b lik maus (Or, What Is It?)

Sermon for Sunday, September 20, 2020

Exodus 16:2–15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: People are the worst.

In today’s scripture, Moses and his Official Spokesperson, Brother Aaron, have been backed into a political corner by an angry mob of protesters. And no, that’s not overstating the situation. The Bible says the whole congregation of the Israelites are complaining. Demanding change. Israelite Lives Matter, and what matters most to the Israelites right now is they are tired, they are lost, and they are hungry. Their leader does not know where they are going. To, “The Promised Land.” Well, where is that? How long will it take to get there?

“Oh, you know, a few weeks. Maybe 40… years. We’ll know when we get there.”

“Things will get better. Believe me.”

Moses doesn’t know how to make it better. Aaron doesn’t know how to make it better. They’re in a desert. Food doesn’t grow on trees. Well, it does. But not on trees that aren’t there. It’s not like Moses can snap his fingers and fix everything.

Literally, it would take a miracle to fix all these problems. Lucky for Moses, God heard the people. God came up with a plan to save them all, handed it to Moses, and the rest is history, or something like it.

God tells Moses to tell the grumbling people: “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.”

So, in the evening 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 lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”

Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”

“Uh… doesn’t look like any bread we’ve seen before. It’s not Connie Bread. Or CeCe Bread. Or even Communion wafers that stick to the roof of your mouth. So, Moses, tell us, ‘What is it?’”

And Moses says, “Exactly.”

Call it, “Manna.” Which in Hebrew literally means, “What is it?”

“What is it?”

This, O people — this is your miracle. Whatever it is.

The Hebrew and Jewish people — our ancestors and sisters and brothers in faith — have come through countless hardships, persecution, even Holocaust. Looking back on their history, the question comes up for them, time and again: How did we make it? How did we survive? Even if you say it took miracle of God after miracle of God, the question still remains. What was it? What kept us going when every day brought darkness and death? What was it? What was it then? And what is it, now?

Christians, I believe, often make the mistake of believing God and God’s miracles give us ownership of all the answers. Jesus is The Answer to All Questions. I think that’s a mistake. Not because Jesus isn’t definitive. But because it’s turning our backs on the daily bread — the daily manna — God provides.

What is it, here and now?

Last week, people got concerned about me because I posted a thing on my little blog, ButICouldBeWrong.org. It’s dot-org because the dotcom address was already taken. I used to post sermons on it, but who has time to read these days, and they’re all on video, anyway. So, now I just post random thoughts and goofy stuff.

Last week, on one of the sites I follow, “@UnusualVideos,” I found this video of a mouse hanging on for dear life, stretched between the rungs of nautical furniture, while 2 cats searched for him below. I saw it and something just clicked for me. I felt like, “I know how that mouse feels.” And I re-posted the video because I think — these days, in 2020 — we’re all feeling like the mouse. Stretching ourselves as far as we can, hanging on for dear life, watching the danger circling around us.

The problem was, I posted the video with the caption, “B lik maus,” with “B lik maus” spelled like this. [“B lik maus”]. And then I forgot to attach the video, so people following my blog just got, “B lik maus,” and nothing else. I had a couple of church members email me, telling me they thought I had been hacked. Another asked if I was feeling OK, worried about my mental health. Like, I had missed a refill on some meds, or had watched a little too much cable news.

No. The point I was trying to make — and I suppose am still trying to make — is that we need to be like that mouse. Finding creative, mind-stretching ways to stay above it all, to keep going. I’m sure that’s much clearer now.

We all keep going. We all keep waking up and starting over every day. And a lot of the time — maybe, if we’re honest, most of the time — we don’t know how. We don’t know why. If we deceive ourselves into thinking we have the answers, or that our leaders (like Moses) have all the answers, we miss the manna. We miss the “What is it?” God provides. We’re left hungering and thirsting. Oh, not for food and drink. We’ve got more than enough of that, at least in our neighborhoods. More processed, packaged, and engineered what-is-it and how-do-you-pronounce-it than we ought to be malnourishing our bodies with. That’s no secret. We know we shouldn’t shove that junk into our bellies. We know what it is and what it does to us.

It’s the true manna, the true what-is-it, God’s what-is-it, where-did-it-come-from, and will-it-be-here-tomorrow — God’s manna — that kept the Israelites going, 40 years, in the desert. And it’s God’s manna that keeps us going, and will keep us going, in our own days of darkness and death. God’s manna will get us to that Promised Land, wherever it is, however long it takes to get there.

God tested the Israelites in the wilderness. God tested them to stretch their minds and souls. To stretch their sense of belief. To stretch their hope. So that somehow, in some mysterious, unexplainable way, somehow, they could rise above the dangers of every single wandering day.

And I’m sure. I’m sure some of the grumbling, complaining whole congregation, didn’t get it. I’m sure some of them didn’t buy this, “What is it,” manna stuff. It may have taken a few of them a while to get desperate enough to taste it, to try it, to see if it was in any way, nourishing. You know how people are with new stuff. You know how it is when you know something’s dragging you somewhere, somehow, but you don’t know what it is or where you’re headed.

Right now, we know we’re headed somewhere. We hope it’s somewhere good. We hope it’s not a place of fire or flood or a place of famine or fever. If you listen to science — and I think we should — the future is not assured. It might be very hot. Or underwater. If you listen to some climatologists, or to some epidemiologists, it would take a miracle to get us past 2075. I won’t be around to care. But our kids and grandkids might be. Right now, they could use a healthy serving of what-is-it-manna to give them hope. Who will bring it to them? Where will they find it, in the twilight? In the morning dew?

God only sent one Moses. God’s already sent God’s only Son. And what did Jesus give his disciples to help them and teach them during their time wandering on earth? Something not-quite-definable. Something they called, “The Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is new manna. The Holy Spirit is the new what-is-it. The Holy Spirit is what keeps us together, in spirit, over Zoom, on YouTube — and sometimes, briefly and socially distanced — sometimes keeps us together in person.

I keep thinking back to that mouse in the video. I wonder what happened to him. Did the evil cats find him? Did they get bored and go chasing laser dots in the other room? Did the mouse escape and live to do whatever mice do another day?

I hope so. I’m pulling for him.

The Holy Spirit is what pulls for us. The Holy Spirit is what pulls us together, what gives us strength, what helps us hang on for dear life. The Holy Spirit is what gives us the perspective of a view from above the danger. The Holy Spirit is the hope of tomorrow’s manna, whatever that is. And it’s the hope of someday making it to the Promised Land, wherever that is.

Be like the mouse. Be like the Israelites. Be like Moses to whatever group of complaining people gather around you. May the mystery of God’s questionable answers draw you up and out of bed, and into the future, today, this morning, and tomorrow, and forever more. Amen.

Husband, dad, dog-owned. Presbyterian (USA) pastor. I write sermons and articles on faith and life. www.butIcouldBeWrong.org https://www.lakehillspres.org

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