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What is It?


Series: Ordinary TIme

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Exodus 16:2-4

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

There’s a comedian who tells a story of a flight he was on.  At the beginning of the flight, it was announced that there would be wi-fi on the flight, which was an amazing new advancement that no one was expecting.  Then a few hours into the flight, the attendant announced that the wi-fi wasn’t working, and the guy next to him was so upset that the brand new thing he didn’t know about 5 minutes earlier was not working.  “How quickly the world owes him something, he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.”

Human nature seems to have us all forgetting the troubles of the past when we’re presented with new problems in the present.

Some might say the same about the Israelite people….That they had just been released from slavery in Egypt. And here they are complaining. Many interpretations of this passage have led preachers to preach on how we shouldn't complain or grumble. That's one traditional interpretation of this passage. But I don’t think that’s accurate at all. And not only because some of the people closest to me might describe me as a professional complainer. Psalms of lament and complaint to God didn't make it into our Bible as an example of what not to do. To be in a relationship with God, can also mean letting God know about the things that make us unhappy. The trick is not to get stuck there. Even if you’re feeling sorry for yourself,  when something awful happens, I’ve said to my kids, go ahead and feel sorry for yourself, but there’s a 24-hour rule. That rule doesn’t live in the Bible, I made it up. Actually, Uncle Peter who lives in LA made it up, but it works. Go ahead, and have a pity party, but only for a day, and then its time to do something about it. And that works for most of our surfaced problems. But it doesn’t work for life and death problems. It doesn’t work when you’re grieving and it doesn’t work when you’re starving. Which is what the Hebrew people were experiencing.

At least in Egypt, they had their basic needs met, and now after a few months in the wilderness, a life completely unknown to them, they are left on their own to figure it out. They’re hungry and they can’t supply for their own needs. They have been displaced from the system they once knew and they can’t see a way out.

And so they murmur or grumble and this verb is mentioned 5 times in this chapter, its a direct complaint to God, questioning the very core of God’s election and liberation of Israel.

To complain to God is not an irreverent distrust of God, it’s the opposite. It’s being in a relationship with the God you trust has the ability to give you what you lack. Which is precisely why so many of you have heard me say to you, Its ok to complain.

Because God responds, God supplies, and in this chapter, God supplies quail and bread. But with directions. they will receive only a day’s worth of food at a time. Manna is good for 24 hours, then spoils. No use gathering more than they need for the day. But of course they try, and the manna, as promised, spoils. “Give us this day our daily bread,” we pray, but we want more.[1]

As a preacher, I could stop here, and remind all of us, that we, especially we, at St Luke, have more than enough and can, in turn, feed those who are left hungry. We are pretty good at that here. During the REST program, you stepped up. When there’s a diaper need, you’re on it. Last year we met our goal of Pedal for Protein, and I know you’ll do it again this year. We have so much, but it’s also in our human nature to lose sight of just how much we have. We get used to it quickly which is just one reason why practicing our faith is so important. The more we recognize every piece of our good fortune as a gift from God, the greater our response in love to others. Love God, love others. Be so filled with God’s abundance that gratitude leaves you overflowing with compassion for those who are in need. Love God, love others.

So we could stop there, but this rich Exodus passage is layered with depth. When God sends meat and bread to the people -And says; ‘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.’“

You shall know…This is the piece we skip over so easily. For a few reasons. One because we think about this as though God is saying, I’ll supply the food, a miracle, and then you’ll know that I’m your God. But there’s another kind of knowing, that isn’t necessarily logical and intellectual. The book of Exodus repeatedly points to a different kind of knowing. To know experientially, to know in the body, embedded in emotions. It includes intimacy, concern, communication, mutuality, and connection. To know the Lord means to witness or experience God’s love; that is God’s display of the active, saving, and divine presence of God.[2]


In Seminary, we spent weeks on one word that’s to be understood this way; remembrance. Do this in remembrance of me, is not a remembering like we recall memories with our minds. Jesus wasn’t saying, think about me. To eat of this bread and this wine in remembrance is to feel with our whole body the gift of life itself that comes through experiencing Jesus. Try explaining love with your head, and you’re bound to come up short. Try feeling it with your whole body, and you’re bound to get goosebumps.

