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Sermon for Sunday 1 August 2021

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him — what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11And the Lord said to Moses, 12“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” 13In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

Psalm 145:10-22

10All your works praise you, O Lord, and your faithful servants bless you. 11They make known the glory of your kingdom and speak of your power; 12That the peoples may know of your power and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. 13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures throughout all ages. 14The Lord is faithful in all his words and merciful in all his deeds. 15The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. 16The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. 17You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. 18The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving in all his works. 19The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. 20He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he hears their cry and helps them. 21The Lord preserves all those who love him, but he destroys all the wicked. 22My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord; let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Gospel: John 6:22-35

22On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

The Manna Diet

We, as the pinnacle of God’s creation are interesting creatures.  We have opposable thumbs, are blessed with high levels of intelligence and are highly capable.  We’re adaptive, creative, and resilient.  Yet, with all God has blessed us with, we still find it necessary to grumble, moan, complain, even whine, when we feel the least bit slighted.  Of course, it depends on the subject and the group gathered, but I would wager that if you were to monitor our conversations with family, friends and acquaintances, well more than half of our conversation time is spent on lamenting our situations. 

It seems we love to bellyache.  Interestingly, I put this to an unscientific test this past Tuesday with the pastor’s that gathered for Bible study and breakfast.  I won’t bore you with the details, but I purposely introduced a neutral subject and then did my best to put both a positive and Christian spin on the topic.  What fascinated me, is that initially I was discussing the subject with just one pastor.  As more pastor’s joined us and joined in on the conversation, the subject grew more and more into complaining and less and less about the positive aspect I introduced.  Even as the topics changed, this pattern of more negative than positive continued even into our Bible study time.  Just to see if I could redirect, I interjected a positive perspective into the reading and while the others agreed, it didn’t take long for the conversation to return to the negative side.  Now to be fair, complaining, on the whole, isn’t negative. 

Oftentimes we encounter complex subjects that need to be explored.  Again, depending on the subject, we could be struggling with how a certain subject or decision affects us personally, or as a community.  In our need to understand, we’ll bring the subject up to see how others perceive the same situation.  This can be a good thing.  Others can help us to see aspects of the situation in different ways, ways that we’re unable to see for ourselves.  Another positive aspect of sharing our situation or concerns with others, is that it helps us to relieve tension.  Oftentimes, again depending on the subject, decision or situation, we have absolutely no control of the affect it has on our lives, and we’ll search for ways to cope.  Again, the sharing of our complaints with others can be a good thing.  And then there is the rest of the story.

We’ve all known them; people who constantly complain, whine and gripe about everything.  It doesn’t matter the subject; some people can’t find the good even if they tried.  It reminds me of the guy that won a brand-new vehicle.  He was in desperate need of reliable transportation, and I expected him to be jumping for joy.  Instead, his initial response was, “that’s nice, but you’d think they’d have let me pick the color!”  Then once he signed the papers, he realized that he’d need to pay the taxes, license, and other fees before he could drive it.  Then to top it all off, he called his insurance company and found out his insurance rate would be considerably higher.  All the man did was complain. 

The adage is true, some people will complain if they get hung with a new rope!  But this is human nature for a society that has had it good all their lives.  We easily forget all the blessings we’ve enjoyed and only seem to focus on one or two aspects of our overall situation.  Far too often we’re too busy lamenting one or two aspects of our lives and we forget to stop and reflect on all the blessings we enjoy.  Such is the case with the Hebrew people in our first lesson for today.

Our Old Testament story begins with the people grumbling…not only their stomachs, but their souls as well.  They’re barely two months in their journey of freedom to the promised land, and things get a little bumpy.  So they form a “Back to Egypt Committee” and their mantra is, “Why’d you bring us out here in the first place, everything was so much better back in Egypt.”  Really!  In order for us to get a look at the bigger picture, let’s reflect for a moment on the Hebrew people’s past, prior to the Exodus.  The Hebrew people have recently been enslaved by the Egyptians.  Now bear in mind that they had been enslaved not because they’d been conquered, but because they allowed it to happen.  We really do need to study this passage in depth and see how this applies to us today.  But that issue is for another day and another Bible Study.  Our focus today is on their complaints and what we can learn from that aspect of this story.

