- Are we there yet?
- Has it been five minutes?
- How much longer until we get to the beach?
- When can we stop and go to the bathroom?
These questions are the not-so-musical refrain of vacation travel. We want to get away. We’ve got to get away. But when you’re traveling with children, these are the questions asked and heard. And asked and heard.
And whined. And heard. Sometimes the people asking are not the children.
The Israelites complained. All of them.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “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.” (Exodus 16:2-3, NRSV)
I’m sure Moses and Aaron felt considerably worse than two dads in the front seat of a minivan.
We’ve brought you out of slavery! We’ve saved you from oppression! We’ve taken you to the beach and Hershey Park!
Yeah, but when are we going to Disney?
Whine, whine, whine.
It would have been better for God’s own hand to kill us in the land of Egypt, because at least there we had enough to eat.
“Did we bring any snacks? When can we stop for a snack? I’m hungry!”
Honey, we just got started. Hold on. We’ve got 40 years of wilderness to go.
40 years – really, that was a lifetime under those circumstances, a lifetime of wandering and marrying and giving birth and burying the dead and getting into arguments and wondering what God meant by sending the people, so many people, out into the wilderness without the proper provisions.
***Some people say the Israelites needed to wander that long
so no one would be alive to remember Egypt
when the younger generation finally got to the Promised Land. ***
No one would remember the fleshpots – the hot meals in a pot – the meat and the bread that kept them going while they worked for their Egyptian masters. What a relief it must have been to Moses when God promised to rain down bread from heaven! Maybe the people would believe and be more cooperative! But if he had already gotten them out of Egypt, with God’s apparent and miraculous help, why didn’t they believe already?
The Israelites in this text are uncomfortably relevant to the contemporary church. We look back at the good old days of filled pews and fundraising drives to build additions and ignore the demographics and social strictures that made Christendom work in America when the Baby Boomers were in Sunday School. We rhapsodize over the days of Blue Laws and Wednesday nights with no school activities scheduled and forget that those were also the days of institutionalized racism and inequality for women and utter ignorance of the predicament of non-straight people.
Which is a roundabout way of saying, maybe it’s better now, after all. Maybe the trade is worth it. Maybe if we really look at one another, and celebrate being together at worship, and get to know what the other people actually present have to offer, we can be the church in this time and place, using our combined gifts and skills on behalf of Jesus Christ, even if we feel a bit like we’re wandering in the wilderness.
Therefore, children of God, *stop whining* for the good old days. Trust and give thanks for the gathered body and the resources available, and stop longing for the days when St. Peter’s First United Reformed Bapthodist Church (usa), Pleasantville, overflowed with potluck suppers and unemployed volunteer mamas and intact (surely happy? no?) families. Sit down over the manna – or a bucket of wings or some Thai carryout – with the people who are here right now. It may not look like something we easily recognize, but God still has work for the church to do, and God will provide. Live into the life God leads you to live, a life of service and love supported by the daily manna of grace and mercy. In the name of I AM, who leads us through every wilderness…
Consider these other possibilities.
- Saving vs. hoarding – If you are on the edge of a Stewardship campaign, and want to get a subtle message across, you can go a little farther in the text (Exodus 16:19-30) to describe the way the Israelites failed to trust there would be enough food.
- Many churches will observe World(wide) Communion Sunday this week. Can you kick it up a notch with some unexpected bread at the table, whether as a visual cue or as an actual bread to serve? A preaching approach in that case might be to share some stories of feeding, both literal and metaphorical. You might confess something you found unpalatable (raisin bread – bleh – if I were preaching along these lines, and that would be *find,* not found, for me), and how you grew to realize that God was providing through it.
- Another Communion themed idea is focusing on the elements we use, how we choose them and how the cubed bread or wafers and the tiny cups are not the only way people have done it throughout history. There are some pretty interesting reflections out there on the Interwebs about using Coke, for instance, instead of wine, because in certain places it’s viewed as a luxurious drink. What matters more than the form is the shared meal. (Not that everyone would agree with me on that.) Here are some fun facts from an Anglican survey that lists substitute Communion elements:
- The reasons for substitution include allergies, concern for alcoholics, cost, desire to avoid alcohol, unavailability, legal situation.
- Commodities substituted include rice or gluten-free bread, grape juice, de-alcoholised wine, biscuit, round cake, Coca-Cola, Fanta, banana juice, pineapple or passion fruit wine, raisins boiled in water with a little sugar added, rice cakes etc.
What’s on your mind for this coming Sunday? Please share your thoughts, questions and yes, even your whines, in the comments below.