To know something with reason, your head is similar to an answer, a finite equation. To know something as an experience is similar to an open question without an answer. It stays alive longer, it breathes and moves.

Which is why I was so struck, by this word manna, which for years I assumed was translated bread. But manna, as I talked about in the weekly email, is a word that means What is it? That’s what the Israelites asked when God sent this flaky substance to the people. What is it? There have been a few potlucks when I’ve asked that question too. What is it?

When we are in the midst of waking up to the presence of God in those moments the Holy Spirit takes over and goosebumps and tears and laughter take over, we are experiencing something so much greater than anything we can explain. A God whose very name in Hebrew is not a name at all, a face we cannot see, a definition that language can’t do justice. What is it?

We live in a culture that loves answers, and to be left living with questions is not celebrated. Which is why I cherish this quote by Rainer Rilke who lives in the end of the 19th century into the early part of the 20th.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”


Rev Bentley Stewart and I talk scripture about once a week now. He reminded me that when he preached on this text a few years ago, he titled the sermon, Eat the Questions. What is it? Eat the question, the way the Israelites ate the bread from God, as a means to come to know the God who wants nothing more than for us to be in a relationship.

The other scripture for today's lectionary comes from John 6.

Scott Hozee, Preacher, and writer for the Center in Excellence on Preaching, talks about Jesus’s use of the word eat in John 6.

In most of the chapter Jesus used the typical Greek word for “to eat.” It was the word phagein which, had you been a Greek-speaking parent back then, was the word you would have used when you said to your child, “Jimmy, eat your carrots now!” But suddenly in verse 54, Jesus switches to the word trogein, a word which meant something like “to chew with your mouth open.” This is the word a parent would use if a child was smacking his food and chewing in a rather rude and impolite way: “Jimmy, don’t eat like a pig! Keep your mouth closed when you chew!”

Jesus seems intent on drawing out the startling scandal of what he is saying here. He doesn’t merely say, “Eat my flesh,” but goes further: “Chew on me, smack your lips over me, eat in a way that no one will miss what you are doing because they will be able to see what’s in your mouth!” In other words, Jesus seems determined here to do everything he can to prevent his hearers that day from envisioning a nice sacrament of bread and juice served on silver trays from a table with a nice linen covering. Jesus is steering us away from picturing people politely and discretely popping bread into their mouths.

To know Christ when we come to this table is to remember with our whole bodies the incredible sorrow and the joy we’ve experienced through the presence of God. The suffering and the healing. The bondage and the freedom that is owed to God and Christ. To remember is to remember with our whole body the love that is given freely and undeserved, again and again despite what a jerk I can be. The many ways we've been delivered and saved from ourselves. That’s the God we worship, the one we try to define, but can’t. That's our life, the one we live in but never fully know until things fall apart and God brings the pieces back together in ways we could never have imagined. That's the joy we experience when we’re able to see life as though we're seeing life again for the first time, through the eyes of a child, with wonder at the abundance of all we have and have been provided. That’s where we come to know this God who wants us to know that he is the Lord our God.

Finally, God rests from bringing bread for one day a week. To love God, to come to know God requires something of us. On that day, we rest to reflect on all that we have been provided. We don’t hoard up, we don’t work, we don't need on that day. This is God’s day. A day to allow the goodness of God to fill us without distractions. Why? So that we might take that goodness back into the world. Rest on the Sabbath, let this day and this table and this bread of life fill you up so that you are left with no choice but to take that life, that bread, and that goodness into the world around you, filling those in need literally with your donations, and spiritually with your love. In Christ, there is no distinction. In God, there is no distinction. Bread is life. Do this and know that I am the Lord your God. Do this in remembrance of me.




[2] Feasting on the Word, Rein Bos