Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2017 — Preaching Notes

September 24, 2017 (Year A)
by Taylor Burton-Edwards

Season of Creation  |  FOOD

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The LORD spoke to Moses and said,

"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.'"

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When 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.
(Exodus 16:11-15, NRSV)

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and pilots us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise of the Creatures, st. 8, line 2, translation mine

Ever get hangry?

You know, hangry: that special kind of short-fused anger you get when you’re getting hungry and there’s no food in sight.

I think I first discovered “hangry” the summer of 1986 just after I first got married and moved to Louisville with my new bride, before seminary classes were to start, and we were spending many of our days out shopping to make our tiny new apartment a livable home.

We didn’t have much money, so we were both looking for the best bargains for the things we needed (which often meant a lot more driving because this was pre-Internet) and trying to avoid eating out, which was much more expensive than preparing meals back at the apartment. So as the days of shopping, looking, thinking, and often deciding we needed to look one or two more places before deciding would stretch on, and we were 30 minutes from home, and it would take another 30 minutes at least to prepare dinner, by late afternoon I started to get really acquainted with hangry.

We both did.

It wasn’t pretty.

But we got through it.

And we also learned that maybe stretching the outer limits of how long we could stand to shop without a meal in sight wasn’t the best idea for either of us, or anyone who’d have to put up with us.

Hangry is a thing. Never mess with a hangry person… if you know what’s good for you.

The good news is hangry has a simple solution, a solution that changes everything—stop what you’re doing, and eat!

Do that, and it’s amazing how much better you feel, and how much nicer the world and everyone around you can turn out to be.

Now, imagine you are Moses in the story we read to day from Exodus 16. He’s not dealing with one hangry spouse. He’s facing the makings of a whole nation of hangry people. They’ve just gone through the stress of crossing the Red Sea and establishing camp, twice, and they’ve just left a place with a sound water source (twelve springs, per Exodus 15:27), but now they’re on the move again, into the Sinai Wilderness, a place with little vegetation and not particularly promising as a place for hunting. They’d been on the move for two months since they left Egypt. So whatever food supplies they may have brought with them from Egypt had run out.

They were hangry. Very, very hangry.

Our classic  English translations have a way of putting their response to all of this rather mildly. “They murmured against Moses.” We hear murmur as just above a whisper, a negative whisper to be sure, but still, not that serious. The NRSV does a better job with “complained.”  The Hebrew root verb here means, more literally, “made a howling of distress,” and thus, figuratively, complained. But you get the idea. The noise level was not just above a whisper. This was serious. It was more like a howl.

A howl of hanger.

If you’ve been around churches as long as I have, or maybe even not nearly as long, you’ve probably heard this story cited as an example of the lack of faith of the people and unjustifiable complaint against Moses.

But if you remember your hangry times, and then you consider just how hungry and exhausted this whole assembly of people must have been, then you know that’s not what’s going on. These people needed food. And there was none in sight.
"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!” (Exodus 16:3, NRSV). That’s no murmur. It’s not even a complaint. That’s a howl.

How do you think God responded? Or maybe, how have you heard it described God responded here? If you’re experience is like mine, God was clearly frustrated with the complaints of the people after he’d rescued them and taken such good care of them so far. How dare they complain? How dare they raise their voice against Moses? But, okay, I’ll give them something to shut them up, at least.

I tell you, honestly, that’s the sense of this story I heard over and over again in churches for a very long time.

But it’s not at all what the Bible says.

No. That’s how Moses first translated God’s response to the people.

But it’s not how God responded.

There was no hesitation on God’s part.

Right away, God said, “I’m going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.”

These are not the words of a parent frustrated by the adverse behavior of the kids. These are the words of a God ready to bless the people abundantly, without reserve, pouring out for them all they could need or want. Yes, the “rain-bread” would be a bit odd — the people later didn’t know what to call it when they saw it, and so said “Man-hu”— what’s this? — and so it became called “manna.”

But God didn’t provide just rain-bread every morning. There would be flocks of quail every evening as well. And a double portion before the Sabbath, though none on that day.

Bread and meat for their continuing journey.

God heard the howls, the legitimate howls. God heard the hanger behind them, and never took it personally. And God provided, abundantly.

God fed the people with bread and meat from the sky.

And that’s the point. God abundantly feeds us from the bounty of the earth.

And so God is truly to be praised through her.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and pilots us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise of the Creatures, st. 8, line 2, translation mine

Sometimes, for God to be praised through our sister, Mother Earth, we have to do more than marvel at creation’s bounty that can sustain our lives and pilot our minds toward the soul-sustaining contemplation of its variegated and wondrous beauty.

Sometimes, yes, we’ve got to let ourselves be sustained by her.

And sometimes, we’ve got to help others find the sustenance of body and mind they need through her.

God is to be praised for the gift of food. For it is surely a gift, even when we’re not hangry.

We increase God’s praise when we address not just our own hanger, but the legitimate howls of hanger or hunger, “the cries of the needy,” as we pray in our confession of sin, cries we are called to hear as Christ’s body, are respond to with whatever means we have, just as God did, and longs to do through us — without hesitation.

No hesitation. “I was hungry, and you… told me to go somewhere else?”

“I was hungry, and you… ignored me?”

“I was hungry, and you… told me you didn’t appreciate my tone of voice or the way I let you know I was hungry before you decided to feed me?”

No. “I was hungry. And you fed me.”

No excuses. No hesitation. Just hear the cries, the howls, the hanger... and act.

Praised be God.

Categories: Year A, Sixteenth Sunday After the Pentecost — September 24, 2017