Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bread for the World: A World Communion Sunday Sermon on Exodus 16:1-18

Scripture can be found here...

Look at it from God’s perspective.

These people are a bunch of whiners.

God, over the many chapters we have skipped to get here, has responded to the groaning of the people in slavery with as great a display of power as anyone could imagine—no, greater.

·      The appointment of the nobody/royal insider Moses as their leader. (Remember, Moses was raised by the daughter of a Pharaoh.)
·      The empowering of Moses and his brother Aaron to present themselves to the Pharaoh, at the risk of their lives, with their bold entreaty: Let my people go.
·      The demonstration of God’s fearsome (and persuasive) power by means of the plagues.
·      The parting of the sea so that God’s people could escape Pharoah’s armies, and then, the releasing of that sea, so that Pharoah’s warriors and charioteers could be drowned and God’s power even more mightily displayed.

I’m not going to lie to you—some of those items include a God I don’t much like to ponder, a God who is willing to kill some to demonstrate power, a God I have a hard time getting my head around. But ponder these words, from one of the scholars I’ve read this week:

This is a revolutionary act. Slaves are ignored and irrelevant in the course of history. Gods do not act for slaves, but for kings and empires. This [God] has turned the world and its rules upside down.[i]

Look at it from God’s perspective: These people are a bunch of ungrateful whiners. God has turned history upside down by being the God of the least powerful. And these people are longing for the fleshpots of Egypt.

Now, look at it from the people’s perspective.

They are hungry.

Not in the way we feel when we walk into a bakery—or coffee hour!—and take a whiff of the aromas of delectable foods. Not in the way we feel when lunch is a little late, or when we skip a meal and come to the next one with cranky stomachs. Not even in the way we feel after a couple of hours spent exercising, or a morning spent stripping wallpaper and painting a room. This is real hunger. This is what is known as “food insecurity.” The US Department of Agriculture, which is shut down this week, describes a family as being very food insecure when, “at times during the year, eating patterns of one or more household members [are] disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lack[s] money and other resources for food.” When you are in this state, your stomach is empty, and you are weak from hunger. You don’t have a clue when you will eat next, or how you will legally get that food, for yourself and for your loved ones.

Look at it from the people’s perspective.  They are hungry. And the memory of the fleshpots of Egypt—which is a fabulous word that means, basically, pots of stew with plenty of meat—the memory of them suddenly seems to mock the former slaves’ newfound freedom. Even the memory of something inextricably wrapped up with the memories of oppression starts to sound good, it makes it seem like it wasn’t all that bad, really. That’s what hunger will do to you.

And, of course, hunger is not a problem unique to the ancient world. The hungry are with us still. I know you know that. Sometimes hunger comes to a family during a recession; someone is laid off, and before you know it, someone—sometimes just the adults, sometimes the whole family—has to skip a meal, or even a whole day’s worth of meals. Sometimes food insecurity comes to families as a result of even more sinister economic forces. In Cameroon, the country that gave birth to the wonderful anthem that was our introit this morning, wealthy merchants hoard crops and speculate on their prices, which means that chronic hunger exists in large segments of the population.

But look at it from God’s perspective. This is all about trust.

When God gave the hungry Israelites the gift of the manna, it came with strict instructions. Gather enough for today. On the day before the Sabbath, gather enough for two days, and no more. God’s response to the hungry people was to answer their cries—again—but also to try to coax them into a more intimate and trusting relationship. And just to put a nice, fine point on it, when the people did gather more than they should, when they didn’t trust that the manna would be there the next day… it grew worms. It started to smell bad.

This is all about trust.

It is not easy to trust, apparently, not even to trust a God who has given vivid displays of power. The Israelites wavered in their trust, as food supplies dwindled and disappeared in the harsh, unforgiving climate of the wilderness. And still God continued to demonstrate the divine intention that everyone should have enough, even these wilderness wanderers. As for the rest of us, God has created a world in which there is enough. There is enough farmable land to grow our crops. There are enough seeds to be planted. Most years, there is enough water to help the crops grow. But we know that the food is not necessarily getting into the hands of those who need it. This is where we come in.

To help the people in Cameroon, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which is supported by our Peacemaking Offering, establishes community-run grain banks, so that the monopoly on grain is broken, and the people can eat. To help the people of the Southern Tier, the Broome County Council of Churches collects food and money to assist those who are food insecure in our midst. In 2012, 22% of the children in the United States were food insecure. That translates to 2900 children in Endicott, 3292 children in Johnson City, 6021 in Vestal, and about 10241 in Binghamton. Twenty thousand children within a few miles of this sanctuary. That is a lot of hunger. That is a lot of need. That is a lot of opportunity for us to make a difference in people’s lives.

Look at it from God’s perspective. God has given enough food for the world. We who already have enough are invited into the holy work of God’s creation and re-creation, as we learn ways to help that food get where it needs to go. It’s like that wonderful song by Saint Susan Werner, in which she sings:

I got plenty and then some… what do I do?
I got plenty and then some… what do I do?
I got plenty and then some… what do I do now?
I go out and help somebody get plenty and then some too.

If I’ve got ‘plenty and then some…’ why wouldn’t I want to help somebody else to have the same?

In a few moments we gather around this table, to be fed bread from all around the world and the fruit of the vine. We did nothing to earn our place at this table. None of us is here because we are good. We are here because God is good. The gift of this table is pure grace, just like the gift of manna to the whining Israelites. We can trust: there is enough. There is enough for us here, and there is enough for God’s vision of plenty to be realized throughout the world. This is where we are nurtured and strengthened for that work. This is where we are fed, so that all God’s people might be fed. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Beth Tanner, “Commentary on Exodus 16:1-18, Narrative Lectionary/,

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