Manna, that’s what we’re celebrating today. Manna in the wilderness, sustenance for the journey. But also a question. “Manna” in Hebrew translates as, “What is it?” The perfect question for this odd stuff that just appeared in the wilderness every morning. You can picture the dining table, when the teenagers come down from their loft in the tent, and they stare at the stuff mom has served up, and they wrinkle their noses and look at each other, and then look at mom and ask the inevitable question: “What is it?” And mom nods and says “Yes.”
A perfect drama for the worship service. But how do we celebrate a question? There are many approaches one could take to this text. Perhaps the most obvious would be the sustenance question. “The Lord will provide.” It could be a harvest celebration of sorts, here in the middle of September, a way of being thankful to God for the growing and harvesting seasons. Built into the way the world works is the means for caring for our most basic needs. We give God thanks for the food we take for granted each day.
Of course, our gratitude should expand to include all of those who have something to do with the food that we eat, the food that for many of us is easily accessible. Does this sound like a Thanksgiving service? Perhaps, but is thanksgiving something that can only be done on the fourth Thursday of November?
Also, how do we give attention to those who don’t have enough, who aren’t sustained by the easy access to abundant food available? How does our gratitude spill over into service? Perhaps this week you could plan for or announce a “manna gathering” that would then be shared with the increasingly overburdened food pantries in your neighborhood. But don’t root around in your pantry for the items you found inedible and pass them off, causing those who have a need to ask, “What is it?”
That’s another avenue for worship, inquiring of God. Perhaps this worship experience should be one of contemplation, having the worshipers asking what God is doing in their midst. What is the providence that God is offering that we overlook because we don’t recognize it? There might be a difficult situation in our lives that causes us to ask, “What is it?” in a way that allows God’s grace to blow through that moment.
What are the surprising things that God is doing in the community of faith as a whole? How do we train ourselves, condition ourselves to ask what is it that God is doing in this moment, in this event, in this opportunity or crisis? Our prayers could be prayers of openness to the Spirit of God at work in the mundane things of our lives. We can pray for the faith that says God is acting in our lives each and every day, even when we don’t understand, or fail to recognize the divine presence.
Images should be of God’s abundance, whether that be food as it grows and is served, or the joy of the community at work (safely) together. Music can remind us of how God provides and that we can trust in that, even as we work alongside to help everyone experience the abundance of God.
One of the realities of the wilderness is that not everyone can see God at work, not everyone can participate in the abundance of God. Distribution is always an issue, even when it comes to the grace of God. So, part of the purpose of the community of faith is to help others see God’s hand at work and often to be that hand by how we share the abundance we have experienced. Those who serve know of the joy of hearing someone ask in wonder, “What is it?” so that we can respond, “It is the grace of God.” Even in the wilderness, there is grace enough for all.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.