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Proper 20 Year A 2008 Exodus

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Theme: Being grateful for what we have

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, your chosen people refused to show you gratitude for their deliverance from slavery to a new life in a promised land; remind us to thank you for your ever-present love, who became a human being, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Israelites in the Sinai wilderness were a conflicted lot. They complained that they wanted to go back to slavery when they were trapped by Pharaoh’s army. No sooner are they free in the wilderness, they start complaining again about being hungry and wanting to go back to Egypt. Slavery never looked so good. As we will find, they spend most of time in the wilderness complaining about how good they had it in Egypt.

I say that they are conflicted, because they still follow Moses wherever Moses will lead them even though they want to go back. And Moses is following God. Notice they don’t want to go back on their own, they want Moses to lead them back. They seem to be incapable of being self-starters.

If the Israelites are typical of any group, it was probably a minority, maybe even a small minority, who were complaining. They wanted to convince Moses to lead them back, because they didn’t have the political capital to lead the people back to Egypt on their own. They were always looking for an excuse to get back to Egypt. Their true motives are lost in history. The record states it was everyone who complained. Group dynamics and their actions would indicate that this is an exaggeration.

They were hungry. They are in a desert. And they want Moses to do something about it. We might say that Moses lacked an exit strategy. God, though, was with Moses. God told Moses that bread from heaven will appear and God will test the people. Now it was God’s idea for Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. Now God wants to test the people. It seems a little late to do that. But this is how the story goes.

They are to gather each day’s ration, except on the sixth day, they are to gather two day’s ration. That’s because on the Sabbath, there will be no heavenly bread to gather. Aaron explained what God will do for the people, because Moses has a stutter or something.

Aaron turns their complaining around by saying that they are not complaining to them, they are complaining to God. So, it is God who will answer their concerns. Moses echoed what Aaron said. Moses has Aaron gather the people and God appears to them as a pillar of cloud. Then God speaks to Moses.

We are left with the impression that only Moses can hear God. For God tells Moses to tell the people that they will have meat in the evening and bread in the morning. If the Israelites could hear God, you’d think somebody would say, “Hey, I’m in the room, too!”

That evening the ground was full of quails and in the morning dew covered the ground. When the dew lifted, there was some flaky stuff that looked like frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they asked, “What is it?” In Hebrew, they said “manna”. Hence, its name became manna, because they didn’t know what it was. After all, they were expecting bread and instead there was this flaky stuff. So Moses told them that this is the bread that was promised them.

It gives us pause, knowing Moses had already been this way, twice. What did Moses know and when did he know it? Had Moses seen this before?

The goal of the Israelites is to reach the Promised Land. One part of God’s response is to teach them and us and treat them and us through the promise of daily bread. God is growing a people who will come to understand that the final fulfillment of the promise is neither close chronologically nor geographically. God invites us to travel sustained by just one’s day’s worth of bread.

The Israelites were delivered from a back-breaking slavery in Egypt and all they can do is complain. They do not thank Moses for leading them to the Promised Land. They show no gratitude.

Kim Ridley reminds us of the transformative power of gratitude. A month after she lost her job, her father ended up in intensive care. She felt her life was falling apart. She was attentive to her father and cared for her mother. Then it occurred to her, she was grateful to have this opportunity to be with her parents. She was blessed to be holding her mother’s hand in the hospital room.

“(She) felt even more grateful for this gift of time when (her) father returned home. Grateful for the smallest things: poring over seed catalogues together, watching sitcoms with him, listening to his breathing while he slept in his recliner. Grateful for the cold wind on (her) face as (she) cross(ed) the supermarket parking lot on an errand for (her) parents. Grateful for (her) brother’s love and care, for (her) mother’s humanity, for the moon climbing the maple trees outside (her) old bedroom window.”

Since then, she started to live a life of gratitude every day. “Gratitude can be a powerfully transformative practice. Psychologists Robert Emmons of U.C. Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami have found that practicing gratitude can actually improve our emotional and physical well-being.”

Emmons suggests some practical ways we can live a life of gratitude:

1. See the giver behind the gift. “We ask people to focus every day on a particular person who provided them with a benefit,” Emmons says.

2. Ask yourself three questions every day. The basic practice of Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self Reflection, which translates to “inside-looking,” consists of asking oneself three questions every day: “What have I received today? What have I given? What trouble have I caused?” While Naikan doesn't deny the difficult parts of our lives, it puts things into perspective.

3. Practice even when you don't feel like it. “One of the mistakes people often make in our culture is thinking you have to feel grateful to practice gratitude,” says psychologist Miriam Greenspan. “You can practice anytime—when you feel sorrow, great anxiety over a parent's imminent death, if you have a disabled child. Whatever one can muster at these points as a prayer of gratitude—okay, I'm still breathing, or I have friends who care about me—tips the experience from being immersed unmindfully in one’s suffering to moving into the present moment with a more holistic perspective.”

4. Make thank-you your mantra.

5. Create a simple family ritual. An example is to say a prayer of thanksgiving at dinner time.

6. Bow to life. Nancy Hathaway bows to herself, her family, and to life every morning. “Doing this helps (her) let go of controlling, and instead open to the flow of life.”

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of gratitude; help us see your blessings around us, help us to give thanks to you and those around us, help us recognize how truly blessed we are, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Exodus 16:2-15 (NRSV)
2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 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.”

4 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. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 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, 7 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?” 8 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.”

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.

[1]


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a  Or “It is manna” (Heb man hu, see verse 31)

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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