Monday, August 06, 2018

Pentecost 11B

Exodus 16:1-15

1The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The 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." 4Then 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." 6So 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, 7and 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?" 8And 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."

9Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.'" 10And 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. 11The 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.'" 13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."

Can God really set a table in the wilderness? Can God really provide a feast in the desert? Psalm 78:19b

Welcome to the eleventh Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost! We've journeyed two-thirds of the way through this Year of Grace, not only as People of LCM, but together with the entire ecumenical church, the worldwide church catholic.

Today's first reading is from Exodus, the second book of the Pentateuch, a name we give to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: penta=5. When we include Joshua, the sixth book of the Old Testament, we can refer to the Hexateuch: hex=6. I began with a verse from earlier in Psalm 78 than the portion appointed today as our responsive psalm. (Too sad the lectionary peeps didn't include it.)

Similar to the word exit, Exodus means leaving or departure. You probably know most of the Exodus account about God's people Israel escaping slave labor in Egypt, wandering through a series of deserts in total trust of God's provision on their way to the Promised Land, receiving the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant during their trek.

Let's talk about Heilsgeschichte! It's a technical German theological term that means salvation history: Heil=salvation, redemption; Geschichte=history. Heilsgeschichte brings together fairly objective, empirical facts with the lived experiences of the people, often with a sense of saga or myth; Heilsgeschichte has a far great degree of density than the cause and effect history we study in school.

In terms of the Exodus narrative, it's very unlikely a huge group of thousands of people left Egypt together in one fell swoop for the promised land under a leader names Moses. However, almost definitely quite a few smaller groups or bands of people escaped harsh conditions trying to survive under empire and spent quite a lot of time wandering through the desert in trust, relying on God's provision. The book of Exodus formally and officially got compiled from different written and oral sources after the Babylonian captivity, as a committee put together several discrete narratives. Again, the salvation history of God, people, and creation is far denser (I love that word!) than conventional history. It includes saga, myth, meaning, emotion.

At the start of today's reading, God's people have left Egypt and passed through the Sea of Reeds (sometimes called Red Sea); we've enjoyed freedom songs of Moses and Miriam; experienced Moses throwing a healthy tree branch into bitter water to make the waters at Marah potable; after the current reading they'll watch Moses strike a rock at Horeb with his shepherd's staff at God's command in order to give everyone water to assuage their thirst. In a foretaste of Sabbath-keeping, God instructs Moses, "On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." Along with Deuteronomy, Exodus is one of our two main sources for the Ten Commandments, but they don't happen until chapter 20 of Exodus.

In Genesis we mostly encounter the people of God as a family that grows from nuclear to extended; you remember the stories of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in Genesis. Exodus is about identity-formation as God's people become a nation, a constituted (echoing our familiar word constitution) people. The Ten Commandments become the touchstone of their identity.

Today's text includes bread of Egypt that was counted, stockpiled, all administrated up—in our world, bread/food of empire even contains preservatives, will last almost forever, and in general isn't particularly healthy or life-giving. This Exodus passage contrasts breads and foods of Egypt/empires with the freedom bread and other types of sustenance God provides as gifts of grace. Whether four thousand years ago or right here and now in 2018, freedom bread is healthy and life-giving; it doesn't stay fresh very long, so there's no point in stockpiling or hoarding it. Steve told us an employee of a nearby grocery store mentioned they got a whole lot more bugs when they began bringing in and selling more organic food; read the rest of Exodus16 and find out what happened when the people tried to save some manna for later!

Manna is a semitic word asking "what is it?" The manna itself might have been cilantro/coriander; it could have been tamarisk. Scripture and church talk about the Kingdom of God, Reign of Heaven, Kingdom of Heaven, Reign of God. Here we read about the Rain of God, as God rains nutritious food from the sky!

Can God really set a table in the wilderness? Can God really provide a feast in the desert? Psalm 78:19b

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