Are-We-There-YetExodus 16:1-18

  • 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?

Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, 1950s
Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, 1950s

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.

pleasantville rainbowTherefore, 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…

OR…

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.

*****************

Read more about the Narrative Lectionary at Working Preacher.

24 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Bread and Whine (Exodus 16:1-18)

  1. I’m thinking about writing a monologue from the POV of Miriam, hungry and exhausted and simultaneously sympathetic to and furious with her brother. How hungry do we have to be before we see white flakes drifting down from the sky?

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    1. It’s compelling to me that Moses goes through all this with the team of his family. I wish we heard more from Miriam, although the fact she was included in the narrative at all suggests her significance to the community. Would she be mad at Moses? Or mad at YHWH for sparing him so many times only to have him lead the people to apparent starvation? Lots to ponder.

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  2. Not a clue where I am headed…yet! But I do love the title of the post “Bread and Whine”. I just might have to use that as a sermon title if that’s the direction I head.

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  3. I think I have a direction…Taste and See. I have hit the “living in the past” theme quite a bit. With being World Communion Sunday…all the hymns will be about bread…and beyond that I don’t have a clue.

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    1. Right, if you’ve been there and done that, they may be tired of your recent past, too! It’s potent for me because of the number of times I rhapsodized over my first call after I left it – even though I was restless and frustrated much of the time I was there. Whenever I find myself in that frame of mind (oh! the things I could have done there, if only…) I say one word to myself: “fleshpots.” 🙂

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  4. We begin our Financial Stewardship Campaign this week. How appropriate it seems to ask “how much do you need?” and to acknowledge that our fear of scarcity keeps us from generosity. The calling stories of the narrative lectionary have given us the theme of “”Called to Bless.”

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    1. It’s great timing, isn’t it? The whole story (again, going outside the bounds of the text chosen for this week) can feel relevant under today’s circumstances, from the extreme examples of survivalists with a basement full of cans or episodes of Hoarders, to the closer-to-home examples of buying more than we need and finding groceries well beyond their dates in our cupboards and pantries, or the crazy flurry of shopping we do in a potential weather emergency.

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  5. Thanks, Martha! I *think* we’re supposed to have a faith story from a council member this Sunday, so I haven’t thought too much about this yet. I love the dayenu concept- it would have been enough- but I just used that with “I am”. Hmmm. Mmmm, Coke at communion! What about milk and cookies? I’m pretty sure the “altar guild” in my congregation would faint and, upon awakening, stone me. I do like the way you framed the longing for the past- was it really that good? I’m going to stew on that.

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    1. In that first call I mentioned in a comment above, the interim before me chided the Deacons for their lack of reverence about the Communion elements, saying they might as well be serving Moxie and Cheez-its. The next month guess what was hidden under the slice (I kid you not) of bread they provided for him to break/tear?
      He was not impressed.

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      1. I, on the other hand, think that is hilarious….a memorable service I participated in had grape kool-aid and tortillas for communion. Available. Affordable.

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        1. He was a very dignified, white haired gentlemen who looked like he came from Central Casting, and had his own dry wit, so I’m sure he was amused.
          But I imagine you could be reverent with tortillas and Kool-Aid. It’s an attitude, right?

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          1. It was one of the top three communions I’ve participated in, in terms of reverence and spiritual depth. So, yes, it’s an attitude.

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  6. I don’t know where I’m headed yet. I have been pondering the name “manna” which means “what is it” even while the people didn’t know what it was or how it was that they were sustained, they were sustained.

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    1. We’ve sung “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” twice recently (the second time, just a verse, on purpose, as part of a recap of the first month of Narrative Lectionary), and I was struck in a way I haven’t been before by the line, “All that I needed thy hand hath provided.” What is truly essential? What is the all I/we need? That’s a “what is it?” question, too, yes?

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  7. I might go with, “Manna, not another fad diet” – focusing on the gift of manna as a way to “lose” the Egyptian (our cultural) way of life of gathering the most for the fewest, some get lots and others get little — the wilderness journey is starving that way to be fulfilled with God’s Way

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  8. I can’t stop singing Billy Joel’s song Keeping the Faith, with the line: “Maybe the good old days weren’t always good, tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems. ” Not sure anyone will think that’s as clever as I do, but still… 🙂

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  9. I have your basic no-earthly-clue which direction I’m going this week. The notes I have say the following (un)inspiring things:
    *rely on God in the present rather than always romanticizing the past or securing the future;
    *intellectual knowledge of God’s power and faithfulness needs to translate into trust and action;
    *trusting God is hard.

    Right.

    I do know that we’re going to sing Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah, which will make people happy. And we’ll close with Lead On O Cloud Of Presence…and we’re singing a hymn instead of a spoken communion prayer. Other than that, and some liturgy (posted on liturgylink.net), I got nothin’. Hoping for inspiration to strike soon.

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  10. I don’t know where to go, really. We will observe World Communion Sunday and so have songs from cultures other than white European. We will sing Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer to fit with this text. Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ (Jamaican folk tune). If I can get my organist to agree, I will ask him to play Leaves of Summer (Una Espiga), a Spanish communion hymn during the distribution.

    I very much want to address the political/economic reality that continues to unfold. Other than planning to include the scarcity/abundance theme that Brueggemann names well, I have no ideas. And, I have no sense of clarity about how that will play out.

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    1. I have a pretty organized sermon about moving from scarcity to acceptance to abundance. But then Thursday morning in the office happened. Now I really want to talk about whining! But it probably wouldn’t come from a very good place.

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