I want to share with you today one of my most precious possessions. I would not give anything for it, and it brings me such joy and happiness to look at it. Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it perfection? Perhaps I appreciate it as only a mother can, because when I see this I see one of the best works of art, the loving spirit of the child who drew it and the hope of what it represents.
Do you see it? Maybe I should turn it this way, or this way? No this way. No? You still find yourself asking “What is it?” It, my friends, is a picture of my family, the first time my then 4 year old daughter Sara ever drew her family, all five of us together. It is love and it feeds me when I need to remember that I am loved.
Have you ever been to those desert places? Those moments when you are running on empty and nothing seems to be working out? Perhaps it’s in your work life, you feel stuck in a routine that doesn’t feed you creatively, or with coworkers who seem to drain the life and energy right out of you. Perhaps it’s in your personal relationships, where your significant other seems to be distant at best, or perhaps you are still looking to find someone to share your life with, or mourning the loss of the one you gave so much of yourself to that you feel not quite whole, empty, now that they are gone?
That empty feeling, that desert wilderness feeling, that is where the people of God find themselves this week in our lesson from Exodus. They have been brought through so much. They have been rescued from slavery; they have witnessed God’s miraculous drying of the red sea and the destruction of their foes by God in order to keep them safe. And now they find themselves in the desert wondering “What happens now?”
God has delivered them, has promised them a land flowing with milk and honey and on this promise alone they have packed themselves up and wondered into the wilderness to find, well wilderness.
Where is the prosperity? They ask. Where are the good things God promised? We’ve come a long way, but how much further is it?
This attitude shouldn’t really shock us. After all there is a reason the saying “better the devil you know then the devil you don’t” came into being. The Israelites are not really prepared for the journey. They don’t want to wait they are impatient for things to change for the better right now.
I can relate to that feeling. Staring something new and wanting so much for it to work out, that if it even seems to waver a bit, I am broken hearted. I think that’s one of the reasons I have tried so many different hobbies, from painting to scrapbooking, to knitting to crochet. If I’m not successful at it fairly quickly I get discouraged and give it up.
It’s in this discouraged state of mind that things from the past get painted as way better than they actually were. As they begin to grumble about the present and reminisce about the past they begin to change perspective. All of the sudden they are remembering things that are not true, romanticizing what happened before.
“Has God taken us out of the land of plenty so that we can starve in the desert?” They ask “We were at the fleshpots of Egypt, decadent, rich more than enough, and now we have nothing! We would have been better off as slaves; at least there we had food!”
Richness? More than enough? Man, the Hebrews had idealized slavery hadn’t they? They didn’t know what to do with themselves, how to care for themselves as free people and so they found themselves wanting to return to the slavery they knew.
This happens far more often than we care to admit in our world. People, men and women, return time and again to physically and emotionally abusive relationships because they cannot envision a way for things to be different. Because they have bought into seeing themselves as slaves, rather than beloved children of God. It happens in our job situations, where we fear so much the loss of provision that we will stay at the most harmful of positions in order to have a paycheck. It happens in our religious lives as well. We romanticize the past, because we fear the future.
It’s in this climate that God smiles down on the Israelites and offers them bread from heaven. Sustenance from above, flakes of stuff that fell to the ground with the morning dew. And when the Israelites saw it they said “Thanks be to God, we have been saved!”
Oh, wait, that’s not what they said. They said “What is it?” Manna, manna from heaven really means “What is it?”
It was unlike anything they had ever seen before. When they looked at it, they did much like many of us do when a child brings us there prized drawings “It’s lovely, it makes my heart smile, but what is it?”
Mahatma Gandhi once said “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” This was true for the Israelites in the desert. They were so hungry, so much in need of hope and reassurance of God’s presence that they could no longer see God with them. They did not feel the love that had been shown before, in all of the miraculous things that they had been brought through. All they could see was their emptiness; all they could hear was the rumbling of their bellies. So God appeared to them as the one thing they needed, as bread.
They grumbled, they complained and God fed them! Did you hear that? They voiced their genuine fear, their honest complaints before God and God provided. Not only did God provide this mysterious “what is it food” but also quail to eat in the evening. God provided enough for each day for each person, for 40 years!!!!!!!
What a mighty God we serve. What an amazing Lord we have. God listens to our grumbles, listens to our fears our concerns and responds with enough. Time and time again. With enough to keep us healthy, with enough to keep us whole, with enough to stay the course, until we reach the Promised Land.
God appears to us as what we need, whether that is bread, water, an arm to lean on, a hand to hold, a job, a church, whatever we need! And God is still providing our daily bread, sustaining us as we make this journey into the place God has called us to be.
Does that mean things will always be easy? No. Does it mean that we will always know which direction we are headed? No, after all the Israelites followed God as cloud by day and fire by night and still wandered for 40 years. Does it mean that we will never be alone? Yes. We may not always see or feel the manifestation of God, but we are not abandoned. Day in day out God hears the people cry out and day in day out God provides, even in the smallest of things, like manna from heaven.
“What is it?” It is God’s grace, sufficient for all, sufficient for you, sufficient for me. Thanks be to God!