SCRIPTURE: Exodus 16: 9-21
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 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. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “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.’”
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 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. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”[a] For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
Matthew 6: 19-21; 24-27; 31-33
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust[h]consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
I was reminded recently in my work with our kids about the Story of Stone Soup. Perhaps you remember: A kindly, old stranger was walking through the land when he came upon a village. As he entered, he saw the villages locking doors and bolting their windows.
The stranger smiled and asked, “why are you all so frightened. I am a simple traveler, looking for a soft place to stay for the night and a warm place for a meal.”
He is told that they and their children are starving; that there is no food. They are all to die, and he had best keep walking, as they have nothing to offer.
“Oh, I have everything I need,” he said. “In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you.” He pulled an iron cauldron from his cloak, filled it with water, and began to build a fire under it; pulled a rock from his bag and placed it in the pot ceremoniously.
Of course, what happens is – HOPE — began to overcome their fear. They begin to peek out of those close doors, and crack those bolted windows to see what might happen.
The stranger announces that the soup is almost ready, but is really so much better with cabbage. And one of the villages retrieves a small cabbage from its hiding place, and adds it to the pot.
“Oh this is Wonderful! But you know, a few carrots…” And from another hidden storehouse a villager brings a few carrots. And so it continues, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, salt beef and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for everyone in the village to share.
Into a people rigid, isolated, seeing only fear and scarcity, this stranger brings a hope – a life-giving hope that overcomes their fear and shows them a new and more generous way of being. In giving they receive. In hope, they experience abundance and new way of being.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be generous open – and pleasing unto you. AMEN
My husband Greg and I lived in Miami for only 4 or 5 years, and for the most part we missed any big storms, but there was one in particular that looked like it was going to be bad. The news started reporting the progress of this storm constantly, and you could feel the level of worry, anxiety and fear rising through the city. I remember going to the Winn Dixie and Publix grocery stores near our house, and days before the storm was even that close, these stores look like they had already been hit by a hurricane. People were buying in bulk, hoarding up — Water, Batteries, canned goods, duct tape; anything they thought would help them, and their home survive the storm. Fights broke out in front of Home Depot over plywood. Lines started backing up at the gas stations. People became angry – yelling at each other, at the stores; at the government – complaining no one was doing enough to get the people what they needed to face what was coming. The truth is, being from New England and not knowing that I was supposed to panic, I waited too late to get our provisions. We lived a block from Little Havana and I remember the only place we could find with anything left was this little half bodega/half warehouse down the street that used to stock cans of Cuban black beans and galletas/ crackers in bulk – Which I BOUGHT, in bulk! Because I felt like I needed to store something up, because everyone else was! The storm came and went. We lost power and were out of work for a few days, but were otherwise fine. And I don’t think we ever finished those beans and crackers. Fear had overtaken hope; reason; trust in God, for sure; even trust in our neighbors. We locked our doors and our windows and hid what provisions we had.
But something incredible always seems to happen AFTER these really serious storms or disasters. It happens AFTER everyone has stockpiled complained, fought, locked themselves in their houses; When the fear of what’s coming is gone because the worst has happened. Again and again we see people and communities come together in amazing ways. We see acts of hope, courage, compassion, generosity. We see it in Mexico City as people bring flashlights and remove rubble with their bare hands; In Puerto Rico as people work to feed and rescue strangers from the roofs of houses. In Florida, Texas, Bangladesh, Virgin Islands, on and on… We see stone-soup-quality togetherness and generosity, as people consolidate resources to quite literally save lives. It happens as people are led less by fear of an unknown future bearing down on them; and more by seeing the needs of the present moment around them; As they are led less by worry about scarcity, and more by gratitude for what they do have – life, a shelter; daily bread. When this switch happens we see places that were closed and rigid with fear opening – hearts, doors, storehouses.
