The world is a very complicated place. Sometimes we come here on Sunday morning, longing for someone to tell us that everything will be all right. But perhaps more than that, we come longing for someone to connect with – to care. To encourage and to help us. For centuries now the church has been an alternate community – a place where things are done differently, where relationships are different. We have to work at it, of course. But when we build each other up…when we support each other…when we keep in mind that we are the people that follow God….community happens when we are TOGETHER.
I. Complaints are a part of developing relationships. They aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Complaints involve, on the one hand, sharing when something isn’t working – and on the other hand, an opportunity to view the world from a different point of view. Communication, after all, is one of the essential keys to relationship!
In this episode of the Exodus story, the people of Israel were murmuring and grumbling, about a very real problem. Food supplies were running out quickly and endless sand lay before them. Two weeks ago they were at the oasis of Elim. But the wilderness offered no visible way of replenishing diminishing food supplies. NOTE: Nothing in the text condemns the complainers. They brought a real problem to their leader and God. The genre of scripture called LAMENTS bring complaints before God and call God to act. It’s a completely OKAY thing to do.
In the story, God hears their complaints. God recognizes their needs. And God acts. How God acts reveals a couple of significant things. 1. For one thing, God acts to meet their need for food, not to berate them for complaining. 2. But the other aspect of God’s answer is really important for us to pay attention to: God shows them a new way of living with provisions. In Egypt, food was gathered and put into storehouses. Food and wealth, were held closely – we might say saving or hoarding. But God delivers the food in a DAILY way. “Morning by morning, new mercies I see…” We might say, “Toto, we’re not in Egypt anymore.” What’s happening here is something completely different.
In Egypt, Pharaoh wouldn’t hear complaints, which meant that he didn’t have to respond. But God hears and responds to the needs of the people.[i] “Toto, we’re not in Egypt anymore.” What’s happening here is something completely different. These folks are used to meat and baked bread. Manna is different, not what they expect as “bread” – and they can’t hoard it or it gets ____(worms)___.This food comes with a test – can they trust God enough to just gather what they need for the day? It’s tough – especially for people with food insecurity. Today, hundreds of millions of people do not have security that they will have food the next day.[ii] That’s one reason that we are going to Feed My Starving Children to pack meals – so that children have nutritious food to eat twice a day in places where they would otherwise go hungry. All ages are welcome. You can sign up, or I’ll sign you up – just let me know. Concern for feeding people is also why we feed 52 homeless neighbors every week, and provide them with breakfast on Friday and a sack lunch – food for the day. In our story, the wandering Exodus people have to trust, and not hoard food as they would have under Pharaoh. “Toto, we’re not in Egypt anymore.” What’s happening here is something completely different. They are learning to trust God, to build a relationship with God in part by communicating real needs. Communication is a key part of building a relationship!
II. Becoming a Community – Becoming a Team.
Building connection, building community is a challenge when we are very different. We have different values, expectations and dreams. God calls us to unity and working together. United. Together.
The Exoduswanderers were a diverse group. Not just former slaves, but “a diverse crowd” (12.38) left Egypt. Scholars call the Hebrews Afro-Asiatic – a mixed ethnic heritage. The tribal intermarriage valued in Isaac’s generation changed in 2 generations with some sons of Jacob marrying Canaanite women (Judah and Simeon Gen 38.2 and 46:10) and Joseph married an Egyptian woman. Anybody remember her name? Asenath. (Gen. 41:50) Their children became tribes of Israel, despite being half-Egyptian (Ephraim and Manassah).[iii] There are some keys to developing a community with a diverse group of people.
1. ** Teach trust in God. That’s counter-cultural, and it unites us. It changes all previous patterns. We start to become the group of people who follow God, who trust God. Through the Red Sea, through the desert, eating daily manna and quail when it comes…people who trust God.
2. Stay focused on the ONE THING. Paul was building community too. Here’s Paul’s (pointer finger up) ONE THING we must do: Stay on track. Stand firm. “Conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That’s all. JB Philipps says it this way, “But whatever happens, make sure that your everyday life is worthy of the Gospel of Christ… standing fast in a united spirit, battling with a single mind for the faith of the Gospel.”[iv]
“I want to tell you how to live,” Paul says. In a world fraught by divisions, in churches and even families divided – work together with 1 mind (or soul) – even when you disagree. Unity comes in the Spirit. “Because we have the Word of Life,” we can become united in THAT.[v]
In Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger tells the story of Hal and Gus. Hal is blind. Gus is an amputee living in a wheelchair. Alone, they would be shut-ins. But Hal pushes Gus, and Gus directs Hal and together they get where they want to go. ONLY together. This is the deeper truth of what Paul was saying: We NEED each other. We are only effective together – when united in the SPIRIT.
Unity is possible because we are united in the Spirit. (We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord…) Our unity should define us more than anything that divides or separates us. We, like those Exodus wanderers, are called to be the people who have a relationship with God – even who trust God. Together. Daily. Morning by morning…even in times of wilderness and chaos, we trust that God’s economy of manna – daily bread – “grace, gift, equality and trust will have the final say…” and that is what makes us different. Even counter-cultural.[vi]
You see, our goal here is to be united in Christ as the foundation of who we are. We want to see each other as our siblings, united in God’s spirit. Our differences are far less important than that fundamental truth. SO HERE is the place that we come when we are hurting – knowing that we are loved. HERE is the place that we come with our troubles –knowing that we will be cared for and encouraged. HERE is the place we come when we can’t do it alone – because no one expects us to. We are to take life on TOGETHER. God calls us to work together, to overcome together, to be God’s people together.
We are called to be the people who trust in God, even enough to communicate when we need help. And to tackle life united by the Spirit – together. To offer each other love and support and encouragement even when we have different opinions. Because life is intended to be experienced in this community with God – together. The word of God for the people of God…
[i]Anathea Portier-Young, “Commentary on Exodus 16: 2-15,” workingpreacher.org [ii]Anathea Portier-Young, “Commentary on Exodus 16: 2-15,” workingpreacher.org [iii]Wil Gafney, “Commentary on Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15.” workingpreacher.org. [iv]JB Phillips, Letters to Young Churches, 117. [v]Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Philippians, 48. [vi]Dennis Olson, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Princeton Theological Seminary quoted in “Leadership in the Wilderness,” Bill Laramee.