“Last week we heard about God calling Moses from the burning bush — telling him to go back to Egypt and convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free from slavery. Moses and Aaron went, and pharaoh was obstinate, so God sent plagues in hopes of breaking open Pharaoh’s hardened heart. Each plague caused suffering among Egyptians and their land and livestock, but did not affect the Israelites. Sadly, Pharaoh’s response was to oppress the Israelites even more. By the time of the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, the Egyptians had had enough and let the Israelites go. The whole people traveled as fast as they could to the shores of the Red Sea, where God parted the waters and brought them across on dry land and the Egyptian army was defeated. After a few days, the people began to worry about water as the only water they’d found was bitter and undrinkable, and God gave Moses a tree whose wood turned the water sweet. We pick up the story about six weeks later, in the book of Exodus, chapter 16.” I am reading from the Common English Bible. Let us listen for how the Spirit is speaking to her church:
“The whole Israelite community set out from Eleem and came to the Seen desert, which is located between Eleem and Sinai. They set out on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left the land of Egypt. 2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. 5 On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.”
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7 And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” 8 Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the Lord, because he’s heard your complaints.’”10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening a flock of quail flew down and covered the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp.14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the desert surface were thin flakes, as thin as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” They didn’t know what it was.
Moses said to them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Collect as much of it as each of you can eat, one omer per person. You may collect for the number of people in your household.’” 17 The Israelites did as Moses said, some collecting more, some less. 18 But when they measured it out by the omer, the ones who had collected more had nothing left over, and the ones who had collected less had no shortage. Everyone collected just as much as they could eat.”
This is the word of our Lord. Thanks be to God.
It doesn’t escape me that the scripture which falls on the Sunday I preach at Northminster has a history and context of food insecurity. I told Laura that if by Sunday, the sermon didn’t seem to have anywhere that naturally allowed me to talk about the ministry of Hope House, the Presbyterian campus ministry at UTC of which you all support, then I would do a little something about Hope house during the announcements, but wow! Unnecessary. Right?
For those that don’t know, I’m the executive director and campus minster of Hope House which is a ministry of Presbytery of East Tennessee at UTC. We have an old Victorian house built in 1903 by the Hope Family that sits right on the edge of campus near the old mayor’s mansion. Our mission: Making God known by modeling the radical hospitality of Jesus Christ, looks like a variety of things depending on the season and the students, but our primary ministry over the last few years has been around the issue of food insecurity among college campuses. Every Tuesday we serve, or actually, members of churches like Northminster serve a hot meal to students, but every other day we always have food available for free for students to eat if they are hungry. Our refrigerator is always full with tea and lemonade, our coffee house with all the things you might find in a coffee house available for students if they thirst.
I know what some of you are thinking, how could someone afford to go to college but not afford food? And here is the best explanation I can give: We all know that children can’t learn if their basic human needs aren’t met, right. So some of you perhaps have helped collect canned goods or donated money that helps feed kids over the weekends or in the summer. And due in part to help from the community as well as their own hard work, these kids have done really well. Our programs were successful. They have stayed in school, graduated with good grades. Some have decided that a high school education isn’t enough for them. They have been told they can do anything, if they put their mind to it, and so they’ve earned the grades to get them into college. Some have academic or Hope scholarships that have paid for their tuition, but rarely does the reality at home change from when they were little. The struggle to study with an empty belly is still a reality. Unfortunately all federal funding dries up to support hungry students when they graduate from high school, so many are left having to choose between buying books and eating. Or worse, they just can’t make it without extra support and drop out. This is the story, we’re told, at least by our students. That if hadn’t been for our ministry, where we provide free access to food, and a variety of resources like computers, printers, even a washer and drawer, they wouldn’t have made it. They would have dropped out.
And so when I hear about the Israelites complaining to Moses and Aaron about their empty bellies, about how life was so much better under an oppressive regime, I can’t help but make the jump to our students, who I know have also thought about giving up. Going back. And I have compassion on them. On the Israelites.
