A Manna Sharing People

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Below is the sermon I preached at Zion United Lutheran Church on October 8, 2017. It began with the help of the children, who shouted “10, 20, 30, 40!” after each verse of a poem that told the Exodus story. I wrote this poem many years ago as an aid in teaching the Exodus to First Communion students. It was fun to us it again.

(invite children forward)

The people of Israel were sent on their way,
With the special event we call Passover Day.
So off on the Exodus the people went,
Following Moses whom God had sent.
How many years did they travel?   10, 20, 30, 40!

At the Sea called Red
They thought they were dead
But Moses hands went above his head
And through the waters the people were led.
How many years did they travel?   10, 20, 30, 40!

At times they complained they had nothing to eat
So each morning God put manna at their feet.
They also complained their mouths were dry
So water was provided from God on high.
How many years did they travel?   10, 20, 30, 40!

Whenever they marched on during the day
A pillar of smoke would guide the way,
And when they walked in the dark of night,
A pillar of fire would be their light.
How many years did they travel?   10, 20, 30, 40!

They came to Mt. Sinai
Where they heard God say
“You are my people this very day
And I give commands for you to obey.
How many years did they travel?   10, 20, 30, 40!

It was a long trip to the promised land,
But like God had said the place was grand.
Getting to Canaan was no easy ride,
But it taught them to live with God at their side.
How many years did they travel?   10, 20, 30, 40!

Say this prayer after me. Thank you, God. Thank you for the story of Moses. Thank you for leading Israel to the promised land.

         (children return to pews)

The story just described is called the Exodus. It’s the account of Israel’s journey from slavery in Egypt to the land promised them by God.  As they journeyed, God provided food in the form of manna. Every morning, this flake like substance would appear. “Go and gather it,” the Lord commanded, “and take only what each family needs for the day.”

But some people took more than they needed. They quickly discovered that at the end of the day, the left overs went bad. They rotted, and spoiled, and stank.

And the Lord said, “You see, I’m not only giving you daily bread. I am also teaching you how to live when you are settled in Canaan. When you are there, the manna will cease. Instead, you will farm the land for your food. And in doing so, you are to live the spirit of manna. Which means: Share your bread. Order society in a way that all people have enough, and no one has too much.”

When I think of God’s hope for a manna sharing people, I recall a passage from the novel “The Poisonwood Bible.” The setting is a village in Africa. Anatole, a young Congolese man, and Leah, the daughter of an American missionary, are talking to one another.

Anatole says, “When one of the fishermen, let’s say, Tata Boanda, has good luck on the river and comes home with his boat loaded with fish, what does he do?”

Leah replies, “That doesn’t happen very often.”

“No,” agrees Anatole. “But you have seen it happen. What does he do?”

Leah says, “He sings at the top of his lungs and everybody comes and he gives it all away.”

“Even to his enemies?” asks Anatole.

“I guess. Yeah. I know Tata Boanda doesn’t like Tata Zinsana very much, and he gives Tata Zinsana’s wives the most.”

“All right,” says Anatole. “To me that makes sense. When someone has much more than he can use, it’s very reasonable to expect he will not keep it all himself.”

Leah protests, “But Tata Boanda has to give it away, because fish won’t keep. If you don’t rid of all of it, it’s just going to rot and stink to high heaven.”

Anatole smiled and said, “That is just how a Congolese person thinks about money.”

That conversation was written by author Barbara Kingsolver. I don’t know whether or not she intended it as a witness to the Bible’s manna teaching. But it speaks to me of the kind of world God wants: one in which everyone has enough, and no one has too much.

It’s a wonderful vision! But Israel failed to live the manna way. So prophets like Isaiah kept reminding the people of what God wanted. Earlier today we heard such a reminder from Isaiah; a passage in which Israel is called God’s vineyard. God tenderly cared for the vineyard, but if failed to produce the fruits of manna living.

Jesus used Isaiah’s image of the vineyard in today’s Gospel.

Together, Isaiah and Jesus teach us that the earth is the Lord’s, who has entrusted it us. As God’s people, we are to tend it gently and well, sharing its blessings with one another.

What does this life of sharing look like? A week ago today I put something on my Facebook page that gives witness to the blessing. Some background before I tell you what I said.

Recently, I began putting up posts that begin: “Feeling grateful.” It started one day when I was out for a walk, and went past a cornfield, which led me to write how thankful I am for farmers. Another a day I passed the scene of an accident, which led to a note about gratitude for first responders. Another day I was delayed in traffic while workers were installing pipes, and I noted my gratitude for those who care for our community’s infrastructures.

You see what I have been trying to do: notice the many reasons around me for gratitude.

Last Sunday morning, I was here, with you. Later that day, I posted a photo of your church signboard, and wrote these words:

“Feeling grateful. Today I had the privilege of supply preaching at Zion United Lutheran Church, Brodheadsvile, while Pastor Ann Melot was on vacation. Zion is a congregation deeply committed to outreach and inclusion.

“One example of its outreach is participation in Family Promise of Monroe County.  In this ministry, Zion takes a turn providing shelter for homeless families.

“Concerning inclusion, Zion’s bulletin notes: ‘We are aware that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons are often scorned by society and have been excluded from membership in some congregations. At Zion, we wish to make known our caring and concern and we welcome all people regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental ability or disability, age, or station in life. We affirm that each person is God’s unique creation and by God’s grace, each is called a child of God.'”

I concluded my Facebook post with the words: “To the people of Zion: ‘Thank you for your public witness to the values of Jesus.’”

Your commitment to outreach and inclusion exemplifies a manna life.

The past few Sundays we’ve been hearing from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul begins that letter by giving thanks for the faithfulness of the Christians in Philippi. As he continues to write, he notes that the work of the faithful is never complete this side of death. We are always striving for the kind of life God wants.

With Paul, with the faithful of all ages, and with one another, we keep striving toward a manna-sharing vision of the world. We are God’s vineyard, set in this time and place to be signs of mercy and compassion.

Thanks be to God for the role to which the Spirit has called us in sharing the love of Jesus.   Amen.

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