Sermon Commentary for Sunday, September 24, 2023
Exodus 16:2-15 Commentary
The waters of the Red Sea have barely even crashed back together. The victory song has barely even faded off Miriam’s lips. The Israelites have barely even finished filling their canteens at an oasis with twelve springs and 70 palm branches.
But out in that desert, the people of God melt into a collective toddler tantrum – I mean it really does help if you can imagine them sinking onto the sand like overtired two year olds, flailing and wailing pitifully. “If only we had died in Egypt. Everything was so great in Egypt and God is so mean to bring us here. Moses is so dumb! And now we’re going to die of hunger. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to us.”
And God? God doesn’t even tell the people to “ask nicely”. He doesn’t coax them with a “what do you say?” He just gives them quail at night and bread from heaven in the morning, each enough for the day. And on the sixth day enough for two days. And the people of God name the provision, “What!??” Manna is the Hebrew word for “what is it?”
In the vein of quirky Hebrew linguistics, this story has a unique anachronism: God commands the Sabbath as the 4th of the 10 commandments in Exodus chapter 20. This is Exodus chapter 16, making this the first use of the word “Sabbath” in Scripture. It’s a whole new concept for Israel. For people freshly rescued from generations of slavery where they learned the narrative, “you’ve got to scrabble for everything you’re going to get.” The narrative that “no one else is going to take care of you. You had best take care of yourself.” A narrative that taught them not to trust, never to rest. A narrative that taught them to hoard what they had because it all might be taken from them the very next day.
Although the lectionary texts don’t extend this far, the drama of the text comes just several verses later when Moses said, “collect just enough for today,” but the people squirreled away a portion. Is it any wonder that when Moses told them, you don’t need to collect on the seventh day, the people still went out looking anyway, trying to get a jump on the week ahead? These are actions born of slavery’s false narratives.
If we remember that Scripture casts each of us as slave to sin, redeemed by Christ, we also know what it is to construct our lives around false narratives. We may be living new lives with God but my, oh my, those old narratives live deep in us still.
- The narrative of slavery to greed tells us, “You don’t OWN enough.”
- The narrative of slavery to accomplishment tells us, “You haven’t DONE enough.”
- The narrative of slavery to popularity tells us, “You aren’t COOL enough.”
- The narrative of slavery to comfort tells us, “You aren’t SECURE enough.”
- The narrative of slavery to perfection tells us, “YOU aren’t enough.”
So you should probably grab a little extra manna. You should probably hoard up what you’ve got to enjoy later.
Here’s the thing about the life pattern God gave to the Israelites –God heard how operative false narratives were in their lives. God responded by giving the people a chance to recalibrate according to truth.
When they hoarded the manna, it grew nasty, “full of maggots and began to smell.” God was training the people in this truth – you cannot trust the manna.
When the people stepped out their front doors 6 days out of 7 there was manna spread like dew on the ground, just waiting there for them. God was training the people in this truth – you can trust the God who gives the manna.
When the people gathered up for the Sabbath, though, the manna kept without spoiling. When the people couldn’t help themselves and had to go searching for manna on the seventh day, God rebuked them in truth, “Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days.” God was training the people in this truth – you can stop your scrambling and trust that what you have is enough.
God did this for the people for 40 years. Because God knew that slavery narratives had wounded the people He loved. God knew that truth must be practiced and experienced with disciplines built into the pattern of days and weeks and only then does truth have a chance of becoming the dominant narrative in people’s lives.
Daily they learned,
“You cannot trust the manna.
You can trust the God who gives the manna.”
Weekly they learned,
“God’s provision is enough.
Rest in it.”
Sabbath was given to the Israelites as a gift of truth to counteract false narratives. Sabbath is still given to us today for the same reason. Because we still need to learn that we cannot trust the manna. We cannot trust in jobs or accomplishments or skills or financial securities. None of these last forever and they will not save us. We still need to learn that we can trust the God who gives the manna. That journey through the desert wasn’t always easy. But God was always guiding. The journey through our lives is fraught with perils – most having to do with losing the manna we’ve come to rely upon. But God is always guiding. And providing. And loving. And strengthening.
Most of all, of course, in Jesus Christ. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness being tempted by false narratives. God spent 40 years in the wilderness teaching the Israelites the truth. After Jesus receives the Holy Spirit at his baptism, he is also sent into the wilderness, this time for 40 days, not years. There Satan tempts him with false narratives: “provide for yourself rather than trust.” “Do a miracle and set yourself apart.” “Get to the end result of your ministry without suffering.” And, in each case, Jesus does for us what we struggle to do for ourselves. Jesus told the truth. Quoting Scripture Jesus condemns the lies and the Father of Lies. In the wilderness, Jesus is our truth. We can trust Him. Jesus is the bread that will sustain us. We can trust God’s provision. Jesus is our haven of rest from temptation. We can trust Him.
Sabbath-keeping recalibrates our lives toward this truth:
God has provided enough.
Jesus Christ is more than enough.
Hidden with Christ in God, we do and we have and we are enough.
In 2013, a study reported that 40% of American workers left vacation days unused and 169 million vacation days went unused in this country. What does this tell us about our collective national narrative?
What about the way we are conditioned to think about work and retirement? Could this be a false narrative of sorts? We work so hard for 30 years with the promise of retirement, like a carrot on a stick. Only to discover that, after 30 years of chasing it, our bodies, minds, and souls are more adapted to the race than they are to the enjoyment of carrots. What would happen if we ate some carrots along the way, maybe just once a week – to remind ourselves that we like carrots to begin with!?! And what about that parable Jesus tells of the man who stores up in barns and dies the next day? No one is guaranteed to live to their retirement date.
The God of Israel, now the God of all people through Jesus Christ, this God daily provides enough and weekly provides rest – does the pattern of our lives honor this God? To put off rest or travel or volunteering or whatever it is that is on your retirement to-do list. To scrabble through 30-40 years of work with the idea of retirement as a reward earned at the end of it. Is that the pattern set forth by the God of the Israelites in Exodus 16? Is the use of your vacation days a matter of Christian discipleship? I think it is, somehow. Is the hoarding of rest until retirement a matter of Christian discipleship? I think it might be.
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