Even though they were under occupation, they can remember those days fondly because it least it was consistent. And the memories of fear are perhaps pushed aside by memories of as the scripture says, “we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread.” And this unknown, this freedom of being in the dessert, where the provisions from the journey have run out is scary. And they want to go back. Because they knew what to expect in Egypt, but in the dessert, with a leader they’re not too sure about? That’s risky.
God hears their complaint and responds with such grace. I mean God has delivered them out of 400 years of bondage, held back a whole sea while they passed through it, but instead of being angry at their complaints, God simply provides their needs. And Moses is quick. Quick to say, it’s not us. It’s God. God has done these things. Maybe a little because he’s like, it’s not me you should be mad at, but also because, hey, remember who is with you. It’s not me, it’s God. The one who sent all those plagues and brought you out to here, to what’s promised next.
These are people living with generational trauma. Remember Moses wasn’t even supposed to be alive. He was rescued from the genocide that I imagine most others around his age succumbed to. And they’ve left everything they know to follow Moses, who is kind of an outsider since he was raised in Pharoah’s house.
Almost every time I’ve read this passage, I’ve thought, “How could they forget?”: What they left?
What they experienced?
The constant terror?
I’ve thought “they are just so ungrateful and forgetful.” But when I read this passage this week, in the midst of a pandemic and so much death, I don’t know, it strikes me that maybe it’s not a lack of gratitude that’s the issue. Maybe the issue is that when you have been pulled out of an abusive situation the unknown, even an unknown housed in liberation, is frightening. You can’t control it. You can’t predict it. And so there is something really beautiful about God just listening and responding and providing. For years, providing, 40 years providing.
It was pointed out to me that the people didn’t know God was going to provide every day. God told Moses the long plan, but to the people God instructed Moses to say, “At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
Not too much information at once. Very simple. The next days meals are taken care of. This is who I am. Or who I will be. I will be who I will be.
But the people also have to learn how to live in this new reality. Under Pharoah they were taught to hoard to survive. In God’s freedom, there is a new way of living and being in community.
I don’t have much experience with trauma informed therapy, but a colleague who does, SiriAnna Strommen says, “It's a trauma response to hoard, because you can't trust to be taken care of. So by [God] creating a structure and system that went day by day, the Hebrew people were encouraged to address their trauma and move through it.”
I kind of love the long game here. Just gather enough for today God says. And so after the morning dew has dissipated, the Israelites wake and gather enough. And those that gather too much, God makes sure it evens out. And those, for whatever reason can’t gather enough, maybe they’re tired, or were up all night studying, God makes sure their cup is also filled.
The most beautiful part of this passage is verse 10. Hear this: “And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard.”
First, your suffering was heard and mattered and was acknowledged by God, the creator of the cosmos. This mighty God cares about your cries. Second, though, is that they are promised they will see the Lord’s glorious presence. The glory of the Lord came in the cloud soon after, but the text reads, in the morning. And it’s in the morning, that after the dew evaporates, there is manna. Could it be that God’s glorious presence is the manna that arrives every morning? God’s glory is in the mundane every day of daily bread?
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And I think there is indeed something glorious about a God who will provide enough for today against the traumatic and oppressive economic system of Pharoah the Israelites just fled where food was stored up and stockpiled. The economic system of God is one where in community there is enough. For today.
And for 40 years they lived this lesson. There’s an invitation in here for those who are hungry, like some of my students at Hope. God hears your cries and the God who responded to the traumatized Israelites in the dessert is the same God who responds to those who suffer today. God’s intention and purpose is for your liberation so that you can be free to love God and serve and love one another.Hunger is not what God ordains. God has provided enough.
I think there is also invitation in here for those who have enough. That is to trust there is enough for today and the next day instead of creating new Egypts over and over. But I think it is to also to testify to the miracle of enough. The glorious presence was in the cloud and in the ladders going between heaven and earth, but it was also in the manna, in the miracle of enough. May we be witnesses and stewards of that. Amen.
 Rev. Terri Peterson from BibleWorm Liturgy