Our Creative Provider
Exodus 16: 11-31
While I was working with the Appalachia Service Project, I was the staff roofing expert. As a home repair ministry, my whole staff had areas of expertise… We had a weatherization person that new anything and eve
rything about windows and insulation, a foundations person, a framing person and so on. And I was the roofing expert. I spent my free time reading about roofing systems and new means of patching and repairing. And I remember very clearly the first time I was given a roofing project to lead. I had to do a home assessment, draw together a work order, round up volunteers, order the materials… all of it! I was so excited! It was a really big deal to me. I had everything laid out in an overly detailed spreadsheet.
And to top it all off, I loved the family the owned the home. The house belonged to Mrs. C and her five children. Her husband had left the family a year before we meet her, and the family was struggling a lot. So, I wanted nothing more than to do a good job for them. I wanted them to have a safe home that didn’t leak.
So, after weeks of preparation, checking and rechecking my plan of action, the day of the re-roofing had arrived. I had gathered together 20 volunteers, some that were going to be on the roof and some for on the ground hauling away the old roofing debris. My coworkers were stationed at other projects around town leading their own sites. But this one was mine, I was so excited about it!
That afternoon about ¾ of the way though removing the old shingles and paper. I was loosing up the old stuff and getting ready to shove the last bunch off the roof, when I noticed that the roof was a little squishy in that area. But I think, “Ok, we have some water damage… not a problem, we can fix that.” I give a big shove to the last batch of shingles on this side of the roof. And my heart just drops… The water damage in this section was not only extensive but as I looked over things closely… I notice that the rafters are rotted out, there is no top plate or studs left in this corner of the house. I’m looking things over and as I look down I can see all the way to the basement! There is nothing but wood chips where there used to be rafters and framing… where there was a bottom plate and a band joist: there is nothing but soggy old splinters! The only thing that is holding this corner of the house together is habit!
It is so bad, that I am now concerned for the safety of all my volunteers on the roof, so I tell them to all head down the ladders and have a lunch break. I climb down as well, and go inside to this corner of the house to check things out… thinking how could I have missed this! I pull the dresser away from the wall and notice the hard wood floor has began to rot away and recede back into the room. I pull back the wall paper and the plaster just crumbles! My project just became monumentally bigger than I had planned for.
I climb back up to the roof, and I send a text message to my other staff members that said just one thing: ‘Bat signal’. That was our code word for an emergency situation. And then I just sit down on the ridge of the roof and I cry for a little bit… Within five minutes, here come the work trucks of my co-workers screaming around the corner as they hurry. They climb up to the roof, and we have a football huddle about the project. I am beside myself… all I wanted to do was give this nice young struggling family a new roof… and I screwed it up… Things were not going as planned… I was so angry and disappointed at myself. So, lost, thinking that I had clearly ruined everything! I had tried something and it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go… The way I had planned it…so that was it. I was left crying on a roof.
Isn’t that the way of it? Isn’t that how we see things as humans? We can get so focused on the ‘plan’ that we forget that there is someone else (point up) that is running the show. In moments when we are disheartened, angry, disappointed, confused… we grumble. Just like our Scripture lesson said the Israelites were doing… grumbling. When I was sitting on that roof having a pity party… that was my grumble… Now in this passage, we see a picture of human nature (this sort of volatile and fickle side of human nature). These people had struggled under the rule of the Egyptians for years… serving as the slave labor! They had built the pyramids. An entire thriving empire was built and rested on their backs. And at last, God sent a leader to lead the people out of Egypt. But once outside its borders, the journey became more difficult. The greatness of the scene on the banks of the Red Sea was over… which left the looming desert in front of them. So, the people began to grumble about being in this lonely and barren land. Soon they started to talk about Egypt, their life as slaves, as if that was the promised land. Some wondered why they had left in the first place. Moses must have thought, “How soon we forget. How quickly the people forgot how ruthless Pharaoh could be!” The Israelites were looking at their hard slave life through rose-colored glasses. Although they had been mistreated, all they remember was a comfort zone… and at least having something to eat… And now… once there was a shortage of food… instead of looking to God… they only remembered Pharaoh…
Quickly, the people, who had given thanks to Moses and Aaron, turned against them and began demanding that God intervene. They were clearly scared at the road ahead of them, and to top it all off they were hungry… which never improves the mood… So, Moses took this concern to the Lord and was told that every day there would be enough food for everyone. God provided quail for meat and manna for bread during the rest of the journey. In spite of the grumbling and lack of trust… God provided.
Now lets talk about Manna. Manna is the edible substance on which the Israelites relied on for part of their food during the forty years they spent in the desert. Now, food imagery in Scripture is fairly common. And when we come across it, that usually means that we are being taught a really important but difficult to explain lesson. For example, when Jesus said “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” The people who hear this were being taught about Christ as our spiritual nourishment, our comforter and sustainer. Because anyone who heard that knows what bread is and how important it is to our daily survival. And in the same way, Christ is important to our daily survival. Food imagery teaches us something. Food is a common human language, an easy and effective metaphor.
