Getting What You Ask For

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 16
SCRIPTURE: Exodus 16: 2-15
That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.
Exodus 16: 13 (NIV)

WE ALL HAVE NEEDS

All of us have needs that must be met if we are to survive. Maybe you’ve heard of a something called Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy. I’ve used it before during my messages and it’s a great tool for understanding human behaviour. It was created by American psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940’s and theolizes that human needs are not all the same. Some of them are basic such as food, water and safety. But then they work there way up through belonging and love needs, self-esteem needs and self-actualization where someone is able to reach their full potential. An important part of this hierarchy is that lower needs must be satisified before higher needs can be addressed. For example, until someone has a reliable source of food and water they probably won’t be all that concerned about getting the latest version of the IPhone. Although, in this day and age there are those who think the latest phone is a basic need but I would dare to differ.

The reason I raise this is because the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea last week and began their journey into the Promised Land. Last week they had a need. They were caught between a rock and a hard place, Pharaoh and his army behind them and the Red Sea before them, their main concern was safety. They said to Moses, “Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you had to bring us out here into the wilderness to die?”

Today, the people of Israel are across the Red Sea and they have another need. As God meets this need, we learn another important lesson.

GRUMBLING

Today’s story is found in Exodus 16. Let’s begin by reading Exodus 16:2-3 (NIV):

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

The story begins with the people grumbling against Moses and Aaron. If you recall, last week they grumbled that Moses had brought them out of Egypt to die. This week, they grumble that they don’t have enough food. You’d think that after last week’s miracle at the Red Sea, they would dhave some trust in God to supply their needs. But it is now a month later and the events of the Red Sea are all but forgotten: “Hey Moses, we had lots of food in Egypt. Why did you bring us out here into the desert to starve? We should have stayed in Egypt.” It will become a familiar refrain.

What we are discovering along the way is that the people of Israel are great gumblers. Last week, they grumbled about their safety. This week, they grumble about their food. Next week, you will discover that they will grumble about the water. It just goes on and on and on.

Have you ever noticed how much people grumble today? And the funny thing is that most people don’t grumble about the lower needs on Maslow’s hierarchy. After all,  in our relatively affluent society, the vast majority of people already have food, water, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads.

Today I hear people complain about the higher needs. And some of those are what have come to be known as first will problems. Do you know what I mean by first world problems? They are the issues that many people complain about that really aren’t all that important in the greater scheme of things. But we complain about them anyway.

Here are ten of my favourite first world problems:

These are the things that people complain about when they really have nothing to complain about. And yet they still complain about them.

God has already told the people of Israel that he will look after them, that he will supply all of their needs. And yet already they are complaining. We miss those big pots of meat that we used to have in Egypt. Can’t we go back there? The food out here in the wilderness sucks.

GOD’S RESPONSE

God hears their grumbling and God is patient. Perhaps God realizes that they have a lot to learn and that there will be forty years to teach them. And so God responds to their grumbling in Exodus 16:4-8 (NIV):

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

God first responds by providing the people with an assurance in Exodus 16:4 (NIV) that they are going to be fed: “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.” God affirms that he will look after his people. They may not get what they got in Egypt but it sustain them quite well.

And then God says something interesting in Exodus 16:8 (NIV): “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” This is important and builds on something we said right at the very end of last week’s message. Do you remember why God was doing all the things that God did? Why God sent the plagues upon Egypt and the Passover and why God parted the Red Sea? It wasn’t to be mean and nasty or to exact revenge for past wrongs. It was so that Pharaoh would now that God is God and that there is no other. Same thing here. God promises to feed the people so that they will know that the bread they will eat in the morning comes from God and the meat that they receive in the evening comes from God. Why is that? Because God is God and there is no other.

GOD GIVES A SIGN

And just so they don’t get things mixed up, God gives them a sign. We read about it in Exodus 16:9-12 (NIV):

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

As a way of setting the people’s minds at ease, God gives them a sign that he truly is God and that he will provide. It says in verse ten that while Moses’ brother Aaron is speaking with the whole community, they look out towards the desert and see the glory of the Lord appear to them in the cloud.

Scholars aren’t sure what this was. Note that it doesn’t say that God appeared in the cloud. It says that his glory appeared. We don’t know what it was. Maybe it was an incredible display of thunder and lightning. Maybe it was bright beacon of light. Maybe I was an amazing cloud formation or a chariot of fire. We don’t know what it was. All we know is that it got the people’s attention.

God gives a sign and in giving a sign, assures the people that he will do what he says he will do. They will receive bread in the morning and meat at night and they will not go hungry. So quit crumbling. God is God and God will do what God says he will do.

GOD DELIVERS

We don’t know what the people are expecting in the way of food. We know that they miss those meat pots from Egypt but what do they expect in the desert? We find out what they get in Exodus 16:13-15 (NIV):

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.”

Whatever they are expecting, God gives them what they need. That evening quail fly in and cover the camp. The Israelites are able to catch them and eat all the meat the want. And in the morning, when the dew evaporates in the sun, it leaves a layer of thin flakes that looks like frost on the ground. Numbers 11 provides and more detailed description of it. This is what it says in Numbers 11:7-8 (NIV): “The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil.”

Whatever this is, it is new to the Israelites. They may have had a lot of different kinds of food in Egypt but they didn’t have this stuff. They have never seen it before. They have to learn to gather it, prepare it, cook it and serve it. Whatever it is, it is not what the people expected but then again, God has a way of meeting our needs in unexpected ways. And so they say to Moses, “What is it?” And Moses tells them that it is bread from heaven.

