St. Paul’s Congregational Church
September 20, 2020: Exodus 16:2-15
Enough – Proper 20A
Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
We’ve been stuck in a kind of wilderness since the pandemic began to rage in February, haven’t we. 2020 is a year unlike any other for sure – on so many levels. Presidential election years are always more chaotic but we’re reaching new heights of that this year. Friends and loved ones are dying from COVID, loss of jobs, closing of businesses, our children learning via computers at home, parents juggling child care and their own work schedules. We’re not feeling safe leaving our homes to do essential things like grocery shopping, banking – vacation plans, wedding plans, have all changed – we had a wedding scheduled here in early October but it’s been cancelled because of quarantine rules including room capacity restrictions, not just here at the church but at the reception venue. Some of us are nervous about beginning in-person worship again, though we desperately miss the chance to connect with each other in real life. And we’re horrified by fires raging not only on the west coast but also in countries around the world. Melting of ice caps. Incredible flooding from powerful hurricanes. Damage from dangerous winds affecting our food supply. All of this comes on top of the everyday challenges we face – the health of family members unrelated to the pandemic, career decisions – you can add to the list. And we wonder, when will all this end?
And on Friday night, news of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took my breath away. We pray that she rest in peace, we pray for her family as they mourn, we pray for our country. And I give thanks for her leadership, the role model that she was, her dedication to equality – and wonder how we can continue her legacy – along with the legacy of other giants we’ve lost recently, like John Lewis.
We too are in a wilderness, looking toward deliverance to the promised land. I’m so grateful, though, for the news of the birth of Michael Anthony Racaniello on Friday – God’s promise that life will continue – assurance that God’s love and care are always with us. A light shining in so much darkness: isn’t it amazing that our scriptures these past few weeks are teaching about the same journey from darkness to light, from darkness to wholeness!
Frederick Buechner says, “No matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us.”
You never know that God is all you need until God is all you have. God is enough!
Our scripture this morning touches that perspective, I think. I’ve always loved the story of manna from heaven – those complaining, ungrateful Israelites and their “murmuring” – a nice word, isn’t it. But through all their trials, they had enough, thanks to the abundance, the outrageous generosity of a God who loved them, even when they didn’t realize it! God responds to the people’s complaints with a compassionate and listening ear – the miracle of the manna and the quails is a sign of God’s mercy. The manna may have been related to the sap that flows from certain desert shrubs and trees when their bark is punctured by insects. The sap dries into a sweet flaky substance that can be eaten. For the Israelites it was the manna God provided them – just enough for their needs. In fact, when they took more than enough it rotted! Interesting concept, isn’t it – and lots of implications for us who live in a consumer driven world.
If only everyone in the world could have their fill every day. If only we with so much bread could and would share it with those who have none. The world food supply is more than enough to feed every man, woman, and child on the planet. Yet thousands die each day for lack of food. They die, in part, because of the fears of those who have food – their fears that they will not have enough – or that if they share their food without price – without cost – they will have to live with less. Think about how we felt when we were faced with food shortages – toilet paper shortages – in the early days of the COVID pandemic – multiply that for millions of people around the world.
I can’t help but think of the sin of it all – the blindness, the lack of understanding, the lack of trust, the lack of caring, the lack of compassion, the lack of love.
We used to have potluck dinners in Middlebury – good ones as do most churches. I was bothered by the amount of food that went on plates and was thrown away – one time I took those large plastic “bus buckets” and had everyone scrape their plates into them when they were finished eating. We had enough food in those containers to feed a family for days. It was a great visual lesson and from then on, the mantra at potluck dinners was “take what you want, but eat what you take.” It worked – the people at the end of the lines had nearly as wide a selection as those at the beginning. There was more than enough for everyone.
Jesus teaches us to pray: give us this day our daily bread. Not a week’s supply. Not enough to hoard. But enough for this day. How much is enough?
You know, maybe this is one of the gifts of our wilderness experience – people are responding. People are volunteering. Maybe when we’re all experiencing this terrible wilderness, we become more aware of others’ needs – and we do our part in meeting them. We do have so much, don’t we – more than enough for sure – we are so safe here in our lives in spite of everything compared to so many around the world, even as close as our neighbors in Newark or right here in Nutley. We have so much to be grateful for and it’s a good thing to realize this, to take the time to realize this. And then to offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving as we are moved to share.
In our fears and insecurities it is so easy to miss the deeper meaning of things – it is so easy to focus our attention on the gratification of our physical needs that we forget there are greater things – things that satisfy not only the body but also the soul. Perhaps we’re being called in the midst of our pandemic wilderness to slow down and see this in a new way.
What are the implications of this story for us here at St. Paul’s? In this new reality how do we serve our neighbors? How do we satisfy our body needs and our soul needs? How must our ministry adapt to the new reality?
We are called by God – the giver of life – to eat the bread of life – there is always enough. And the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper reminds us that the bread is given to all – so all may eat and live.
Where people are being oppressed, the bread, the manna from heaven, speaks of exodus or deliverance from any kind of bondage.
Where discrimination by ethnicity, gender, or class or any other kind of bias is a danger for the community, for the world, the manna from heaven enables all people – all people – to partake of the one food and to be made one people.
Where people are affluent and at ease with life, the manna from heaven is to be shared with the hungry.
Where people are hurting, the manna from heaven gives strength, courage, nourishment – a radical outpouring of the love God has for all of us.
Today, let us be set free to live in this new reality, perhaps different from what we’ve ever experienced before but a gift from God, nurtured with bread that is more than bread, flying free on wings of daring hope. Let us follow the flights of the Spirit, grounded in a faith that calls us on to reach beyond where we have ever been before, beyond where we have ever dreamed. There will always be enough. We never know that God is all we need until God is all we have. Blessed be the name of God, day by day. Amen.