The Back to Egypt Committee

Every institution has one. It is typically self-appointed and is often the first group of folks to greet the new boss on the first day. Stakeholders of a sort, they want to be sure that (1) nothing changes, (2) traditions are honored, (3) the new leader respects the culture of the institution, (4) it is understood that THEY represent the culture of the institution, and (5) nothing changes.

When the institution is the church, this group is fondly referred to as the “back to Egypt committee.” Let’s read Exodus 16 and see where that nickname comes from.

Exodus 16 (Common English Bible)

The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”

In Moses’ new appointment to the Church of the Wilderness Whiners, he had to contend with the self-appointed leaders who expressed a wish to go back to Egypt where they had been enslaved and abused for years. “BUT we were fed MEAT there! We could eat our fill of bread in Egypt! Why, oh why did you bring us to this desolate land to start a new life of freedom? We wanna go back to Egypt and die!“

Friends, the people were HANGRY.

The next part of the story is a reminder of how gracious, loving, and caring God is. It’s a good thing I’m not God, because I wouldn’t have had this much patience. Would you?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” 

Our good and gracious Father responds with not only food to meet their immediate hunger, but a proper lesson in depending on God for all of their needs. See what he did with the sixth day? He provided a double portion for the next day, which was the sabbath.

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.”

Notice that Moses does a little blame-shifting here. He says that even though he is the leader who brought them this far, it’s not really his fault. Of course, we clergy-folk never do that! Except for when we blame the internet/sound/tech feed, or the District Superintendent, or the rules of our denomination. Or that time we pointed accusingly at the bishop for making us preach on controversial issues, or outed the loud church member who actually was actively trying to undermine our authority. Or when…..OK, we clergy people sometimes shift blame as well. Leadership means shouldering the responsibilities of everyone’s decisions and quietly trying to remain gracious and patient through the consequences.

Listen, negotiating life in the desert is hard on all of us. Remember this when you are in a situation that is changing all around you. LIFE IN THE DESERT IS HARD ON EVERYONE. The pandemic has certainly proved that.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the Lord, because he’s heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud.

This is possibly the best part of the passage. “They turned to look TOWARD the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared.” This is just one of many times in scripture when we are promised that when we look for God with our whole heart, we will find him. Even in the desert places.

Change is inevitable. Change is all around us. We can never go back, but God is out in front, leading us into our future. We will all be painfully aware of this as we attempt to re-gather for worship at some point.

11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

So quit your complaining! Take it up with God. He hears our grumbling and whining and he provides. God is truly good to us, much more than we deserve. No matter what desert you are in right now, the glorious presence of the Lord is already there, right with you. Just turn and look for him.

The Glorious Presence of the Lord by Michelle Robertson

Use Your Mannas

Breakfast was a thing when I was a kid. Nobody had ever heard of (or would have approved of) “intermittent fasting,” this new, cool way to describe skipping breakfast. No, indeed, the first sensation of the morning was the smell of toast (Oh God, I miss the smell of toast!) and the sweet scent of Cream of Wheat doused with a spoonful of sugar and drowned in whole milk. This was the manna of my childhood, the sustenance that enabled me to walk close to two miles in New Jersey winters to school, (Uphill! Both ways!) and the provision laid out by my mother that communicated love with every bite.

It seems that biblical manna was not too far off from the breakfast mannas we grew up on. More Frosted Flakes than Cream of Wheat, it was a sweet, crunchy coriander-like substance that appeared on the ground in the mornings when the Israelites were immigrating through the wilderness toward a promised future. When they began to complain that the food provided in their slavery in Egypt was better than starving, God whooped them upside the head with grace and provision. He is a much better parent than the rest of us.

Exodus 16 The Message (MSG)

16 1-3 On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”

4-5 God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”

The manna rained down, and quail was also provided. Just your basic meat and bread meal, home delivered by the Lord himself. He was doing home delivery meals before home delivery meals were cool.

God was trying to teach them to depend on him, so he only provided enough for one day at a time, with twice as much given on the sixth day so they didn’t have to work for it on the Sabbath. If the people gathered too much and tried to hoard it, it turned smelly and wormy over night. That’ll teach ya!

This manna appeared like a fine dew on the ground, and God instructed them to go and gather it. Because it was a substance completely of heaven and never before seen on earth, they called it man-hu, a Hebrew word that roughly translates into whatizit?

I think God provides whatizits all the time. Bread from heaven rains down on us daily, but we are too busy complaining to notice. The sun rises every morning bringing warmth, but we’re focused on the cold front and the low temperatures. A baby is born, a miracle unto itself, but exhausted parents reminisce about the sleep they don’t get anymore. A husband comes home with a gift that isn’t quite right, and the wife focuses on the imperfection. A wife prepares a meal and burns the broccoli, and the magnificent pork loin is overlooked. A worker with paycheck in hand spews his discontent over his coworkers every day after work, ungrateful for the job that provides said paycheck. We do it all the time. WE LOVE TO COMPLAIN.

People, use your manners. Better yet, use your mannas. Everything you have is a gift of God. Your home, your work, your family, your food…there is nothing you possess that isn’t a part of God’s grace and provision. Quit thinking it’s all about you and your abilities. Where do you think those abilities came from? We would be nothing without God. God provides, and we receive.

A few years ago I spent the night at our church volunteering in our homeless ministry. These people are wandering in the wilderness of NOTHINGNESS. The ministry itself is their manna, and they are completely humbled and grateful for warmth, a blanket, a meal, and a smile. As I was settling into my cot, complaining about the discomfort of a cot, one of our guests came over to me and asked me if I like fresh pineapple. I do. I love fresh pineapple. She went to the guest room and returned with a fresh pineapple for me. I was shocked, and tried to refuse. She had purchased a pineapple that day and the store was having a “buy one, get one free” deal, so she wanted me to have her free pineapple. It meant the world to her to give a gift to the pastor, so I accepted it.

Manna. Bread of heaven. Whatizit? It is you, giving away your pineapple so that someone can share the sweetness of the sustenance God provides you. Go and be someone’s manna today, and let grace, mercy and gratitude rain down on you.