Manna looks like a simple fix for a simple complaint. Still, as always, God is up to something bigger. It looks like food, and it’s really the taste of freedom.
These COVID days have sparked a lot of conversation about technical vs. adaptive change in the church. We often fail to recognize adaptive challenges, which require a shift in identity, new skills and disruption of the organization’s equilibrium. The pioneers of this idea, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky note that people resist disruption, even when the organization is in ill health. “Adaptive problems resist these kinds of solutions because they require individuals throughout the organization to alter their ways; as the people themselves are the problem, the solution lies with them.”
With the gifts of manna and quail, bread and meat, God is meting an adaptive challenge instead of a technical one. As always, God’s work is deeper than it seems at first glance. God is shifting their minds from being people who look to Pharaoh for the structure of their days to people who turn to God. God is restructuring their souls, changing them from enslaved people into free people, from rightfully anxious people into trusting people.
Post COVID (if we ever get there) none of our churches will be the same. Like God’s people moving out of slavery, we have been jolted out of our old environments, and we don’t yet know what’s ahead. Every church is in a wilderness right now, not knowing what’s ahead for attendance, programming, giving or membership. The sermon might explore this season of not knowing, where we are called to keep moving forward, leaning on God’s provision.
Or the sermon might look at complaining. Every church has its own style of complaining, and most often, complaints speak of a deeper pain. Where is the pain in your setting?
Even in this anxious time in the wilderness, God provides for the Sabbath, giving twice as much food so nothing has to be gathered on the Sabbath. In the middle of their fretting and complaining, the people are still to observe a day of rest. The sermon might look at where we need to pause in our anxiety and rest. Where are we called to stop, let go of our obligations for a time, and see the glory of God at work?
Or the sermon could explore where the church is demanding technical changes – worship time, music style, more cameras for online worship – when adaptive change is really needed.
In her Working Preacher commentary, Dr. Wines notes, “In the midst of this discontent, the people’s complaints against Moses are really complaints against God. They want to know whether God is with them or not. As far as their physical eyes can see, God is not with them.” The sermon might look at our faither communities, and where God is with us right now – or seems not to be with us.
Like all of us, God’s people in the wilderness want to look back instead of ahead. The future is unimaginable. The past, even when awful, is familiar. Still, God is pulling them – and us – always forward.
Where are your thoughts taking you this week? We would love to hear, and to continue the conversation, in the comments section below.
Mary Austin is the Pastor of Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, where the members come from over 30 countries.
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