In the opening chapter of Exodus, Moses records, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land” (1:8-10).  Initially, Joseph’s family was given Goshem, a very fertile part of Egypt as a thanks for what Joseph did for the Pharoah and the Egyptian people.  But 400+ years later, all that was forgotten, and the people were seen as a threat.

The Israelites hadn’t done anything to provoke the Egyptians.  The rulers simply wanted to ensure their source of labor and so they slowly, methodically enslaved the people until the Hebrew people begin to justifiably complain to God.  One the one hand, they let it happen, the Bible said their numbers were great and the Egyptians feared them.  On the other hand, it did happen, and they felt powerless to change the situation.  So they prayed as they should have, and God heard their cries.

God raised up Moses and sends him to demand the release of the people.  Long story short, 10 increasingly more vicious plagues later, and not only does the Pharoah allow the Israelites to leave, but in the process, the Egyptian people give then lots and lots of gold, silver and clothing just to be rid of them.  In Exodus chapter 12 we read, “The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste.  For they said, “We shall all be dead.”  So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.  The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked.  Thus they plundered the Egyptians (33-36).  In essence, the Exodus from Egypt wasn’t a flee in the middle of the night with just the shirt on your back, they were paid to leave.

The Israelite people left, yes quickly, but with everything they needed to not only travel, but to also get established once they got there.  God, even before they fled, provided them with everything they needed.  They had food, money, clothing, the best GPS system ever, and God’s promise of a new land.  Think about that.  Add to this the fact that God dried up the Red Sea, so they cross on dry ground.  God then wipes out the pursuing Egyptian army in that same sea and covers then them with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to hide and shield them for any attacks.  God gives them water when needed in the desert.  God even rains down bread from heaven and causes quail to come into the camp at night.  With all this, we need to stop and ask, what else do these people possibly need and want? 

What else could the Israelites ask for to make them satisfied on their journey?  God had literally provided them with all their needs.  But as we’ve come to understand, there are those who never seem to be happy, and when they’re not happy, they will do everything they can to make everyone around them miserable as well.  Thus it was in our Exodus reading for today.

I guess just about every time the people of God begin to journey into an unknown future, they find that they must deal with the malcontents, those people who refuse to acknowledge what God has done, and is doing, and all they do is romanticize the past and long for the good old days.  Well, once again, God hears their grumblings and, lo and behold, God provides—quail for protein and a generous serving of, what-is-it? 

One synonym of the word mannais, “What is it?”  Every morning they would find this white, flaky stuff on the ground, look around and say, What is it?  Instead of seeing the gift God had given them, they complained, “is this all we’ve got.”So they ate the “what is it” and it sustained them for one more day.  No, it wasn’t a four-course meal complete with “the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for free!  And the cucumbers, melons,leeks, onions, and garlic! (Numbers 11:5).  But there it was, every morning, manna for the journey, their daily bread.  It wasn’t much, but what’s important is, that it was enough.

In a day of freeze-dried, just add boiling water and eat meals, fast food, processed and pre-packaged, vacuum-packed and vitamin-enrichedfood, it’s hard for us to get in touch with the basic necessity represented by the need for daily bread.  For us, bread is an add-on, a compliment, something extra.  But for the biblical people—and frankly, for most of the world today—bread represents the basic sustenance of life itself.  The people of the Exodus understood, and Jesus’ disciples would have understood this as well.  They knew how essential bread was, and they knew what it took, every year, praying for a good crop of grain.  How every day, women had to grind the wheat, knead the dough, lay it out to bake, and if the rains didn’t come, if the crops failed, if they didn’t do the hard work, there was no Walmart down the street or a king-sized freezer in the kitchen waiting to meet their everyday need.  They needed bread daily; their lives depended on it.  Thus, Jesus invites His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  

Daily manna…just enough.  Luther, in his explanation of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer brought this into a more modern context: “Daily bread includes everything required to meet our earthly needs, such as food, drink, clothing, home, property, employment, necessities; parents, children, communities, faithful authorities, seasonable weather, peace, health, friends, neighbors and the like.”  When you think about this passage in our more modern context, it really is very simple.  God supplied their everyday needs, He supplied enough, yet they still weren’t happy.