In our scripture passage today, we find our Israelites in a real place of fear, of scarcity, and of worry for the future. If you remember where this story falls in the narrative, God’s people have been enslaved in Egypt for generations – 400 years. God has just rescued them, and after plagues and a dramatic near escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea, the people have emerged on the other side, crossing a wilderness as they make their way to a land God has promised, but which they can barely imagine. They’ve been in the wilderness for about a month of what will become 40 years – and this is already the 3rd time we’re hearing them complain. They’ve started voicing an oddly rosy nostalgia for the past – their years in slavery. “At least then we knew where our next meal is coming from!” they say.
Now they are in a wilderness place of hunger and uncertainty. They can’t have the past they want; and the question facing them in this: how they want to walk into the future. Because their future is very dependent the choices and orientation they make in this present moment. At the beginning of our story, we find them gripped with fear and worry – angry, complaining, not trusting that God will lead them and provide for them. But God does provide for them – just enough – meat and bread. God wants them to trust and live without fear. God wants them to choose to walk into their future courageous, grateful and hopeful in their faith.
Unfortunately, we see them even as they gather their manna, try to hoard a little extra, store it up, in case God doesn’t come through. The almost comical continuation of this story is that God provides for them anyway. God is steadfast, and not hurried in trying to help them learn this lesson of trust – In fact, God provides them with just enough manna and quail daily for the next 40 years. And endures listening to them complain about how board they are of eating it.
I don’t think it is too dramatic to say that we at this moment in our world are living in special time of wilderness. We see around us shifting sands and impending storms of our climate, our cultural and political landscape, changing systems and institutions. Maybe some of us are also in a period of personal wilderness – a space of our own shifting sands, hunger and uncertain futures. Whether we picture the past as rosy or not, we can’t go back. The waters of time have closed that path for us. As we stand in this wilderness, we can know that it is up to us and the decisions we make today, how we chose to walk into the future.
A certain amount of looking inwards, shoring up our personal needs, planning, and preparing, is good and responsible in these moments – Anyone who has worked with me knows that how much I love planning. And so I know I catch myself – and have to constantly ask whether or not I have (often unwittingly) decided to allow fear and worry to guide my steps, or whether I am choosing to walk in faith – courageous, hopeful, generous, open. I know which one – tried and tested throughout the ages– always has better outcome.
Jesus has comforting and beautiful, but strong and direct, words about this for us in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount that was read so beautifully.
Do. Not. Worry. Do not let fear and anxiety guide your path. Look at the birds of the sky, the lilies of the field. God provides. It’s a message borne of the experience of the Israelites; it’s a message to a scared but hopeful group of disciples who will need to be courageous in THEIR walk of faith; it’s a message for us – to orient ourselves differently as people of faith in times of fear and worry. Not to be the ones that store up and hide our treasure (potatoes and cans of Cuban black beans) for ourselves; locking our doors, hunkering down in fear; but to be the ones that boldly and hopefully walk into new places with a cauldron ready to make soup.
Jesus talks specifically about our wealth and about storing up more than we need — how we use our wealth is important. And we are called to generosity in other ways, as well – to be generous with our Love; generous with how we see the gifts we have been given – meaning generous with our gratitude. Generous in how we see the world around us – looking at our daily bread and recognizing that we for the most part, we do have enough. We are called to be generous with our patience, kindness, goodness, compassion. Standing firmly in our faith; Trusting in God, we are called and are equipped to walk into the future — courageously open and generous in a way that we could not without our faith.
When we push against the darkness of fear and worry with courageous hope– growing our storehouse of trust in God; over our storehouse of things — we come to understand the great Jesus paradoxes that it is in “emptying ourselves that we are filled. That it is through giving that we truly receive.” As we do this, we make space in our hearts and lives, not only for each other, but for the love of God to come rushing in. And when that happens, we are transformed – as individuals, as a church; — and perhaps as God’s love flows through us, our communities, maybe even the world. “Thy Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is how God’s plan works.
Jesus teaches the disciples and gathered crowd how to pray these words only a few short sentences before this passage. “Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this Day our Daily Bread; Forgive us when we do not trust in you, when we are not generously, patient, loving or forgiving. And lead us not into the temptation of living in fear and taking more than we need; Orient us to you God, For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the Glory forever.” Amen.