Reformation Sunday 2017
Elim is an oasis in the wilderness. There are springs of water and palm trees in abundance. It is a welcome place to rest from the harsh realities of desert wandering. The Israelites enjoyed themselves there. But the time comes to move on, Elim is not the promised land and there is more journey to make. And like cranky children in the middle of the thirteen-hour car ride to Disneyworld, they are reluctant to get a move on.
Complaints start immediately. “It’s hot.” “We’re tired.” “Why do we have to go?” “When are we going to get there?” “Why did we have to leave Egypt?” “We’re hungry!” They despair. Better they should have died well-fed slaves, than free and starving. Their journey is only 45 days old and already they have lost faith in God’s leadership, so they turn on God’s representative. Moses has led them to this Godforsaken place to kill them.
A food crisis has led to a faith crisis. The people cannot discern God’s presence in the ordinary, everydayness of their wilderness journey, so they begin to deny God’s existence.
In response, with nary a word of anger at these grumbling travelers, and in stark contrast to the hail God rained on Egypt, God promises to “rain” down bread from heaven. It is a testimony to God’s new creation. Even in the Godforsaken wilderness, life and blessing abound. Here the Israelites are invited to witness God’s presence in the naturalness of the everyday world. No longer will only the extraordinary, such as pillars of fire and parted seas revel God, the everyday world reveals God in each moment. That is the true gift of bread from heaven, manna.
I have been exploring significant words of scripture these past months. In this time of our annual stewardship journey – a journey that sometimes our finance committee may see as a journey in the wilderness!- manna is an excellent word for us to grasp.
In offering the Lord’s Prayer, have you ever wondered what our “daily bread” was? Well this is where it got started. As the Israelites make their way, Manna, a sweet, sticky grainy substance forms on the earth. It contains nutrients that can sustain life. Yet it melts in the heat of the sun, so it must be collected in the early hours after the dawn, as the daily ration for a household, their daily bread.
Manna is the visible revelation of our reliance on God in the ordinary of each day. Beyond the extraordinary revelations of a healing, or deliverance from Egypt, we can rely on God in each moment of our lives.
Lest we forget, manna is a reminder that we are not as self-sufficient as we think. The sun and the rain are ordinary requirements for life that are beyond our control. They are the ordinariness of God.
Manna, then, is our signal to be grateful for the journey we are on, without sentimental longing for the past, but rather in awed assurance that God is with us every ordinary step we take. The Israelites still have a long way to go in the wilderness, that too, is a sign, our ordinary journeys will include wilderness wanderings. There are deserts out there. But God resides not simply in the oasis of our lives, but the those hot, arid, parched desert steps will all take, as well.
That, then, is why, for even the small, ordinary, everyday things of life, we are to live in gratitude, rather than the moaning petulance of the Israelites.
What can our gratitude look like? Well, two golfers stepped up to the first tee on the St. Andrews course in New York, one of America's oldest courses. The elder one was a kindly man who played a thoughtful, deliberate game. The younger fellow was full of pride and impatience. On the first hole he sliced, lost his ball in the tall grass, shot another one, and had a score of eight instead of four or five. On the second tee he began to lecture the caddie: "Keep your eye peeled. I'm not here to do your job for you!" Thereafter, every bad shot was the caddie's fault! At the end of the first nine holes, the young man was so enraged that he discharged the caddie and carried his own bag. "That caddie doesn't like me," he said to his companion, " and I'm darn sure I don't like him. He made me nervous. Thank God he's gone!"
They played several holes on the back nine without a word. Finally, the older player broke the silence: "Several years ago a little kid from Yonkers came up here and was taken on as a caddie. He was a wonderfully sweet-natured boy; quick-witted, willing, and had a nose for golf. Everybody liked him. His name was William; he had a club foot. But that didn't affect his quality as a caddie. It was a pleasure to go out with him. A famous doctor, a member of the club, became interested in William and took him South on a long trip. When William returned, he went back to caddying. The doctor, however, had to give up golf shortly after that because of his health. He died a few months later.
One morning I was playing a round with William carrying my bag. Spring was running riot all over Westchester County and the fields and hedges were alive with blossoms. William gathered flowers until he had quite a bouquet. 'Who's the girl, William?' I asked. 'I haven't any girl, sir,' he said sheepishly. 'They're for my friend, the doctor--twice a week I take flowers to his grave.' "You see," The man went on, "the doctor took him down South that winter and operated on his foot. He made the boy whole again. And William never forgot the doctor's act of kindness."
"Now that's a caddie worth having," the younger man said. "What ever happened to this William?" "He carried your bag today for the first nine holes.”
Like the Israelites, we can have a skewed vision of our true needs. It is all too easy to overlook God’s simple presence in our lives assuming it will always be extraordinary.
In his autobiography, Breaking Barriers, syndicated columnist Carl Rowan tells about a teacher who greatly influenced his life. Rowan relates: Miss Thompson reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper containing a quote attributed to Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. I listened intently as she read: "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us."
More than 30 years later, I gave a speech in which I said that Frances Thompson had given me a desperately needed belief in myself. A newspaper printed the story, and someone mailed the clipping to my beloved teacher. She wrote me: "You have no idea what that newspaper story meant to me. For years, I endured my brother's arguments that I had wasted my life. That I should have married and had a family. When I read that you gave me credit for helping to launch a marvelous career, I put the clipping in front of my brother. After he'd read it, I said, 'You see, I didn't really waste my life, did I?'"
Like the Israelites, we can fail to see that the journey we are on, despite its desert-like setbacks, makes a difference in the people we meet.
As Rusty Hopkins noted in his letter a few weeks ago, we are God’s resources for managing the gifts God has given. That starts with our gratitude for the manna each of us has received: the tools and resources that allow us to meet the challenges of each day. This week, financial commitment cards will be mailed to each household. Our leaders will return their commitments next Sunday, and the congregation is urged to return them on Sunday November 12.
Your financial gifts are crucial for CPC. In making a financial commitment, you will be sharing the gift of God’s ordinary, everyday presence. There is not much flashy or extraordinary, at CPC. It is just the day to day, ordinary ministry of caring and being for one another, teaching and listening to one another, of sustaining this facility, keeping the lights and air on, using the staff as effectively as possible, so that on this corner, there is manna for those who hunger.