With all of our trappings of modern life, I think we’ve somehow become shielded from reality.  When we cut through all the “stuff,” let loose from the weight of the luxury-laden baggage we carry around with us, we discover that at the very core of our lives there is a basic need for daily sustenance.  We depend on God daily for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.  Daily dependence on God for the very gift of life.  Our problem seems to be one of focus; we, too often, fixate on the wrong things.

When you stop and wade through all the promises made by society today, the enticements of our Lottery, companies like Publisher’s Clearing house and the like, they entice us with their offers.  If you listen to them, they claim you can have it all, including the envy of your neighbors!  These enticements are a big contrast to God’s promise of manna in the wilderness and the simplicity of Jesus’ petition—not for wealth and ego satisfaction, not the jealous pride of your neighbors.  Rather, God provides us with the basic needs of life.  The gift of daily manna, daily bread, it’s always just enough.

The context for Jesus’ prayer is found in this Sermon on the Mount: Therefore, I tell you, don’t be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, or about your body, what you shall put on.  Is not life more than food, and body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, but your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value then they?  And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or what shall we wear?”  For the Gentiles seek all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows you need them all.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well (Matthew 6:25-33).

One of the best-known miracles of Jesus’ ministry is the feeding of the 5,000.  Actually, the Gospel says there were 5,000 men, they didn’t count the women and children.  St. Mark says Jesus took the gifts of one child—five loaves and two fishes—and fed the multitude (Mark 6:30-44).  From this story, we learn that when we pray for daily bread, we’re not praying this as a personal request.  In actuality, when we pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re asking for daily bread for those around us: “give us this day our daily bread.  When Jesus invites us to pray for bread, He doesn’t invite us to pray: “Lord, give me this day my daily bread.”Instead, He invites us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Daily manna…just enough.  Bread for the world…enough for all.  In the end, this is what the Exodus people discovered; there was not only enough, but there was also more than enough.

The Exodus writer doesn’t include it, but my guess is there was another case of grumbling over the manna diet.  On the first morning, going out to look for what-is-it?“, there was lots of murmuring about whether this stuff was worth eating, whether it would fill their empty bellies, whether there would be enough to feed the crowd, whether it would show up the next day.  Then some of the people got greedy and tried to hide and hoard it, only to find that overnight it turned to maggots and rotted in their pockets.  When they trusted God and shared with each other, they discovered that, in the end, there was plenty to go around, and more.  Manna in abundance.  Manna, enough to meet the need.

Jesus’ picnic began with five loaves and two fish, but even after they had all eaten their fill, the Gospels tell us they collected twelve baskets of leftovers.  Imagine that!  Thousands of hungry people fed from the lunch of a small boy—and not only were they fed, but they had food in abundance.  Our Old Testament lesson and the lessons we learn from Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 teach us, that when we trust God to supply the basics, our daily bread, we too discover manna in abundance, enough to meet our needs.

The disciples asked Jesus, “teach us to pray” and in that prayer Jesus teaches us to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” or manna.  This manna doesn’t necessarily include all the luxuries of life, but when we trust God to provide us with the basics, He will provide us with “everything required to meet our earthly needs, such as food, drink, clothing, home, property, employment, necessities; parents, children, communities, faithful authorities, seasonable weather, peace, health, friends, neighbors and the like. 

When we acknowledge and depend on God for our daily manna, God always provides just enough.  And in response, our prayer should also be, give us this day gratitude for the abundance of your provision and grace…a grace that St. Paul tells us in our second lesson, “was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).  


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