Enough, or: Relying on Manna in a Pandemic
Scripture: Exodus 16:2-15
No audio is available. Please visit our YouTube page to watch a recording of the live Zoom service.
Tuesday marked six months in quasi-lockdown. Up until six months ago, Zoom meant going very fast. I never thought that the thing that might finally convince me to try contacts was the foggy experience of wearing a mask AND glasses. Remember when we’d applaud medical or “front line” workers each night at shift change? How long ago does that seem now? Phrases like “we’ll get through it together” have become advertising and marketing clichés.
There are other mantras we hear a lot, things like “one day at a time” or Anne Lamott’s “Bird by bird” or “Just gotta make it to midnight”.
And that’s all well and good, but I like to plan! I like to know what to expect! I want informational emails from Dr. Fauci himself telling me exactly what will happen next month…how can I plan and feel safe if I don’t even know what will happen next week?!
The Israelites were in the wilderness on the 15th day of the second month (so about 45 days), the novelty of zoom- I mean, freedom- had begun to wear off, and God’s people were hangry. They were likely not being their best selves, ganging up on Moses and Aaron, taking their stress out on their loved ones, you know the drill…They were saying things like, “why didn’t you just let us die in Egypt?! At least we had food there! But no, look what happened- you brought us out of slavery so we could starve to death in the desert!”. So God delivers the manna. And the story continues that God tells them that only to harvest what they need for that day.
Now, think back to the very early days of the pandemic- anyone who uses toilet paper knows that sense of vague fear, insecurity, and impulse to hoard that came over us all back in March and April. If you, down to your last few squares, had come across a store that was stocked full of all kinds of toilet paper, with a sign saying “please only take one package per family member”…wouldn’t you have been tempted to …maybe count those cousins that live across the country as family members? I know I would have. But we figured it out eventually, and we no longer buy toilet paper by the cart-full. Just what we need for between now and our next grocery trip.
Some of the Israelites tried to hoard the manna, or maybe they saw it as prudent meal-prepping; saving for a rainy day. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Plan? Save? Be prudent?
Well they opened their secret Tupperware full of manna the next day to find it smelly, rotten, and full of maggots. The people soon learned to trust in God's providence- they learned to trust that God would ensure they had what they needed, not for the whole week or the whole month, but for the whole day, every day. This is why we pray for our daily bread…
But…relying on daily bread as our only sustenance can feel precarious, right? It can feel unsafe, risky, not-totally-secure to only have what we need for one day. To receive what we so hunger for in single, daily portions. We want to save up, to plan ahead, to meal prep. We want to know what’s coming. Predictability helps us feel safe, and when the world is so unpredictable, we’re a lot less likely to find safety in the predictability of God’s promise to provide, and a lot more likely to feel safe in the predictability of the manna prepped, portioned, and stored up in our fridges.
In this story, God ‘helps’ the Israelites learn to trust, by making it so that any extra food at the end of the day goes bad, so there’s no point in saving it. They HAVE to trust God to provide.
What are the things we hunger for? Information? News about what will happen? Predictability? Relief from the pandemic? Control? Ever mindlessly scroll the pandemic headlines on your phone and then realize you kind of feel sick to your stomach? Or chewed out an employee for not reminding you about something only to see the reminder a page back in your inbox? Or realized you were a little too overbearing while supervising your child’s homework and felt like a lousy parent? Sounds like your manna went rotten.
Those clichés now begin to make sense. One day at a time. Bird by bird. Make it till midnight. I’ve learned many of these from sober friends…after all, sobriety is a life-long venture, if it works for those with one, five, ten, twenty-five year chips, perhaps it can indeed get us through a pandemic. Maybe in our nostalgia for the predictability of the Before Times in Egypt, we were too quick to dismiss the wisdom of living (and planning) one day at a time. Of subsisting on our daily bread.
Maybe the call isn’t to try and hold onto, recapture, or recreate the predictability of the before times, but to learn to feel safe through cultivating adaptability in this unpredictable covid wilderness.
The Holy Spirit was nudging me hard this week - more like poking me in right in the eyeball. I was working on one of the lessons for the middle and high school classes- by the way, if you ever want to eavesdrop on some of the cool stuff the youth are learning about and discussing, head over to our website under the youth deepening page and check it out!
In any case, I was watching a discussion starter video about worry and was reminded of Jesus question, “Jesus asks, “who, by worrying, can add another hour to their life?” He encourages us to “Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your God feeds them…Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these beauties”
Jesus doesn’t call us to never worry, but reminds us that the antidote to worry is not planning or hoarding, but trusting. Trusting God to provide. Trusting that you will have what you need, in daily portions.
Maybe you don’t have the energy to get through the week, but do you have it to get through the day? Ask yourself the same question tomorrow morning. And the next day. Maybe you don’t know what’s happening next week, or next month, but do you know what’s happening tonight? Today’s worries are enough for today, Jesus said. Our job in the wilderness isn’t to plan the route to the promised land, plot the rest stops and navigate all the twists and turns. Our role is to receive the daily bread. One day at a time.