s130o97 3/8/97 Somerton Park Pentecost 11 Sunday 18 8am only
"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."" (Exodus 16:4).
The story of the manna from heaven is one of the most well known stories in the Old Testament. With it we continue the theme of the overflowing abundance of the gifts God provides which we saw last week with the twelve baskets full of scraps left over from the feeding of the 5000.
When young children come to the Altar rail and ask to see the consecrated bread and ask "What is it?" they are repeating the words the Israelites of old used when they said "What is it?" "What is it?" in the Hebrew language is "Manna" So the name for the substance is the question they asked.
However the picture of the overflowing abundance of God's goodness that we get from the feeding of the 5000 and the manna in the wilderness is tempered by the fact that the manna couldn't be stored overnight.
So we are told that: "those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed." (Exodus 16:18). "When the sun grew hot (the manna) melted". Some tried to keep some till next morning but it "bred worms and became foul".
Since they were not permitted to work on the sabbath ... "on the sixth day they gathered twice as much" (Exodus 16:22) which they could boil or bake for the sabbath meals. There was no manna to be gathered on the sabbath and the baked or boiled manna kept from the previous day.
Now there are a number of possible lessons we can derive from these words.
We could well come to the conclusion that God has a particular love of the sabbath and corresponding hatred of anyone who profanes the sabbath. But Jesus tells us that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath. (Mark 2.27)
Or we could come to the conclusion that we have to trust God. So it is only when we completely obey the word of the Lord that God provides our daily bread each and every day. So if we trust everything will work out. However Jesus tells us that God rains on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5.45) There is no message here of any discrimination.
We could also come to the conclusion that God forces us to trust him. So the manna kept overnight spoiled precisely to make sure that we have turn to God again tomorrow to provide for us and make us obedient. If that is what God was on about, then Jesus on the cross becomes meaningless. If God is simply on about us turning to God and obeying the divine will, God could do that through making us hungry, rather than sending Jesus to die and to rise again for us.
The words again omit any reference to charity, to sharing the manna with others.
I think that we need to be careful that we don't jump to "orthodox" conclusions too quickly. I am happy to commend the keeping of the sabbath, trusting and obeying God and sharing. But I want to suggest that these are not the message for today.
The manna could not keep overnight. There was therefore no point in trying to store it up. It was meant to be used today. It could be used by eating it ourselves or it could be used by sharing with someone else. God would provide for tomorrow. They were bidden to enjoy the grace of God that was given that day.
The manna appeared whether the Israelites kept the sabbath or not, whether they trusted God or not, were sufficiently subservient or not, tried to keep some for the following day or not., or whether they shared what they gathered with others or not.
The manna was simply there for them to gather and enjoy that day, by themselves or with others.
The message is the similar to the words of Jesus recorded in the 6th chapter of Matthew ending with the words: "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:34).
So the message is that we are to use the grace God provides for us today - today.
Let me go through it again.
God doesn't love only those who are sufficiently obedient.
God doesn't love only those who are sufficiently gullible.
God doesn't love only those who are sufficiently subservient.
God doesn't love only those who are sufficiently generous.
God invites us - and by implication all - to enjoy and use the gifts and graces God provides today - today.
At the end of the day, as we do enjoy the gifts and graces of God, and that it is simply unnecessary to worry about tomorrow, or whether we are sufficiently obedient, gullible, subservient or generous enough, we can start to share God's generosity with others, whether they are sufficiently obedient, gullible, subservient or generous enough either.
The message to enjoy God's grace translates into an attitude towards other people, allowing the possibility for them to enjoy the same grace as us. There is an urgency, in the sense that while we don't do this or simply delaying doing so, we are effectively looking askance at others and wondering: "I wonder if God can accept them as God has accepted me?"
I started with a reference to the Holy Communion, of which the manna in the wilderness has always been seen as a precursor. Who is this sacrament for? Is it just for us - those sufficiently obedient, gullible, subservient and charitable? Is it just for us who have managed not to rob a bank, commit murder or other serious sins during our lives? Is it just for us who have found grace not to transgress in a sexual way, and are fortunate enough to relate in an intimate way to someone who is socially acceptable?
We, as good Anglicans, know the grace of God through the sacrament of the Holy Communion. We are bidden to enjoy that grace of God today. There is no need to store it up, or worry that someone who is not worthy might enjoy that grace too.
The only caveat to receiving the sacrament, is that we are to discern the body (1 Cor 11.29), otherwise we "eat and drink judgment against" ourselves. Surely the "body" is the body of Jesus and all for whom he died. And he died for all. So as we worry about whether others are sufficiently obedient, gullible, subservient or charitable, we are judging ourselves with the same criterion.
There is however no need to look at things in a negative sense what so ever. God invites us to enjoy and use the gifts and graces God provides today - today. The good news is that the invitation is to us and to all. The invitation is to look around us, to see, not the bad news that forces itself into our existence, but the overflowing abundance of God's gifts all around us, to take, to enjoy and to allow others to do likewise. Nothing anyone else will take and enjoy will diminish in the slightest the quantity of grace marked for us.
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