So, Manna, which literally means: “What is it?” acts for us, as students of the Scripture, as a road sign which says “Slow down! There is something important to learn here!” … Manna teaches us two lessons, the first of which is about reliance on God, and the second is about order (and I’ll get to that in a minute). But first, we have seen in the past scenes in Exodus that the Israelite’s focus and devotion towards God has been sort of fractured. God was present in big way in Egypt by bringing the plagues, in the Passover by sparing their children, God was physically seen as a pillar of cloud and fire as God led the way out of Egypt, and God parted the Red Sea. These are all big, dramatic scenes! But in between these appearances of God power, the Israelites focus wanes. And they grumble repeatedly… And here is another example of that. After the crossing of the Red Sea, they have the audacity to doubt that God will provide for them in this journey. So, God’s answer to their grumbling, their doubt… because our God is good and loving… is quail and more importantly Manna. They are told to each gather just enough for one person every morning. They are to gather an amount that is about a 2 liter bottles worth of this grain that they refer to as “What is it?” But… of course, some try and gather spare manna… they try to squirrel it away, because who knows about tomorrow! But there in lays that lesson. Hoarding it away is no good, because the grain will go bad before the next morning comes… they have to trust that every morning when they wake up, God will remember them. Manna is God’s promise to the Israelites. Manna is God’s means of saying… “You have seen me, you have witnessed my fight for you…. Now it is time to trust me.”
That would have been hard. To have just left a life of slavery, where your wellbeing is dependent of being thrifty, and scrounging, and never wasting resources or food as it comes your way… But trust… they must. We pray, even today for God to “give us this day our daily Bread.” Manna, bread, is God’s promise to provide. Always and forever.
The second lesson of Manna is about order. The Israelites are instructed that on the sixth day of the week, they are to gather and prepare enough food for the Sabbath. On the Sabbath day, they weren’t to work, cook, or anything. That was a day to celebrate God’s love, and not have to worry or focus on anything else. The Israelite people were being taught to order not only their weeks, but their lives. That is the purpose of having Sabbath. When we have a regular time in our life that we put everything aside just to be with our God and to celebrate, it reminds us that God is in every aspect of our life. It is the same lesson with our tithing and gifts. When we give on a regular basis, and set aside a portion for God’s work… it reminds us that all of our money and resources already belong to God. It’s the same lesson. Through disciplines like maintaining Sabbath and tithing… we learn that with everything that life holds: Our relationship with God is first.
That is just as important a lesson now as it was then. The Israelite’s devotion was hit and miss at best… but our time, attention and resources have even more demands on us today. There are seasons in our lives that we deem as family first, job first, community first, me first… but our relationship with God must always be first. Through any and all seasons. Manna is God’s lesson on order. Soon in the story of Exodus the Israelites will encounter 10 very important rules, and be asked to make a covenant. This is practice for that! Order is a very important lesson in the Bible. God first.
How might these lessons and questions translate into the life of Hampshire Colony Congregational Church today? What does dependence on God and order have to do with our now and our future? This is what I want you all to think about throughout the week. … If we want to open the doors of this church… if we want to gather new friends to worship beside… we must depend fully on our God to lead the way and to provide for us. It is easy to become discouraged, looking back at what we had… rather than to the present and the possibilities of the future. Too often the world in which we live seems to drain us rather than fill us and strengthen our resolve. Most of us want quick responses or we don’t want any. How do we function when under pressure? Can we, and this is a big question, turn it over to God? Turn our worry, burdens, our hope over to our God that has promised to provide? When the road gets hard, can we turn it over to God? The answer to that can be found in Manna. Bread from Heaven, God’s provision…Trust in our God.
Now… I thought I’d wrap up by telling you how the roofing project turned out. I would hate to leave you with the impression that I was left crying on the roof. I suppose there is hope in the fact that as I stand before you today… I did eventually come down… My staff spent that whole evening coming up with a plan to fix this situation, missing corner of the house. But our plan wasn’t that great… it was creative (I’ll give us some points for that)… but it wasn’t great. The next day I get out to the work site well before my volunteers get there. And I’m sitting on the curb in front of the house. And as I sit there and feel sorry for myself, I untie my shoes and drink some water… During my on going pity party. A man pulls up in a white van that says something like, “Jim’s Handy Man Service: roofing, landscaping, plumbing and more!” He rolls down the window and say, “Hi there! My son is volunteering this week, and I’ve got the day off so I thought I’d come and see if I could help. I can fix just about anything you got!” I stand up and sort of shout at him, “Oh Jim! Jesus sent you!!!” … He looked a little startled at that, but I got him inside and he got right to work, he said, “That’s quite a mess, but I’ll get it fixed up!”. The roof was saved! The Lord provided for me that day. Upon hearing my grumble. My good Lord that promise to provide for me, showed up and save the day.