“God Provides: Living Like it Were True”~ The 3rd Sunday in Creation
Psalm 145, Exodus 16: 2-15~ Northwood UC ~ September 17, 2023
God is beyond our comprehension. We look towards the vast blue oceans and get just a sliver of the enormity of God. We take in the heights of the cascading mountains and we become aware of how big God is. We look into the heavens, the stars twinkling, and the universe expands beyond our wildest imagination. God is vast; God is big; God is beyond our comprehension. And amidst God’s care and creation…God created You. And you…and you…and you. God created each one of us. And in as much as God created mountain, sea and sky, providing for its care…God created each one of us and provides for us. God provides.
God’s providential care. On this third Sunday in the season of Creation, I wonder if we believe this to be true? Do you believe that God provides? We look at the mountains and the waters and the heavens that God created in all their splendour. Scientists continue to teach us about the powerful systems of nature that God has in place. Those of us who take in nature shows, and read about the web of creation become fascinated at how it all fits together. Yet, when it comes to us, we act as if we were not part of this great system that the Master-Designer has shaped. We see (out there) how God has provided. Yet (when it comes to us) we don’t act as if that design, care of providence applies to us. Yet, God provides and, this morning, we consider how to might further live like that is true.
I don’t wish to bring back sad memories; however, the reality of our not believing in God’s provision was highlighted during the pandemic. Do you remember the hoarding during the Covid pandemic. The hoarding began with, of all things, toilet paper. It started there and expanded to many other essentials! Do you remember the bare shelves and the fear that there ‘wouldn’t be enough’? And people began to hoard. In some people’s homes there must be enough toilet paper to last many lifetimes! Certainly, Covid was accompanied with many signs of hope, community, and grace. However, we also saw the fear inside many. The fear that we need to rely upon ourselves rather than to look to God to provide. And before we blame the greed of our present generation, or the situation we lived through, we look at this morning’s text and realize that this is embedded in our human nature. God provides, yet few of us live as if this were true!
Shifting to the text, we revisit a wonderful narrative in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Israelites have achieved freedom from the slavery of Egyptian captivity. Last week, the waters parted, and they walked through the Red Sea towards the Promised Land. The journey they would walk over the coming 40 years will occur in the wilderness. They moved from a time when their basic needs were provided for by the Egyptians. You need to feed your slaves well if they are to be good labourers, right? Now, in the wilderness, they shift from relying upon the Egyptians to to relying upon God. On foreign soil, they begin to learn what it means to completely rely upon God for their survival! In the wilderness, they get hungry.
The food items that we learn about were foreign to them: manna and quail. Manna sounds elegant and delightful, doesn’t it? A delicacy from and exotic restaurant? Yet for those who know about manna, they will tell you the peculiar story of manna’s production. Manna is ‘bug slime’! There is a natural phenomena in the Sinai Peninsula where a type of plant lice crawls upon the fruit on the tamarisk tree overnight when it is cool and dark. The lice punctures the fruit of the tree and excretes a substance that causes a yellowish-white flaky substance to form. Manna is a carbohydrate, a sugar, that can safely be consumed to give energy. For the people living in this area, they commonly bake it into a bread. There is a down-side to the manna. It is known to decay quickly as the heat of the day increases and quickly attracts ants and other pesky insects. Would anyone like to go out after church for some manna? Aside from the manna, there is another food: quails. Quails are something we are more familiar with. These migratory birds would commonly be flying from Africa and be blown in from the Mediterranean. Resting in the Sinai Peninsula, they are generally quite exhausted when they come onshore looking for rest. For the Israelites, it would be relatively easy to hunt these birds who are essentially…exhausted. Manna and quail, God’s provision for the hungry sojourner in the wilderness. Manna and quail, not what the hungry Israelites were accustomed to back in Egypt. But good nutrition, where God provided food for the journey which they walked. Yet, the Israelites complained to Moses; they were unsure of what God was providing; and (at times) they even wanted to go back to the times of slavery because the Egyptians had always provided.
I would suggest that this narrative is instructive for our living into being people who truly live into the faith of a God who provides. Listening to the text a little more carefully, there is a flow of three different movements: God hears…the people embody God’s provision…and, even in the most impossible of places, God’s providence will shine. I am sure you saw this repeated pattern too! Firstly, God hears the complaints of the Israelites…not once or twice, but four times! For those of us who wonder (sometimes) if God is actually hearing us in our pain and struggles and fears, this is good news! God hears our fear and pain; God listens to our uncertainty. God is meeting you in that place of need. You don’t need to go it alone!!! God listens again, and again, and again…4 times! After God’s hearing, it is twice asserted that after being heard, they shall know that God will be with them. An embodied knowing…that God will provide…that it will be OK…a knowing that buoys a faith in God’s providence. In the heart knowing is something far beyond cognitive knowing. It is an embodied faith that allows one to keep going. People of faith can be warriors, strong individuals, who bolster their being with an inner fortitude with an unstoppable faith!!! And lastly after God hearing, and our inner knowing growing, there is location of this growth: the wilderness. This listening and faith growth all occurs in a setting devoid of any life-giving presence; it is a place of uncertainty; it is a place of darkness. And, even here, in the lowest place imaginable…God will provide!!!
It is interesting to pay attention to the major aspects of the Christian faith and consider what their implications are for our living. We pray each Sunday, and sometimes each day, the Lord’s Prayer. And, pertaining to God’s provision for food, we don’t pray for limitless quantities, we just ask for enough for today. We pray “give us this day our daily bread.” Do we really mean it when we pray “give us this day our daily bread” Or is that just something we say? Jesus taught this part of the prayer, teaching us to not pray for limitless supplies of bread that we can store away. Rather, we are taught to pray for just enough for today. Not enough for tomorrow and the distant future…just for today. There is a powerful trust in God’s providential care in that section of the prayer. Lord, “give us this day our daily bread.” We pray it because we know God will provide enough for today. Just today, and we are held in God’s care, that is all that will needed. Paul, in his letters to the early churches, instructs them that equity in the Christian community will only occur when the ones with abundance and the ones with need live in generosity with each other. That was the basis of the early agape / love feasts that the community celebrated. Some came with abundant amounts of food; others came in need…the important thing was that they all came and united in community…they formed the living body of Christ, and God’s providential care was experienced again, and again, and again!
We are seeing this at play with the “March for 1 Million Children” across Canada. While the march is seeking to further discrimination, marginalization and pain of the 2SLGBTQAI+ community, many faith groups, and other public interest groups, are forming a ‘counter protest’ and advocating for them. “There is no space for hate” is one of the slogans being used. Reminding that God’s love extends to all. I received many comments about our Executive Minister’s letter to the Regional Church in our efforts that was shared in the Friday email. There is no space for hate; all are loved; all are loved; all belong. That is the nature of God. God provides; God loves. And, as ones blessed with God’s light and love we shine that light into the places that darkness threatens and know that the light will always triumph.
God provides! I wonder what it might look like if we actually lived that truth. Perhaps foreign delicacies like quail and manna would be welcomed as we knew God was providing for today. Perhaps love would be shared to friend, stranger and enemy because we knew that love must be shared widely and broadly. Perhaps the fragile earth would receive stewards who care for her future, realizing that much of what we need is unsustainable. Perhaps each step we live might take us a little closer to the unfolding of the Kin-dom of God: a kingdom that relied upon its God for provision. What if we lived with the faith that God provides? A challenge that our siblings in faith have struggled with since the wilderness. A struggle that we must embrace, indeed.