“And give us our daily bread” 10/05/2014 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Exodus 16:11-26, Matthew 14:13-21

Maybe it is because time and I have been at odds lately. Maybe it is because, I am either running late, or double booking myself or forgetting to put an appointment in my calendar all together. Maybe it is because there is just too much to do and too little time to do it in.

But this week when I began walking around in the scripture passages for today, I noticed something I had never seen before. I was fully expecting to be inspired by these well-known feeding stories and to be led to reflect on what the world would look like if all of God’s children had daily bread? To take up the issue of food insecurity and waste and to challenge us to imagine what the world could look like if we set aside our supersized refrigerators and storage units, and took no more than what we truly needed.

But then I noticed something in both of the passages that tripped me up and sent me wondering. I noticed that these passages are as much about time as they are about feeding. Time, and our use of it seems to be wrapped up with the issue of having enough.

But before we go any further let us pray: Holy God, slow us down and gather us up. Take time with us so that we may learn to take time with you. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and redeemer. Amen.

What does time have to do with filling empty bellies? A lot, it turns out. For the Exodus passage, I have come to see, is actually more than a feeding miracle. First and foremost, I believe, it is a lesson in how we are to spend our time. It is a lesson in ethics. In the Exodus passage, the people are complaining, saying they would rather be back in Egypt for at least in Egypt they were not hungry. And so 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” (Exodus 16: 4).

The people are to spend their time, their work of the day gathering just what they need to have enough. No more and no less. And this work has its appointed place within the hours of the day. While we live in a time when 12 or 14 hour work days are not uncommon, the lesson here seems to be that gathering what you need has its place in the day but is not to be the totality of it.


Ched Meyers in his book “The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics” writes that this passage in Exodus speaks of God’s alternative to what the Israelites had experienced under Pharaoh. In Egypt the people were slaves to the work of building up the supply cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. Supply cities are places where provisions and arms were stored up to guard against the possibility of shortage should Egypt one day be attacked and supplies cut off by her enemies. So their labors were very much a part of an economy that was based on the fear of scarcity and threat. And because of that the work is never done. There is always more that can be gathered, more to store up. There is never enough.

As a people newly delivered from the tyranny of work as slavery, God is teaching a return to a way of life not driven by fear of scarcity and threat, but a life marked by pace and peace. But the lesson is more than just living within ones needs in the rhythm of each day, it is also about the necessity of Sabbath.

And I hear the rhythm of “morning by morning, they gathered it” an echo of the work that God did in unfolding of days at the dawn of creation — when there was evening and there was morning, the first day; and there was evening and there was morning, the second day, and so on until the seventh day when God rested from all the work that God had done. As God does, so too are God’s people to do.

Sabbath it turns out is key to this new economy of God, this new way that God is teaching the people to live.

We tend to think that Sabbath is about refraining from working and resting. But Sabbath is actually much more than that. The great rabbinical thinker and scholar, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that “Sabbath is an architecture of time.” “What is so luminous about a day? What is so precious to captivate the hearts? It is because the seventh day is a mine where spirit’s precious metal can be found with which to construct the palace in time, a dimension in which the human is at home with the divine; a dimension in which the human aspires to approach the likeness of the divine.

“What would be a world without Sabbath? It would be a world that knew only itself or God distorted as a thing or the abyss separating God from the world; a world without the vision of a window in eternity that opens into time.” I believe Sabbath provides a weekly corrective to our human propensity to get drawn into a mind-set of fear and threat. Sabbath is to keep the “window to the eternal open.” Sabbath cultivates within us a new relationship to time where we are freed from the tyranny of it and instead exhale into its timelessness. Again from Heschel for “Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.” [1]

Maybe that is why Jesus did what he did that day as the shadows lengthened on that hill side long ago. Maybe he saw in the worried faces of the disciples and heard in their words a fear that they were running out of time. A fear that if they did not send the crowd away they were going to have a real problem on their hands, maybe he saw in their fear that they were failing to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.

Maybe he knew that what was needed was not only bread to eat but perhaps even more important they needed to see again through that window of eternity that opens into time. He needed them to know that all their needs could be met in that expansive and holy moment of Sabbath, right there on that hillside, in the presence of God and with the company of all gathered round. ~~~

In light of these scripture passages this morning, I wonder- are we living under the tyranny of time within Pharaoh’s paradigm of fear and threat or in light of God’s invitation to pace and peace?” Is our frantic doing related to our frantic consumption and if so how is this “life – style” enslaving not just us but contributing to the enslavement of our brothers and sisters and to the enslavement of the planet itself to want and degradation?

What would it be like if we like the disciples were being asked to slow down, and stop our running around? Would we discover like they did that all we need is already at hand? What would it be like if we took up God’s instruction in the Exodus passage to day and practiced taking just what we need, not storing up and Sabbath keeping. Could recalibrating our living, from slavery to filling the storehouses of Pharaoh to the rhythm of creation, free not just us but also our brothers and sisters around the world to live the fullness of life that God intends? Could the miracle of God’s grace and steadfast love come flooding through eternity’s open window and into the now of our lives, so that with each other and with God places where once there was want are transformed into places where “all eat and are filled” and hunger is no more?

Mahatma Ghandi once said “you must first be the change you want to see in the world?” So, let us do as God would have the world be. Let us the practice receiving this day our daily bread. Let us gather just we need and share what we have. Let us slow down and step out from the tyranny of time and step into the peace of presence that is the heart of Sabbath. Thanks be to God. Amen


[1] The Sabbath. Abraham Joshua Heschel. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: New York. 1951). P. 6.