But their question is a good one and both the question and the answer are significant because the question, “What is it?” roughly translated from English to Hebrew comes out with the word manna. So in asking what this stuff on the ground is, the Israelites name it. And then Moses describes it. He says that this manna is bread from heaven.

God supplies their needs in the most unexpected way. Maybe they were expecting onions and leaks and tomatoes and pots full of meat. Maybe that would have been nice but, instead, God gives them quails and manna. It may not be what they want and over the course of the forty year journey to the Promised Land the people will complain about it: “Can’t we get something besides this manna? We are so sick of it.” But through this manna, God sustains them on their journey.

Do you remember the 2003 movie Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston among others? If you remember the movie, the premise was that Bruce, a newscaster in Buffalo gets the chance to literally take over God’s job for a while. And, of course, he discovers that the job is harder than he thought. There is a scene right near the end of that movie where Jim Carrey – as Bruce – talks about how he handled all the prayers from all the people that came his way. It became overwhelming and he says, “I just gave them everything they wanted.” God – played by Morgan Freeman – says, “Yeah, but since when does anyone have clue what they want?”

Good question. The Israelites want food. We don’t know what they are expecting but I think it’s fair to presume that it wasn’t forty years of manna.

This pattern will be repeated for them again and again on their journey to the Promised Land. God will meet their needs, all of the time God will meet all of their needs but it will seldom be in ways that they expect.

There’s a really good lesson for us in this, isn’t. And you already know what it is. We need to be prepared for the unexpected when it comes to God. We might think we know what we want and maybe even what we need. But as God said in Bruce Almighty, “Since when does anyone have a clue what they want?” Do we really have a clue? Maybe we do sometimes. But other times, we are just allow ourselves to be carried along by the currents of the day so that what we think we want and need are really first world problems.

We may or may not know what we really want and need but God always knows. That’s because God, unlike us, does not live in the moment. God knows all that came before this moment and God knows everything that will come after. It is all one to God who is beyond time and space.

God met the needs of the people of Israel in unexpected ways as they journeyed through the wilderness to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. God meets our needs too and God also does it in the most unexpected ways. The challenge for us is to open our eyes to see God in action in our lives and in the world around us. To see God’s hand in our lives every day as we move from one moment to the next.

And sometimes, even when we recognize God at work in our lives, like the Israelites, we see what he has given us and say, “What is this? This is not what I expected.” And then the words of Moses ring true when he says, “This is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” So look for the manna and quails in your live, in whatever form they come. Expect them to come in unexpected ways. And rejoice in our God who loves each of you, wants only the very best for you and provides for your needs as you journey to the Promised Land.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We come to you, O God, not knowing our future. Only you know for you made us for your purpose. Help us to discover and embrace what you want us to do. Help us to remember your constant presence in our lives as you touch us in tender ways.

We offer our thanks for your creation and especially today for our pets: dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, snakes and guinea pigs. These are our furry and feathered friends who give us comfort and offer a special kind of love. May we all be responsible in our care of them as you have demonstrated your care and love for us.

We come with our concerns for the health of creation and the health of our neighbour. We pray for the front line workers and those who must cross the border every day. We pray for safety and that you will meet all of our needs in unexpected ways. At the same time, help us to recognize your hand as you reach out to us in love.

We come before you with our prayers for the sick of our congregation and community. We lift up in prayer our struggles and our hurts. Some are visible and clearly seen by the world. Some are hidden so deeply that even we are unsure that they exist until, in a surprising moment, they sneak up on us and look us in the eye. Heal us, cleanse us and, in your grace, renew us. You know that they need you now in a special way. Speak to their needs, O God.

Lord God, thank you for giving us back our lives; for proving your love and faithfulness in spite of so much that was against us. Never let it be said that you are without power. Remind us, rather, that you are always ready to help us beyond our wildest expectations if only we turn to you in our need, whether it be great or small. Our prayers, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

September 20, 2020 / Pentecost 16 / Proper 20

SCRIPTURE

Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Matthew 20:1-16; Philippians 1:21-30

CALL TO WORSHIP

Give thanks to God and bless his name for the glory of the Lord shines around us. Sing songs fo praise and lift up the name of Jesus for God is good and God’s mercy endures forever. Let us come, with joy, to worship.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Hear us, Mighty God. Hear our prayers as we come before you in worship. Lift the blinders from our eyes and remove the stoppers from our ears. Open us, this day, to a fresh blessing of your Spirit. Renew our lives as you renew our spirits. Strengthen our faith and increase our love for one another that we may be your people, embraced by your covenant and delighted by your presence. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Your mercy, O God, is great. It is wider that our broadest hurt, stronger that our deepest sin, more gentle than cool autumn breezes. We come to you because we know that you are merciful We can confess our sins without fear of punishment. Rather we look forward to the forgiveness that only you can provide. Remind us of our sin that we may confess our wrong doings. In our confession, convict us to go and sin no more. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God’s eternal love is demonstrated in God’s profound justice. The prophets call us to faithfulness and Jesus provides the means of our forgiveness. Be assured that when we truly and humbly confess our sins we are set free from the bondage of death and cleansed by the renewing of our lives in Jesus’ sacrifice.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

This offering we give, O God of Justice, for your work in the hope that you would give to us the wisdom to know how to use it faithfully. Give us the courage and strength of character to work your justice as we share the Good News of Jesus with all creation. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

This time of prayer is ended. The time of song is done. The word and the sounds and the actions of this gathering is over. Let us now go and begin to serve God as we minister to the world in Jesus’ name.

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