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Recent Sermons

Bread from Heaven


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
September 24, 2017

The Exodus journey continues. Moses has guided the people from the bonds of slavery through the miraculous parting of the waters of the Red Sea. Now the hard part of the journey begins in earnest.

Jesus spent 40 days in the Wilderness preparing for his ministry. Why did the people of Israel have to spend 40 years in the wilderness? What did they need to learn in order to be ready for the Promised Land? Some have suggested that they just need to die off in order for the next generation to take over?

I've called this reflection "Bread from Heaven" but it's really about 'manna', which isn't exactly bread. What is manna? Good question! In Aramaic 'manna' means 'what is it?' All week I have been asking myself "What is manna from heaven and would I recognize it if it was right in front of me?" Questions have been clearer than answers all week!

The Israelites were freed from bondage to pharaoh but then had to learn freedom. Change is hard. The people remember their enslavement wearing rose-colored glasses. The fleshpots (a basic cooking utensil, not a den of iniquity), the abundance of bread, the security of knowing what is expected of you -- what in our own lives has felt comfortable but a trap? What do we remember fondly from our past? What changes is God asking of you now in order to move forward into a new and more creative future? What might you have to give up in order to make room for something new? Bob and Ella Mae tell me we have been asking ourselves what we need to do in order to grow as a church for at least as long as they have been members (and they joined in 1960 -- that's 57 years ago!). What is God is calling forth from us now? We continue to ask the question, which is a good thing!
What challenges from the journey of the Israelites might apply to us? The Israelites found it easy to complain. They were hungry. This wilderness was so unwelcoming. Moses and Aaron made it clear that their complaints were not with them but with God. Do we ever find ourselves blaming others for the situation we find ourselves in? What if God has actually brought us to this place and time. Have you ever been able to thank God for a difficult situation while you were in that difficult time? When you've weathered enough hard times, it becomes easier!

God ensures the Israelites that they will have enough to eat. Quail arrives in abundance at night. Manna covers the ground each morning like dew. What is manna? It has come to symbolize every unexpected blessing we receive.
They are challenged to gather only what they need. If they gather more it rots by the next day. They need to trust that they will get enough for the Sabbath as well.

Life in the 21st Century can definitely be seen as life in the wilderness. If we think we know exactly where we are going we may be deluded.
         "Do you know where you're going to, do you know the things that                       life is showing you? Where are you going to, do you know?"
Movies and books by our most creative minds give us dystopian visions of a dark future that seems to fulfill our harshest fears. And there is so much in the daily news that portend and reveal disasters.
Learning to trust that God/Spirit/Love/Wisdom/The Universe is on our side may be the hardest thing we ever do. Looking to the future, planning ahead seems essential. And yet, in the realm of the Spiritual life, we are always at the beginning. ("Zen Mind, Beginners mind.") We need to take things one day at a time, one step at a time. "Give us this day our daily bread" is our prayer. It is our Lord's Prayer for us. It is what we are asked to practice!
And then there is that challenge to Remember the Sabbath and keep it          holy! Do you take sacred rest for yourself and for your family? I have a colleague who sets aside one day for himself, another for his wife, and his children each choose their one day of rest. That way they all get to really take some time off. Finding a way to structure rest into our crazy busy schedules may be the hardest part of choosing to follow the teachings of the Christ. We tend to go until we drop. Achievement is linked to long hours with no down time. Pure Sabbath rest that is not linked to exhaustion is rare, but we need it desperately. The Sabbath was not made for God but by God for humanity. We need it as much as we need food for our bodies, as much as we need shelter and comfort and friends.

Are we in the Wilderness, learning to trust God's guidance? What are we complaining about? What food do we need for the journey? What sustains us?
How can we create Sabbath rest for ourselves and for our families? What nurtures your soul? What can we offer to each other to remind us to relax?

What do we imagine as the promised land? Is it Heaven in the hereafter? Or is it here and now? The Israelites kept looking for a place beyond the wilderness. Can we imagine finding the Promised Land in our relationships, in our work, in our family connections, in each sacred moment of manna from heaven all around us?
Moses asked the voice in the burning bush to tell him who was speaking. YHWH has been translated "I Am that I Am," or YeH-WeH, "the breath of life." And some scholars have translated it "I Will Be What Will Be Needed." Manna from Heaven is all around us. Do we notice how truly blessed we are? Or does the constant call of culture convince us that there is never enough? Do we live in the fear of 'What if?'

I visited the childhood home of Martin Luther King when I worked in          Atlanta. It was a lovely little clapboard house with a simple kitchen, sitting room, bedrooms and yard. But what struck me most was the closets! They were so small! Only room for a change of clothes or two. Today many of us have storage units full of stuff we might need someday and houses with walk in closets packed with choices.
Do we have enough? Learning to trust the we will receive all that we need when we need it. This may be the essential work of finding our way to the promised land. A daily practice of letting go and letting God... Sabbath rest to listen for God's guidance... Silence in the abundance and busyness of our lives...
Perhaps it is not another program or ad campaign that will grow our church...
Perhaps as we listen with our whole hearts to one another and to that still small voice within, we will discover the guidance and the trust that will allow God's manna to be recognized already and always with us. Perhaps we will share the gifts we have received with others who are searching for this manna. Perhaps those who are longing for the fullness and abundance such manna provides will search and find us just as we are.

God is with us every step of the way on this wilderness journey. May we discover the promised land within and around us. May we find strength in the manna provided and share that abundance with others. May it be so.