Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Lesson in Faith

 Exodus 16:2-21

And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  And the sons of Israel said to them, "Would that we had died by the LORD'S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.  And it will come about on the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily."

So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, "At evening you will know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?"  And Moses said, "This will happen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him.  And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD."

Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.'"  And it came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"

So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground.  When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?"  For they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.  This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.'"

And the sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little.  When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.  And Moses said to them, "Let no man leave any of it until morning."  But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.  And they gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.

Sermon for Laetare Sunday  – The Fourth Sunday in Lent               3/19/23

A Lesson in Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

While we Lutherans talk a lot about faith, we often do not define it very well.  There is an idea running lose that faith is this private little thing that goes on inside of you.  People act, and sometimes speak, as though faith were a personal opinion, or a feeling one has.  We often pretend that someone can be secretly a Christian, without giving any evidence to the fact.  We like to act as though we can be faithful without our unbelieving friends discovering who we are and what – or even that – we believe.  All of the silly notions above are false, untrue, dangerous, and unworthy of a Christian – which makes their popularity among Christians puzzling.

What we need is a good lesson in faith – in what it is and in how it works.  And that is precisely what we have in our text today.  The children of Israel were confronted by the reality of God and His good will toward them.  They had certain promises.  All they really needed to do was believe.  To be honest, they were not good at believing, but we can learn from their failures as well as their successes.  Our theme, this morning, is A Lesson in Faith.

This doesn't start well for the children of Israel.  They have just recently  been led out of Egypt with the most remarkable signs and wonders, and they begin to grumble.  They were slaves, captive and abused, and God worked the ten plagues which were mighty signs.  He protected them from the effects of the last plagues, culminating in the death of the firstborn of Egypt and the remarkable Passover of the angel of death.  Now, they are not only free to go, they are encouraged and hurried out Egypt.  Their neighbors give them gold and silver and whatever they want as they leave so that they will leave all the more quickly.  They are saved again from the fickle mind of Pharaoh as God opens a dry pathway through the Red Sea for them, and then drowns the Pharaoh's army in the waters as they return to their former place.

So, having been through the most remarkable few weeks or months in human history, they find themselves on the other side of the Red Sea, free and obviously blessed by God, and now apparently hungry.  They have witnessed the love of God for them, and His mighty power to do virtually anything He desires, and anything that they might need.  How do they respond?  Do they say, We're hungry, lets ask God for some help?  No.  They grumble.

Don't feel superior.  We are not all that different.  We live in the land of abundance, and yet we worry.  We have more free time and more disposable income after meeting the costs of necessities than any other people on earth, and yet we never seem to have enough, and often we act as though the riches God has poured out on us will cease or fail us somehow.  Rather than living in the light of God's goodness towards us and calling on Him in every need, we fret and grumble, oftentimes, just like the Children of Israel.

God is so good.  He didn't swoop down on them in anger, but blessed them.  He heard their grumblings and decided to bless them miraculously and abundantly and see whether or not they would walk in His Word.  He decided to bring birds on the wing in abundance in the evening that they might have meat, and then cause food to appear on the ground every morning, as the dew evaporated, and feed them in the most marvelous way.  The food was some previously unknown substance that tasted sweet and good and provided all their nutritional needs.  When they first saw it, they asked "What is it?"  And that became its name – Manna.  The text doesn't include all that we know now about it, including that God fed them for forty years with this wonderful food.

Manna came with a set directions from the Giver, God.  The first direction was to get up early and gather it up for the day, because when the sun got hot on the landscape, the Manna would evaporate if it hadn't been gathered.  The second direction was to gather only what you would eat that day.  God will be feeding you every day, so goes the promise in our text, so you trust God and only collect what you need for that day.  The third direction was that they would gather twice as much on the sixth day – Friday – because God was going to observe the Sabbath, and so were they, and there would be no Manna on the seventh day - but what they gathered on the sixth day would not spoil for forty-eight hours.

The rules were the test of faith God spoke of – "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction."  Sadly, they failed.  Our text tells us that even though they were commanded to gather only for the day, and to keep nothing overnight, some of them did – and God caused it to rot and breed worms in it.  Keeping it overnight was failure of trust in God – not just a failure to obey.  They did not trust God to feed them adequately day by day.  Our text doesn't report it, but just four verses after our lesson ends, some of the people ignored the third directive, and did not keep the Sabbath day's manna, and went out to find food on the Sabbath, and found none.  Hunger was then their reward for unbelief.

The lesson in faith is highlighted by their lack of faith, rather than by their exemplary faith.  They experienced God's goodness, witnessed His abundance, and did not trust Him to continue.  He promised and they did not trust Him to keep His promises tomorrow, even in the face of the miracle of today's faithfulness and provision!  Then, having witnessed how good God was in keeping His Word faithfully all week long, some of them did not listen to His Word, but went out on the Sabbath to gather where God said there would be nothing.

