Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
September 20, 2020
“Exactly Enough. Every Day.”
Exodus 16: 2-16 – The Message
The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”
4-5 God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”
6-7 Moses and Aaron told the People of Israel, “This evening you will know that it is God who brought you out of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the Glory of God. Yes, he’s listened to your complaints against him. You haven’t been complaining against us, you know, but against God.”
8 Moses said, “Since it will be God who gives you meat for your meal in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, it’s God who will have listened to your complaints against him. Who are we in all this? You haven’t been complaining to us—you’ve been complaining to God!”
9 Moses instructed Aaron: “Tell the whole company of Israel: ‘Come near to God. He’s heard your complaints.’”
10 When Aaron gave out the instructions to the whole company of Israel, they turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the Cloud.
11-12 God spoke to Moses, “I’ve listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: ‘At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you’ll eat your fill of bread; and you’ll realize that I am God, your God.’”
13-15 That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was.
15-16 So Moses told them, “It’s the bread God has given you to eat. And these are God’s instructions: ‘Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person; gather enough for everyone in your tent.’”
“The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness.” Temple Beth Shalom developed a voice mail system for dealing with this kind of thing. “Thank you for calling. If you’re calling from a touch tone phone and would like our service schedule, please press one. For membership information, press two. To complain to the rabbi, press three. To complain about the rabbi, press four, five, or six.”
“The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron out there in the wilderness.” After all, what had Moses done for them lately? He had only left his comfortable and obscure life as a sheepherder in Midian, followed a voice he heard from a burning bush to confront the most powerful man in the world, usher his people across the Red Sea, turn bitter water into sweet, and even gave them a vacation to the original Palm Springs. Yes, soon after crossing into freedom-land, they came to a place with 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees, where they “vacationed” for six weeks. “Yes, we’ve been there and done that. But, what have you done for us lately?”
Moses took their complaints to God, added a few of his own about ungrateful people, and retorted back, “You know, when you complain against me, you’re really complaining against God. And you don’t want to do that, do you?” Moses clearly hadn’t been to customer management school, because if he had:
And he did. In addition to God’s promise to provide manna, God promised quail every day. But couldn’t we have chicken instead?
And yet, it really isn’t my place to criticize people for being hungry and thirsty and frightened. Or ungrateful. They were truly at the mercy of God. It’s hard to know what that feels like. The bigger question is why I do it every day? How many days go by that I don’t find something about which to grumble, gripe, groan, murmur – or down right complain about? Even though I have everything I need – every day.
I shouldn’t blame and point fingers at the Israelites and say they shouldn’t complain. Think of their existence under Pharaoh, hundreds of years of Pharaohs. Naturally, they picked up his habits. They existed as an example that even when the Pharaohs had more than enough, they wanted more, or rather, demanded more. Walter Brueggemann describes this is how the Israelites became slaves in the first place.
Because Joseph foresaw a great famine, Egypt built barns and storehouses, so much so that they became the great superpower of its time. As a result, Egypt had more than enough and saved their neighbors from starvation. We might hear that and think they had mercy upon their neighbors. But Egypt didn’t have mercy on their neighbors, they bankrupted them. Pharaoh demanded that Joseph ask hungry people, “Where’s your collateral?” The first year they gave up their cattle. The second year they gave up their land. The third year, they had no collateral left but themselves. They descended into slavery as the result of debt, a trade deal for survival from which there was no escape, an economic transaction to avoid starvation with someone who never believed he had enough. Brueggemann said, “by the end of Genesis 47, Pharaoh owned all the land except that belonging to the priests,” because, after all, “he needed somebody to bless” what he was doing.
So now, after 500 years, thanks to Moses, the children of Israel are free, and out in the wilderness with too much time on their hands, looking back and thinking, “Should we have really left? All of the world’s riches are in Egypt and with the Pharaoh.” Fish, cucumber, leeks, onions…
How many people falsely equate wealth with divine blessing? In Egypt they could see all the ostentatious displays, even if it wasn’t theirs. But now, they look out into the emptiness of the wilderness and think there can’t be enough for them. Let’s go back, not realizing that if they went back, it would have been to Make Egypt Great Again. The Israelites would see no economic benefit for themselves, only to continue to further enrich the Pharaoh. But they might have gotten an overpriced red MEGA hat (Make Egypt Great Again).
Out there in the vast wilderness, God heard their cries and began providing the Israelites with manna every day. It addition to their complaining, it’s not surprising that some people tried to take more than they needed. That’s what Pharaoh would have taught them to do. But two things happened. When people tried to hoard manna, they discovered in the morning that their excess was rotten and had a terrible sour smell. But those who hadn’t taken enough found themselves with exactly enough. Both had exactly enough. Every day. Just like today. God provides. Exactly enough. Every day. Which sounds like a good place to say, Amen.
Except, something’s not quite right. It’s one thing for me as a white, English-speaking man in America to say God provides exactly enough every day because I do have exactly enough every day. Well, let’s be honest. Most of us have more than enough.
So then, tell me, what am I to say to the family living behind the fence of a refugee camp for years? What about countries suffering from famine and starvation today? What are we to say to those who don’t have enough to feed their families, so they risk their lives to cross into our country in order to pick the cucumbers, leeks and onions that grace our dinner table every night?
God provides enough? It makes God sound like a fraud. It sounds like God makes promises that God doesn’t keep. But if God does provide enough, which I believe, then what’s going on?
There’s a line in our communion liturgy that says, “We bless you for the beauty and bounty of the earth and for the vision of the day when sharing by all will mean scarcity for none.” There is enough. There’s just not enough sharing. Or, rather, a system of justice and equity. That lifts the poor and constrains the greedy.
It’s not surprising that the Israelites didn’t understand what “enough” meant. After all, do we? Were they ungrateful complainers? Are we? They are both difficult lessons to unlearn habits we aren’t even aware of, just like white privilege.
But this pandemic is teaching us some even more difficult lessons. During this time of uncertainty, of fear, of wishing we could go back even though “back” wasn’t so great, but at least it was normal. A time of stock market highs and record unemployment – and the rich complaining about people making too much money on unemployment… And now Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s too much. We have enough on our plate.
All of it is like wandering in a wilderness of in between spaces – 40 days to the election, in between the election and how many more days to the election results, anticipating chaos or calm, and imagining 79 more days to inauguration, or 4 more years of hell, all the while waiting for a vaccine, or hoping there is one. That’s a lot of lessons! You know what, perhaps we do understand what it means to be completely at the mercy of God.
And if that’s true, does God still provide manna today? Perhaps not some flaky white substance on the grass every morning, but I do believe that:
This day and every one of the next 44 days. And 79 more days. And 365 after that. Exactly enough and even enough to share.
Photo is from Death Valley, December 2019, by David Bahr
 Walter Brueggemann, “The Litany of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” The Christian Century, 1999
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