Sermon - Brad Brookins
Philippians 2. 5-8
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
The book of Exodus—including today’s story of bread falling from heaven, was written to a people in deep trouble. Almost everything they believed in or valued or hoped for had been taken from them—by the violence of an invading army from the outside and by the incompetence of a corrupt government on the inside. The survivors of that battle were being held captive in a foreign land—virtual slaves to the people who had destroyed their homeland.
Many of their loved ones were dead, their neighbors scattered, their homes and fields burned. The world had stopped making sense. They were so tired. There were no answers.
But the questions remained. Questions that sound familiar even today, because they have never gone out of style. (S)
Why did this happen? (S)
Why did this happen to us? (S)
Why did God let this happen to us?
By the rivers of Babylon,
(one of their poets wrote,)
we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land? (Psalm 137)
Why did this happen?
Why did this happen to us?
Why did God let this happen to us?
In despair, in hopelessness, their thoughts turned to revenge—to fantasies of violence as horrendous as they they had witnessed back in Jerusalem:
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall, (this same poet sang)
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
O Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
In anguish and misery the Jews in Babylon considered their fate, and their future. They looked at what had become of them, and almost—almost, gave up.
And probably would have given up had not someone been given the vision to write the story of Exodus—so the Jews, who would be captive in Babylon for 70 years, could hear the story of the Jews held captive in Egypt for 430 years; so the Jews who had been force marched across the desert to Babylon could hear the story of Jews marching free through the dried up sea toward the promised land.
The captives in Babylon were hungry for hope, hungry for some assurance that they had not been forgotten, that God had not abandoned them. These hungry captives were the first to hear the Exodus story of freed slaves in a different desert who woke up to a morning shower of bread from heaven, when the day before they were unable to feed their little ones.
This bread from heaven fed the Israelites through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. It never failed, never ran out; it was always enough.
Don’t worry, the story teller was telling the captives in Babylon. Don’t be afraid. There is no prison God can’t break into to set you free. There is no wilderness where you can be lost to God. There is no hunger, including the hunger for home and freedom, that God cannot satisfy.
Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. Keep moving. God is with you. You will never be left alone.
That is the gift of Exodus.
The book of Exodus is a book of hope and promise. It is a book given first to the Jews living as captives in Babylon, but then (because this is the way the Bible works) given to anyone in any dark, hopeless place.
That’s the way sacred stories work, you see. No matter where it comes from, if a story is true it belongs to all of us.
So the book of Exodus belongs to you, and to me. This is good news.
And after the events of last few weeks, this is really good news.
How many hurricanes have there so far been this year? Five? Six? How many people have died; how many millions left homeless; how many billions of dollars in damage?
How many times in the last few weeks have our “leaders” in Washington and North Korea traded insults like name-calling 3rd graders on a playground? Their little spat would almost be comical if they didn’t both have nuclear weapons to throw around. But they do, and that should concern us all.
And now we have another American city that will forever be identified with tragedy. Along side Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, and Orlando we will now remember Las Vegas.
And every day since last Sunday, we’ve heard people asking the ancient questions:
Why does this happen?
Why does this happen to us?
And the question behind both of those questions—the one we really want to ask:
Why does God let this happen to us?
Isn’t God kinda dropping the ball on this one? Why is there so much evil? Why doesn’t this powerful God do something to stop it?
Really smart people have been asking this question for as long as people have been asking any question. So if you or your kids have been wondering “Why?”, you are in some bright company.
Lots of answers have been offered; none of them, perhaps, as satisfying as we would like.
Some people say God doesn’t prevent evil because God can’t. They say our idea of God as all-mighty and all-powerful is simply mistaken. There is some merit to this answer, but it’s complicated.
Other people have said God doesn’t do anything about evil because God doesn’t have to. God is free, they say, to do whatever God wants and our rules about right and wrong, good and bad, don’t apply.
I want to spend the rest of our time this morning looking at a third answer suggested by the book of Exodus.
Remember, these stories were written for and to a people who were victims of violence. You can be sure the Jews in Babylon were asking these same questions. So you would expect the book to offer some answers.
And it does.
Some people say God can’t do anything about evil. Some people say God won’t do anything about evil. The book of Exodus says God already has done something about evil.
First though, look back to the creation story in the 1st chapter of Genesis; we read this a few weeks ago. Humankind is created in the image of God, that story says. This means all people—men and women like you and me, are created with the capacity, the ability, to represent God on earth. In simple terms, we are created with the ability to choose and do good.
And although evil is done by all of us sometimes—and by some of us all the time, it remains true that all of us all the time have that ability to choose good.
A little later in Genesis, chapter 12 to be exact, God comes to Abraham with an offer. “I will bless you beyond your wildest imagination”, God says, “but when I do, I want you to be a blessing to the world. I want you to be my blessing to the whole world”. Abraham is called to do what humans were created to do—to live out the image of God in his neighborhood; to live as God would live among his neighbors.
