The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
August 1-2, 2009
Text: Exodus 16:2-15
Dear Friends in Christ,
Every once in a while, in the midst of that nuclear toxic waist dump known as contemporary Christian music, there is something useful. The late Keith Green had a song called “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt”. It really falls into the category of a novelty song. He’s making fun of the complaining of the Israelites. One of the things he does in this song is talk about all the things they made from manna - manna waffles, manna bagels and ba-manna bread. Of course Green’s version is tongue in cheek. However, it does beg the question, what is manna? I phrase this in the present tense, because manna still exists. God took something that already existed in the desert and multiplied it for their use. Manna is a fungus, closely related to the mushroom. It grows up occasionally, in very small quantities, at night, in the deserts of the middle east. It is highly prized by desert dwellers to this day. It must be harvested in the predawn light. Once the sun hits it, it withers and turns to dust. Typically, manna is gathered and crushed into a form of flour and then baked into bread. Again, such bread will not keep, but must be quickly eaten. However, it is said to be very flavorful and very rich in nutrition. You could call it a desert delicacy. It should be noted, that while the people were puzzled, Moses knew exactly what it was. There is no indication that God had to tell Moses what it was.
We live in the richest country in the history of the world. Christianity has blessed this country in many ways. The western tradition, is also the Judeao-Christian World view. In the west, every man stands accountable to God for his actions. In the pagan world, the king and other important nobles were gods. The law literally didn’t apply to them. We this is played out dramatically when the Prophet Nathan confronts David with his sins of adultery and murder. David might be king, but He is still accountable to God. There are things that are universally true. God made the world that way. Thus, Thomas Jefferson could say that we are “endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights.” By this He is saying that each individual has certain rights that belong him regardless of circumstances. It would be wrong to violate such rights. In fact it is against God’s created order of the universe. Among these rights is the fruit of our own labor. This is crucial for the prosperity of any nation. Those nations that operate with this belief prosper. Those nations that do not believe that man has the right to the fruit of his own labor, remain in poverty. In the Old Testament, we see this used as a frequent image. To be cursed it to plant, but have another harvest. To be blessed, is to plant and harvest.
Many complain about the difficulties of our times. And certainly, in comparison to what has been, these are difficult economic times. We have further exacerbated the problem by poor long term planning by many individuals. But even so, as difficult as times are, we have many blessings. Most still have homes and are eating well. In fact, by the appearance of most Americans, too well. Most of us still have cars, cable television, many videos and music recordings. We have closets full of clothes and several pairs of shoes. We have medicine and medical devices according to our needs. My wife an I watch the movie “The Big Lift” this past week. It featured a U.S. Airman, from St. Paul, played by Montgomery Clift, in post World War II Berlin. The movie was shot on location. At that time, in Berlin, people barely had food to eat and one set of clothing. One of the characters in the movie was a young woman who worked clearing rubble from the streets. Everyone was fearful, and mistrusting. It’s quite a contrast to life in Rice Lake, Frederic, Webster and Danbury.
Yet, how often are we like the Israelites, complaining even as God feeds us with delicacies, like the cheese curds and mini donuts I just had at the Fair. Like with so many things, Scripture says so much and give us so many examples, one hardly knows where to begin. But even here God has blessed us. He gave us Dr. Luther. Luther understood that we need to start with the “Readers’ Digest” version. Thus, Luther give us the explanation to the First Article of the Apostles Creed. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures... He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I need to support this body and life...” God does this by giving us things to do for the good of our fellow man. Many will questions this by asking what good their labor was. Where I grew up the complaint went like this: I just put lug nuts on Chevys (or fill in the brand of your choice) at the assembly plant. What good is that for my fellow man? Well, as someone who’s logged a lot miles in cars, I’m very grateful that someone put the lug nuts on correctly. Another mistake people make is to think that if it is by my labor, then it is not really from God. But our labor is in vain apart from God. A farmer can plant, but he does not make it rain. He cannot hold back crop disease, or parasites. And so we must see all honest labor as a gift from God. If God does not make conditions favorable for men, we would not survive. A third error that is common is to say that we have no obligation back to God for this, since it is a blessing that God gives to all, regardless if they believers in Christ or not. But here we must say that just because our neighbor does not know where his daily bread comes from, we do. It is still right and proper to give thanks to God who has given us all these earthly blessings.
Those who are starving will be grateful and praise God for sack of potatoes. Those with full bellies and great material wealth have a tendency to forget that these are gifts from God. Yet, God continues to bless us, though we are all too often ungrateful for His gifts. For this we must flee to the forgiveness of sins offered in the absolution and Supper. For our God does not merely feed us to keep us alive. He gives us many delicacies and great abundance, as a foretaste of heaven. Even in these times, where many are struggling and we have very real concerns about the future, God is still the source of all that we have. Perhaps in the future, we will not have quite as abundantly as we have today. Perhaps in the future, there will be even greater abundance. This has not been revealed to us. But either way, we must be thankful to God, who gives us all that we need, and then continues to give until our cup of blessing is overflowing.