Waiting with Gratitude
I'm a little behind in posting my sermons texts online, but this one from last week seemed to hit the mark for many of us, so I wanted to make sure to post it. If you are reading this, I hope you find some hope and relief in these words. Shalom y'all.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days."
So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?"
And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him--what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD."
Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'" And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
The LORD spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat."
When I was single, my married friends would have me over for dinner with their families, and I remember watching their cute little kids say the prayer before the meal and dreaming about how someday, I’ll be the one with the family and the cute little kid who folds her little hands and says an adorable prayer thanking God for dolphins and ice cream or something lovely like that. But, honestly, now that I’m the parent, I can see that it is much harder than I thought to teach a kid to pray before their meals. I mean, Sammi just doesn’t get it yet. I know she’s little, but when we do find that special moment that the three of us can sit down for dinner at the same time, we take Sammi’s hands, and during the whole prayer she pulls and laughs or grumbles, because she wants to eat. Lately we have just been placing our hands on her back, because she is so hard to get to eat and we don’t want to stop her from eating. But the other night there was one moment when the stars aligned. Robbie and I each held one of her arms and she smiled at us. She enjoyed the moment and we prayed in peace. Later in the meal she took my hand as if to ask to do it again, and I sighed with relief. Of course, she was back to grumbling the next day, but the message is getting through, even if she grumbles half the time. And I expect there will be many other examples to come in our family life together.
And even for adults, taking the time to say thank you can be a diligent practice. It’s hard and sometimes we don’t feel like it, but it helps. It makes us take a look at what is good in our lives. It makes us stop trying to take in more and more stuff or food or activities just to compensate for the losses in our lives. When we can pause to say thank you, we can find a peace and hopefully even say, “Yes. This is enough for today. Thank you, God."
Those grumbling Israelites didn’t realize that they would get a lesson in gratitude when they came complaining to Moses and Aaron. They were upset about how unfair their circumstances were. Sure they had their freedom, and they knew they were headed towards the life they had always dreamed of--the land that God had promised to their ancestors--but by the look of things, they were worried that they might die before any of their dreams could come true. First the Pharaoh of Egypt had required work that was close to impossible, and when they prayed for deliverance, God took several decades to bring their deliverer back to them, and then God brought 10 terrifying plauges on the Egyptians, and then they get away from the chariots of Pharaoh by walking across dry land through the Red Sea, and then they make it into the desert only to run out of food and water. Moses and Aaron had brought them through even more difficult situations, but around every corner they seemed to face another disaster.
In all honesty, I really have to say their situation seems a little too real to me in 2020. After the hurricanes, the fires, the pandemic, the culture wars, political wars, the protest wars, and more hurricanes and more fires, these Israelites don’t seem so annoying or childish to me. The just seem like realists. They come to Aaron and Moses says, “I don’t know how much more we can take. You keep promising us that we will make it through, but then we turn another corner and we face another terrible loss. Can’t you just give us a break? Don’t you even have a plan? How did you think this would work? How do you plan to feed us? Did you really just bring us out here to die? Doesn’t God want us to survive so that we can enjoy the land of our ancestors? How are we going to move forward?”
I get it. They have lost a lot, and they are willing to go back into an impossible situation, if they will just survive, but they don’t see how they could survive in the desert. They can’t imagine it and they are just too overwhelmed to try.
And God sees it, too. God does love them and want them to survive, and even more than that God wants them to know they can count on the mercy of God, even more than they can count on Aaron and Moses, more than they can count on their own strength and wisdom, They can rely on the strength, wisdom and generosity of God.
So God sets up a system, every evening you will find meat, and every morning you will find bread. Only gather as much as you need, or rather gather as much as you want, because you will not be able to save any for the next day. Essentially, no matter how much you gather, you will always have enough. If you gather a lot, you will have enough. If you only gather a little, this will be enough. And on the day before the Sabbath, there will be more provided so that you can gather extra amounts for the Sabbath, and you will have enough, so that you can take a day of rest and say, “Thank you,” to God.
Gathering Manna taught the Israelites a pattern of living with just enough while they were headed toward a land of abundance and trudging, very slowly, in circles, through a desert which constantly reminded them of scarcity.
Wayne Muller, therapist, minister and community advocate, suggests the practice of observing the Sabbath as a way to create a regular habit of gratitude. In his book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives, he says, “When we are trapped in seeking, nothing is enough. Everything we have mocks us; we see only what is missing, and all that is already here seems pale and unsatisfying. In Sabbath time we bless what there is for being. The time for seeking is over; the time for finding has begun.”
Rev. Muller discussed this phenomenon with his friend and Hunger advocate, Lynn Twist, who works day in and day out to help people get the food that they need. She talks about the myth of scarcity as being the the underlying incentive for our cultural desire for a life of abundance. Her warning is that when we look for more and more, we are actually being driven by a fear of there not being enough, and so we take more than what we need, because we feel like we need to have more than enough to survive. She suggests this goal of abundance, or this fear of scarcity, could be overcome with an adjusted goal of Sufficiency, or rather awareness of well-being and satisfaction. In other words, instead of looking for gaps and needs in our physical and mental store house, we begin recognizing our emotions and health and how what we already have can fill the new gaps we discover. When we can recognize we have enough, our anxieties and fears are calmed and we can work towards bettering our communities and our home life.
Taking stock and recognizing that we have enough in the moment does not mean that we no longer work towards a goal or fight against injustice. The knowledge that we are enough and that we have enough gives us the boldness to attempt difficult goals like traveling through the desert, or working hard at school, or serving in our vocation, or trying to be a good parent, or learning to be a good human being.
God invites us to wait with gratitude. When we can look around and begin to say thank you, we will discover love for the people around us and the love that God has for us.
We will discover that God is thankful for us.
I’ll say it again, God is thankful for you. God is thankful for me. We are enough for God to work with, because God wants to fill in the gaps in our lives, and make a way through the desert. We are confused and frustrated about the conditions of our waiting space, but God is using this time and space of waiting and suffering to help us prepare for the road ahead. God will teach us many things, and one of those things, is gratitude. God wants us to learn how to be satisfied with the gifts in our hands, so that we can put those hands to work and take care of the people around us. So, when you take a look at your life and end up saying, “What is this?” Remember what Moses said, “This is the bread that God has given you to eat. Take, eat, and remember with gratitude for what God has done, is doing and will do in your life.” Amen.