I turned on the radio in the car on Monday morning. The kids wanted to hear their favorite music, but instead the news was on, and I caught the breaking story. I heard about a shooting in Las Vegas, one that would be the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, and my heart stopped. Some of you know that I spent my internship year in Las Vegas at a church just a few miles off the Strip. All I could think about were those people who have lifted me up in my ministry for nearly fifteen years. I spent the day distracted and afraid. Did you know that Facebook has a feature where people can check-in digitally during a disaster so their friends around the world will know they’re safe? For the first time in my life, I saw people that I know and love use that feature. And when it popped up, I cried each time. The people I knew were safe. Hundreds more were not.
A terrible, violent, evil act in Las Vegas. And then on top of that all the other news from this week and this past month: the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, the increasingly hostile exchanges with North Korea, and so much more – it feels a lot like we are out in the wilderness, abandoned, alone, wondering what good could possibly come.
I am grateful for the witness of our scriptures. I need to be reminded that this isn’t the first time God’s people have faced crisis, that it isn’t the first time they’ve sunk into despair, and that it will be neither the first nor the last time that God will provide even in the face of my hopelessness. This morning, more than ever, I give thanks for this story of God providing manna to the Israelites in the wilderness.
The story of scripture has come a long way from last week. In our story last Sunday, Moses first heard God’s call to return to the Israelite people oppressed as slaves in Egypt. He challenged Pharaoh, led God’s people out of Egypt, and helped the people experience the liberation they had begged for from God for generations. They must travel to reach the land of God’s promise and be the nation God swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But in this story, the people hit a snag. As they travel through the wilderness, food becomes scarce. They begin to despair. Barely a month into freedom, they begin to experience nostalgia for captivity. Sure, we might have been slaves, they say, but at least we were never hungry. Instead, we are hungry, alone, and desperate. This is the end of the world. And we know that feeling, don’t we? We know how it feels to face something new, scary, and challenging, and to wish things could be like they were before – even if how things were before really wasn’t any better.
And if I find comfort in the familiar, human response of God’s people, I find even more comfort in God’s action in their despair. God just performed the greatest act of providence for the beloved people – God freed them from slavery and death and will finally bring them to their promised home. God could easily have said, “Seriously? I give you a gift that will change your entire world, and you’re here whining that you don’t have as much bread as you did in Egypt? Can’t you just believe me when I say you’re better off?” Or God could have said, “Oh, honestly. When you get your act together and remember that I’m here for you, I’ll get you what you need.” I mean, I kind of want to say that to the Israelites, but that’s why I’m glad that God is God and I am not.
Here’s what God does instead: God provides. In the morning, God sends them manna, bread that comes down from heaven, appearing on the ground after the dew lifts. In the evening, birds sit quietly so the people can easily catch them. God tells them to only take the set amount for each day, except for the day before the Sabbath. God not only provides them exactly what they need for each day, but God even provides for a day of rest. Each day, God faithfully provides only what they need. Each day, God meets them in their hunger. Each day, God reminds them of God’s own constant presence.
I forget, sometimes, that God’s work doesn’t need to be some big, lightning bolt action. When I’m surrounded by bad news, news of evil, news that fills me with despair and terror, I feel a lot like the Israelites, facing the wilderness, convinced that this is just the end. I forget that God is still here, has always been here, and is constantly giving me what I need. Twice in this passage, the Israelites are told how they will know that God is God: when their simple, basic needs are met. When you have food in the morning and in the evening, you shall know that God is God.
Something changes in me when I trust that God cares for me and loves me in the most basic ways. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “give us this day our daily bread”. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the petition in this way: “In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.” Whether or not I recognize it, whether or not evil breaks its way into my world, no matter what, God provides. This is how I know that God is God: because God provides for me.
When I get scared and anxious, I am in no place to be the generous, gracious agent of God’s mercy that we are called to be as people of faith. But when I trust that God is known in even the small things, in the daily things, the sound of my daughter’s laugh, the cup of coffee that shakes the sleep away, the gentle change of leaves, the presence of faith community, I can face the wilderness in front of me with generosity and hope. I open my hands and my heart and I give.
God’s providence gives me a choice. I choose joy. In gratitude for the God who continues to sustain me, I choose to be an agent of that providence. I know who God is because of God’s generosity, and so I will be generous that others may know God. I can’t change the world, but I can change this part of my world by witnessing to God in my giving.
I will increase my financial gift to this congregation this year, and I invite you to do the same. I will face the brokenness of the world with hope, because I know God gives me what I need to do something about it. God works through me as I call my representatives, volunteer my time, speak up against injustice, give my money to my church and my community, and stand with those who suffer. God promises that there is always enough, so I don’t need to hoard my money, my rights, my time, or my energy, like there isn’t enough. There is always enough. You shall know that the Lord is your God when even in the small things, especially in the small things, you hear God’s promise and respond with generosity. For God’s generosity, and the invitation to be similarly generous for the sake of the world, thanks be to God. Amen.