Adam and Eve had the same problem.  They did not trust God, in spite of their experience with His daily goodness to them.  They looked for blessings where they were told they were not to be found, and ignored God's Word and instruction, to their own dismay.  It is not very surprising, then, to find that we tend to be just as difficult about faith as they were.  No matter how long God takes care of us, we can always seem to imagine that He won't, doesn't want to, and that life is going to slip out of control and we shall be caught up in it helplessly.  We fail to trust God to provide.  We fail to expect God to be good.  We imagine ourselves in dangers that are not real and rarely stop to consider seriously that God is with us to keep us and provide for us.

We do this as a congregation when we expect to fail and chafe about celebrating our anniversary, and we do this as individuals when we fear the future.  In both cases, the result is that we stop being faithful, stop doing what is right and good in favor of what seem practical or pragmatic.  We worry, where there is no cause, and no benefit from worrying.  We try to make adjustments to take care of things we don't expect God will handle – just like those people who kept some of the manna over-night just to be sure they had some the next day.

Well, just as it was for them, being less than faithful is not a winning strategy for us either.  You cannot lose by doing what is right and good and faithful, and you cannot accomplish by unfaithfulness what God wants to give you through your faithfulness.  You can't earn it faster than God can take it away.  You cannot grow by unfaithfulness nearly as well or as strong what God can grow.  The congregation is His.  We are called to be faithful in it.  That means loving one another and bearing with one another even when it doesn't come easily.  Faithfulness means doing what is right, even when it isn't popular, or doesn't seem attractive.  It's like closed communion; it isn't popular, and it isn't always easy – it is simply faithful.  

What do we do when God permits us to fail, to suffer, to experience the things we fear?  If we are faithful, we continue to trust God.  We can remember that His ways and ours are not always the same, and His goals and ours do not always look the same.  But either His Word is true, and He is with us and loves us – and will grant us all the increase and success that He has planned for us – or we no longer believe Him.  These are issues we cannot judge by what we see and hear, but by His Word alone.

Your personal life works the same way.  God has demonstrated His love for you.  He sent His Son to die for you before you had even come along.  It is tempting to think that He did that, and then you just happened to come along, but the Bible tells us that God knew us from the foundation of the world – that means that He knew you by name before He created the world.  You are part of His plan!

And that plan is so deep and so wonderful that it included the birth of God as a man, and Jesus dying for your sins and the sins of the whole world.  The cross is the emblem and sign of the love of God for you!  Look there, and see how much God loves you.  He has claimed you as His own, and called you by name in Baptism.  He has guarded you and guided you and kept you to this very moment.  He has blessed you with long life and riches, and to live in this most favored of times and most blessed of nations where everyone is rich, and we have all of the conveniences of modern technology.  God loves you deeply indeed – outwardly, inwardly, physically and spiritually.  He has claimed you for eternity with Him.

So how can we gossip, grumble and worry as though we have never seen or tasted the goodness of the Lord?  Troubles are not fun – but God can handle them.  Sickness is no joy, but God creates health and wellness where it exists.  You cannot run so far that God cannot find you or bless you or keep you.  Trust God, and pray, and do what is right, and faithful.  Don't be afraid to confess Him.  Don't be reluctant to trust Him.  Act and speak as those who have God on their side, and blessings in their pockets.  Look what He did for ancient Israel.  He can meet any need – He just doesn't usually do it in such open and obviously miraculous ways.

Look at the Lord's Supper!  It looks like mere bread and wine – little dry, white wafers, and mere sips of wine.  But God gives us Christ's true body and blood in this Sacrament!  He feeds us with eternal manna just as miraculous as the manna of ancient Israel – and far more powerful.  When we eat it, we are cleansed once again from our sins, and strengthened to live as God's holy people, and prepared for our resurrection.  If door of the grave opens in and out, then the grave has no power, death has no real bite, and we have nothing to fear.  When the worst thing that can happen in this world is also the best thing for us – we have peace.

We have the Word of God.  It is no more difficult than the promise of good food just appearing on the rocks each morning.  Like ancient Israel, all we need to do is take God at His Word, and be patient.  Their stumbling unbelief and unfaithfulness was met by God's goodness and faithfulness and blessing.  He didn't do it because He likes grumblers and unbelief.  He did it because He is faithful, even when we waver.  He did all of the things we read in our text back then for us now  – it is a lesson in faith.

So, look and see, hear and learn, believe and trust God!  And come and receive the heavenly feast God has prepared for His children on earth.  Learn the lesson of faith!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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