that the past is somehow better, that the present is not what it should be – somehow the present moment is defective, fallen, just too complicated. This is idolatry – idolatry of self, space and time – our moment, myself, our time. This is what those crazy pseudo-preachers cry out – that this is the time when all is going to hell – we are not what we were, we walked off the path, we need to return to a day when women stayed at home, and there were no gay people, and everybody knew their place.
But today is all we have, and the present is the moment for miracle. And the story of the 16th chapter of Exodus tells us that God provides. God provides. God provides. God provides. God provides. There is enough. Manna and quail – everybody gets an omer – the rich and the poor – those who work all day and those who don’t work at all. What’s an omer? An omer is a tenth of an ephah, so there. It’s in verse 36!
Verse 18 reads, and this is very interesting – “But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” God provides for all – even the lazy. Jesus understood this reality of present enough-ness when he prayed; “Give us this day our daily bread.”
In the present, there is enough and more than enough. In the wilderness there is sustenance. The challenge, you see, is to stay present in the present. We are all in the wilderness – this is where we are and what we have. We are always no farther away, or no closer to the God who provides. Never away from a moment to witness to God’s justice, peace, love, and joy. We are always tethered to God and circling higher and higher into the promise of God’s presence. The great German poet Rilke says it so beautifully:
I live my life in widening circles//that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one//but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
And I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm or a great song?
We are present with each other in community – imperfect but beloved; widening our circle as we travel together. Not on a timeline of progress or regress but on a expanding circle of praise. Bringing all the gifts, sharing the manna, the wealth, caring for each other – in this there is abundance in the present. We ARE the people of God in locomotion – where we should always be.
Everything important happens east of Eden, north of Egypt, in the wilderness, beyond the corner of Lee and Monticello – in the tent, sharing the omer of manna, with the people of God – on the way together – present in Sabbath – resting together before we step out again.
Don’t complain, praise. Don’t compare, act. Don’t forget – pick up your daily manna . . . for God provides.