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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

We Worry Like The Hebrews - 08/05/2018

Earlier this summer I was listening to a podcast on preaching in the car and the woman was talking about the words of Jesus we find in both Luke and Matthew. I prefer the Luke version (Luke 12:22-32) because I like ravens: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,” Jesus said to the disciples. “What you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.” And then the woman on the podcast made one of those comments you hear from time to time that seem so obvious when you hear it, and also helps you realize you sometimes live rather obliviously to that which is obvious. In this case, she said out of all the vast and diverse creation we can see all around us … and probably a lot more that we cannot see … we humans are the only ones of God’s creatures who have to be reminded that God provides.

When Larry and I were on Keweenaw mountain bike trails with our grandsons just a week ago or so, that thought kept coming back to me, especially when I’d spot a raven flying high above us … “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse or barn, and yet God feeds them.”

Or when we’d come into a field of wildflowers that were indeed clothed more beautifully and richly than even Solomon in his finest robes. And all the while, I’d be worrying at some level about whether or not I packed enough snacks in my back pack for the kids, even though I had, and we were surrounded by ripe thimbleberries almost everywhere we went.

We just go there, sometimes, into that place of worry, no matter our experience of God or evidence of God’s abundance right before our eyes. I think it is why I like these from the Old Testament. They remind us that we come by these tendencies naturally … we can be oblivious to the obvious too.

And these stories also help us remember that God entered into this God-initiated, God-driven relationship with us knowing full well that we have a tendency to forget God’s promise to take care of us; that we will worry about whether we will have food to eat or clothes to wear; that we often have to fend off the urge to worry about our very lives. And we do all of this despite our experiences of God, despite what we say we believe about God. We are very much like the Israelites we read about in Exodus today.

Consider the raven’s eye view of what has happened to these people. They were born into slavery under the Egyptians, most of them. This is not the way God intends for any people to live – under the thumb of the privileged, expendable as barn cats. And so they cried out to God and God heard them and worked through Moses to free them.

They witnessed miraculous things happen to Pharaoh and his people at the hand of God … waters turned to blood; there were plagues of locusts, disease, frogs, gnats, flies; death came upon all the first born creatures of Egypt, human and animal alike. After that particular experience, Pharaoh finally relented and freed the Israelite people, led by Moses and his siblings, Aaron and Miriam. They were off to find a promised land where they could live in God’s peace and security and freedom.

Where we meet up with the Israelites today, they are still on that long wilderness journey to the Promise Land. But their powerful experiences of God have persisted, starting with the moment Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his armies to attack the newly freed Israelites. God parted the sea so the people could get across safely and then when the Egyptian army came like thunder behind them on horses and chariots, God brought the sea back together and wiped out the whole army.

The people were amazed at what they saw and they sang with Miriam a song celebrating their experience of God. “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed,” they sang on that shore. “You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession, the place, O Lord, that you made your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established. The Lord will reign forever and ever.” (Ex 15:13a, 17-18)

And then, right after that rather extraordinary experience, they headed into the wilderness with no food and water. When they did finally find some water at Marah, it was not good. It was bitter and probably poisonous water and so the people got really worried. The worry ramped up to panic quickly and they complained to Moses and Aaron and Miriam. God heard the worry and the complaints and made the bitter waters of Marah sweet and life-giving for the people. And the Lord said to the people, I will take care of you. All I ask is that you obey the law I will give to you … a law that will keep you close to me, give you all you need in this life, and make you a blessing to all who encounter you.

“Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.” (Ex 15:27)

Their experience of God was astounding. They could feel it in their freedom. They could see it in the defeat of their slave master. They could taste it in the now-sweet waters of Marah. They could hear it and smell it in the evening breeze as they safely camped under those palm trees.

So how did they respond? That’s where we pick up the story today. When we look at the overall arc of the story, we might think based on experience, the Israelites would respond to the challenges to come with confidence and courage because they’ve seen that God’s got their backs.

But that’s not what happens. They respond with more of the same complaining and fear, only now the drama is ramped up too. “The Israelites said to (Moses, Aaron and Miriam), ‘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.’” (Ex 16:3)

Yeah, right. That’s probably exactly what those siblings talked about at their last planning meeting for the Exodus. “Hey, I know, let’s bring all these people out into the middle the nowhere and starve to death with them,” one suggests. “Sounds good to me,” the other two chime in.

It’s not a logical response – but we, like the Israelites, have this tendency. I saw it in myself on those mtb rides. I’ve seen it happen in families – including my own. Times when we can plainly see how God has been working in us or someone we love or care about, or in some messed up situation. We can see God acting to bring about sobriety or restoration of health or forgiveness or repentance or whatever is necessary to achieve wholeness and life. And even so we cannot manage to stay focused on that abundance because we cannot help but imagine and worry about relapses or continued brokenness or whatever worst case scenarios we let our minds and hearts drown in.

And then, before we know it, we are complaining and living in fear as though God has stopped working in that life or that situation. Because, yeah, that’s something God promised us …. Never. It’s a challenging human tendency we are created with, one we have to pay attention to our whole lives. And although that may be tough news, there is Good News here too.

Remember also the other piece I believe we can draw on as we find ourselves and our own tendencies to worry and fear in the stories of the Israelites on the Exodus journey.

Remember. God created and knows everything about us. God is fully aware of this tendency we have to worry about where our food and water comes from even when the bitter waters are made sweet and manna appearsslike ripe thimbleberries right there before us. 

God knows that we often worry about whether we are beautiful and shimmering enough … even though we also know we are created just as we are in the image of a beautiful and shimmering God.

God knows that we often have to work at fending off the urge to worry about our very lives, despite our experience of God, despite what we say we believe about God.

And there – as followers of Jesus – I think we can connect the relatability of our Old Testament text to the Good News of our text from John – where this God who knows full and well of our tendencies to worry and fear places the obvious before the people, before us. It is Jesus, the Messiah, our shimmering and beautiful manna from heaven … manna enough for everyone and forever.

God hears us cry out of our tendency to worry about what we will eat and drink and sends us Jesus – The Bread of Life who fulfills all hunger and all thirst at the Table of the Lord.

God in Jesus knows we doubt that we do indeed shimmer in the beautiful ways we are created and so comes to us in baptismal waters and rich anointing oils to remind us of where we come from and who words through our beauty and our brokenness.

God heard the cry of the suffering and experienced firsthand what it is like for a human to fear for their life in God’s walk among us as Jesus. And then God slammed the doors shut on that fear overtaking us when God died on a human cross, defeated sin and death and rose from the grave for the sake of all.

We are fed. We are quenched. We are beautiful. We are saved even from the grips of our brokenness and death. God has made all that obvious to us in Jesus. So Let that which is obvious break into wherever we are oblivious. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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