We need to laugh a bit, in these tragic days:
It was the new, big Mel Brooks comedy in the late ‘80s, the slap-stick spoof on both Star Wars and Star Trek. Know what movie I’m talking about? Spaceballs. I was in Jr. High and loved it! We laughed so hard, and repeat some of those goofy Mel Brooks lines with my brothers...even today.
The scene that comes to mind this morning, is when Lonestar (a play on Han Solo) and his sidekick Barf (a half-man, half-dog play on Chewbacca) along with Princess Vespa (an obvious play on Princess Leia) have just crashed into a desert planet and have to hike miles through the sand to escape. Lonestar turns to the group just before they set out and clearly states, “Now, take only what you need to survive.” Cut to hours later and they’ve been hiking, dragging this giant case of princess luggage. Lonestar finally stops and throws down the giant trunk he’s been carrying through the blazing heat: “What’s in this thing anyway?” He opens it up and finds a giant beauty accessory. “What’s this?” he says in disgust, “I said take only what you need to survive!” Remember the line? “It’s my industrial strength hair dryer, and I can’t live without it!”
“Take only what you need to survive,” is the same thing God says to the Israelites on their wilderness journey through the Sinai desert.
They have just escaped the wrath of Pharaoh in a violent scene, void of comedy. They are now crossing the desert. And starting to complain.
Let’s not forget the incredibly long journey to their freedom. Enslaved for years, calling out to God for liberation. God send Moses and Aaron, remember?
They go to the Pharaoh: nine horrible plagues, and each time Pharaoh, first says “go,” only to change his mind once the plague stops, and keep the Hebrew people enslaved.
Finally the Passover event, and the Israelites are ordered to leave Egypt...but not without the monumental crossing of the Red Sea.
Now here in our text, only a month and a half in (“15th day of the 2nd month”), and already they’re complaining. God freed them after centuries, and only a couple days later, they start complaining all over again. “If only, if only…” [pause]
Ring a bell? Every longed for something — a car, a job, a raise, a family, a house, an industrial strength hairdryer — complained about needing something so badly (“I can’t live without it”), and then once you finally get it, you’re complaining about something else?
Complaining is part of our nature, that’s why Luther’s Sm. Cat. explanation of “Give us this day our daily bread” says “we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.” And of course he defines daily bread not just as food and drink, but also “clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
The Israelites cried out in complaint again, and God provided for them. God says, “I am going to rain down bread from heaven, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.” x2 I want to unpack this verse a bit:
“Rain down bread from above.” All week, I’ve heard and read that phrase: The horrific raining down of bullets from above on the dear crowd in Las Vegas.
A shooter rains down bullets of death and terror. God rains down bread of life and hope. What an absolute contrast.
The people rain down complaints of fear and hunger and anger and scarcity. God rains down blessings of enough.
“I am going to rain down bread from heaven, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.”
Our sin, as we look at this text today, is not “gathering just enough for today”. Our sin is gathering more than we need. That’s where we’re all broken, and have something to learn (especially in such a wealthy nation).
The very interesting thing about manna, is that it spoils if you take more than you need. This is a lesson — even with all that’s happening around us — in trusting God by taking only what you need.
Pay attention to that urge to take more. It’s everywhere. The whole commercial industry is based on convincing us that we don’t have enough.
But God rains down us enough. Bread from heaven falls on our earth. And we have enough too...as a people.
“Why then are so many hungry?” we might ask. Why then do so many not have adequate “clothing, shoes, house, produce, money, family, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like?” We might ask.
I don’t believe that’s on God. God has rained down enough. God has rained down on this whole earth bread from heaven. We’ve just been taking more than our share, and it’s spoiling.
It’s a powerful image for us this week: manna that spoils. I believe the shooter took “more than his share” in countless ways, leading up to last Sunday, and it spoiled in the most horrific form of violence. There was a deep chasm in Stephen Paddock’s soul that he was stuffing with more than he needed. I keep this quote by Richard Rohr on my desk top: "When positive masculine energy is not modeled from father to son, it creates a vacuum in the souls of men, and into that vacuum, demons pour." I don’t know about the positive masculine energy that was modeled to this man. But I do know there was a void, and demons surely poured into it, and God’s manna, which was showered on him and on everyone, rotted and festered and spoiled and consumed Stephen Paddock.
God rains down bread from heaven, and each day we are called to go out and gather enough for that day.
God blesses us, and our blessing now, is to enjoy God’s bread from heaven. And save some for others. Take only what you need to survive. It’s worth doing an inventory this week, living into this text. What do I need to survive, and what can I let go of — not as a grand gesture of martyrdom for all the world to see — but rather as a quiet, spiritual practice. Downsize as a spiritual practice. Lighten your load and your grip. God’s given you enough. It’s not glamorous, but it’s enough. And that is such a gift. That is grace enough for today.
Dorothy Campbell, who died on Thursday, always showed such love in our midst, didn’t she? I was always struck when she would come out of church, and I might be flustered or embarrassed or upset or distracted by something that happened in the service or was going on in the world — see me wanting to take more than my share? — and Dorothy would always come through the line, offering always a smile and always little kiss on the cheek, and simply say, “I love you, what a blessing this day is, I thank God, I thank God.”
Prayer for Las Vegas
Let us pray.
O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted,
grant courage and hope.
Where anxiety is infectious and widening,
grant peace and reassurance.
Where impossibilities close every door and window,
grant imagination and resistance.
Where distrust twists our thinking,
grant healing and illumination.
Where spirits are daunted and weakened,
grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams.
God our deliver, whose approaching birth still shakes the foundations of our world, may we so wait for your coming with eagerness and hope that we embrace without terror the labor pangs of the new age.
Christ our victim, whose beauty disfigured and whose body torn upon the cross; open wide your arms to embrace our tortured world, especially the victims who were injured and for the families mourn the deaths of the many who were killed in Las Vegas, Nevada, that we may not turn away our eyes, but abandon ourselves to your mercy.
God whose Holy name defies our definition, but whose will is known in freeing the oppressed, make us to be one with all who cry for justice; that we who speak your praise may struggle for your truth.
O God our disturber, whose speech is pregnant with power and whose word will be fulfilled; may we know ourselves unsatisfied with all that distorts your truth, and make our hearts attentive to your liberating voice.
O God who brought us to birth, and in whose arms we die, we give thanks for those saints who moved, and breathed, and had their being among us and now find rest in you.
O God you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(prayer adapted from ELCA.org)