God created the first man and woman to bless the Creation. And God called Abraham to bless the whole world. So it should be no surprise when God comes to Moses, in the story we read last week, and says, “I want you to do something for me”.
“I have heard the cries of my people in Egypt”, God says to Moses. “So come, I will send you to set them free”.
Pharaoh is committing great acts of terror and evil, God says to Moses. Now you go talk to him. Set him straight. Show Pharaoh a better way to be Pharaoh. People are suffering in Egypt, God says to Moses. You go and relieve their suffering, set them free; feed them!
Go!, God says. Do the right thing! Do good!
And Moses goes—into the belly of the beast. Against all odds—against impossible odds, he does the right thing. He speaks God’s generosity to Pharaoh’s greed. He speaks God’s grace to Pharaoh’s fear mongering. He brings freedom to Pharaoh’s slaves.
Moses is what God does about all the evil in Egypt.
Don’t ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about evil in the world?” Open your eyes to see what God is doing about evil in the world. Look for the image of God. It’s everywhere. It’s growing. We each embody that image.
Last Sunday one man fired into a crowd at a concert. Fifty-eight were killed; many more wounded. One man doing unspeakable evil.
That evil was met by hundreds of people—police, first responders, ordinary concert goers who ran in to the line of fire to find the wounded and carry them to safety. Those people were what God was doing about the evil in Las Vegas.
We’ve all seen the pictures of people helping people in the aftermath of the hurricanes in Houston and Florida and Puerto Rico—people helping people they didn’t know and would never see again.
They were the answer to the question: Why doesn’t God do something about suffering?
It is the image of God in human kind, you see, that makes goodness, kindness, generosity possible. We witness the image of God whenever, where ever and by whom ever we see goodness, kindness and generosity being done.
“I have heard the cries of my people”, God says today as clearly as Moses heard it from the burning bush. “Come, I will send you to help them”.
You and I—and billions of others with us, bear the image of God in the world. You and I are the means—the channel, by which God showers grace and kindness and forgiveness and goodness on the world. We are the manna God has given to feed the desperate, the hurting, the hungry.
So do the right thing—wherever you can, whenever you can. Maybe we save a life. More likely we just give someone a sandwich. We can’t all do great things.
But as Mother Teresa once said. “We can all do small things with great love.”
Great love in small things is the image of God come alive. Do that and we will be the answer to our own question.
Why doesn’t God do something? Well, God has.
We are what God is doing.
“I hear the cries of my people”, God says. “Come, I will send you to help”.
Week 5, Day 5 When you run out of time in your week…
you combine the Day 5 post with the text and questions for the adult Bible study.
That’s what happened this week.
Read the passage below one more time, assuming, of course, that you have already read everything from Exodus 4:18 through chapter 15 :) Remember—Exodus was written first of all to and for the captive Jews in Babylon. As you consider the questions below, try to imagine how those people would have heard the story and what it might have meant to them.
1. vs 1-4: Do you have any sympathy with the complaint the Israelites voice in the wilderness? Which would you prefer—death by violence with a full stomach or a quiet death by starvation in the desert? Why do people generally have trouble
imagining pleasant outcomes and alternatives in their life stories? Why are we so positive about the negative?
2. What New Testament stories do you remember that echo this Exodus story? How is bread used as a symbol in the New Testament? Is the bread in the Exodus story symbolic in any way? How?
3. vs 12 and a hard question: ’I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’ This was said to the people who had just witnessed the destruction of Egypt by plagues and
the opening of the Red Sea for their escape. How is bread from heaven going to convince them of God’s presence if that did not?
4. How can you know that the LORD is your God?
5. vs 15-18—perhaps the most curious part of this story raising, perhaps, the most important question. The people were told an omer of manna (about 2 quarts) per person would be sufficient. Some gathered more and some less, but when they got home they each had just enough. “those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.” “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was a slogan made popular by the communist writer Karl Marx. Is God a
communist? Is God punishing hard work and rewarding laziness? Imagine a more generous interpretation of the gathering of the manna.
6. What is the meaning of “enough”? What is the difference, or is there a difference, between “enough” and “abundance”?
7. Exodus 16 seems to be saying that God provides “enough” for all. Does this suggest an answer to questions like, “Why does God allow suffering and starvation?”
8. Think how we might ask a better question about suffering in the world.
9. Answer the question asked in #8 above.
1The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation
of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, ‘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.’
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they
prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the
Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ 8And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not
against us but against the Lord.’
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the
glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the
Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer1 to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.”’ 17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But when they measured it
with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.
1 “In traditional Jewish standards of measurement, the omer was equivalent to the capacity of 43 eggs
(about 2 quarts)”