This sermon is based on Exodus 16:1-8, 13-15 and was delivered at Kerr Presbyterian Church on October 11, 2020 by Rev. KJ Norris.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
Have you ever had a dream deferred?
- Perhaps you had wanted to go to college, but a family member was sick or financially you had to prioritize work over school. A dream deferred.
- Or maybe it was in your personal life. Perhaps you had longed to have a child, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen in your life when you thought it would. A dream deferred.
- Or maybe when you think of a dream deferred, your mind turns to The Rev. Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington. 57 years ago he spoke of a dream deferred; people of color were waiting then for the equality that was dreamt of coming with the 13th Amendment. And yet still today we await full equality within our nation. A dream deferred.
Well, in our Scripture this morning we can find a people facing a similar hardship. The people had been given a dream, a promise.
Some of them had had a difficult time believing in this dream. If you remember, Moses had to convince many that life could be different. The people had found themselves beaten down and oppressed. At one point the Scripture tells us that their spirits were broken (Ex 6:9) because of the heaviness they carried. They struggled to surrender themselves to hope because when they looked all around all they could see was evil and suffering and pain.
But God stepped in. God worked a miracle. God who is the great liberator set them free. And now they are standing on the other side of the Red Sea, expecting to see the promise of God fulfilled.
God had made a promise to Moses. When Moses was standing in his bare feet before the burning bush God had promised to set the people free. And then he had filled Moses’ mind with this vision; God said, “[I will] bring the people to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8, Pastoral Paraphrase). This is the long awaited promise.
The people become immigrants. They leave the only home they have ever known for the promise of a new beginning. A good beginning.
But like many immigrants, they find that this new promise land is a dream deferred.
Perhaps the Ancient Israelites knew it would be hard. They knew they had to travel. They new it wouldn’t all be sunshine and rainbows immediately, but if we are to take their complaints at face value, it is more than just a little bad. The people are starving. They have no food. And the crisis of food leads to a crisis of faith. They doubt the choice they made. They doubt Moses’ leadership. They doubt the goodness of God.
Perhaps you have been here as well.
You get the dream you long awaited. You open your own business after years of hoping to do so but then it’s really difficult. Bills need to be paid and the money never seems to come in on time.
Or the long awaited child is finally born, but the postpartum depression steels your joy and you wonder if you can hold on.
Or maybe a great unexpected blessing comes into your life—lottery winners often say they had great hopes that money would change everything in their lives. And it does, but often not for the better. New money strains relationships and forces change in a way few can predict.
The Ancient Israelites step out into the promise, but still they see a dream deferred. Perhaps they begin to wonder if it will be a dream denied. For 40 years they will wander in this wilderness. I imagine the wilderness may seem permanent to those walking the journey.
Is God with them? Has God abandoned them? Did they take a wrong turn along the way?
The people begin to grumble and complain. Once again they lose hope and motivation.
God hears their cries. Did you notice that? In this particular Scripture, the people complain to Moses and Aaron, and Moses and Aaron don’t even have time to pray before God shows up. The people believe that God has abandoned them; they can’t see around the hunger aching in their bellies, but God is not standing far off. God is not hiding away. God is with them. Walking with them. Hearing their struggles. Standing with them in the wilderness.
God is doing a new thing.
I was reading about the food given to the people this week. I often thought of the coming of the manna as a miraculous act. God sometimes works in miracles. God worked miracles in the Old Testament and through the person of Jesus in the New Testament and God still does miraculous things today.
But the miracle that happens in the Wilderness of Sin seem to be less about a material being created out of nothing for the people to eat and more about God opening the people’s eyes to see the blessings around them.
Terence Fretheim in his commentary on Exodus explains it this way. (Read page 182, first full paragraph).
The miracle of manna is not about God making food appear from no where; it is about the people learning to use what is abundantly around them. “What is this?” They ask Moses. “This is the bread the Lord has given you to eat,” he replies (Ex 16:15-16, Pastor Paraphrase).
Sometimes seeing the miracles of God requires us to hope not for a mountain top experience—not for an angel to appear to us or for money to fall fro heaven. Sometimes the miracle of God is to be able to give thanks for what is right in front of us.
Sometimes God answers prayers in ways that we did not expect.
Sometimes instead of going to college when we are 18 we find a mentor to teach us or we go back to school when we are 50.
Sometimes we never have children of our own but we find great blessing in becoming a mentor to kids in our community and investing in their lives.
Sometimes we look at the injustices of the world and see their enormity and find that we are the ones we have been waiting for. That it is our call to end hate, to end oppression, to end racism in all its forms.
The materials we need are already there. But we need new eyes to see them. We need God to speak hope to our hearts again so that we don’t give up. So that we aren’t crushed by the weight of the world but instead are embolden to give thanks for a new call. Emboldened to step out into the wilderness even though we know it will be a long journey. Emboldened to believe in the promise even when we don’t see it fulfilled in the way we had hoped.
What are your complaints today? Where are you losing hope? Where do your worries lie?
Do you know that God is with you? Do you know that God is providing for your need even if you cannot see it? Do you know that God has a plan and a purpose for you—yes, you may be called to wonder in the wilderness. Yes, you may be called to seek out the food you need to eat. Yes, you may be called to gather and work and rest—don’t forget—the people were called to rest, too, so if you need a break, that’s okay, but none of us is called to sit on the sidelines forever.
We are a people of hope. We are a people of longing. We are a people who know things are not as God intends, but we are the very hands and feet of God, called to stand, called to search, called to trust.
Friends, let us pause for a moment before going to the Communion Table to pray in the quiet of our hearts asking God to forgive us for the ways in which we have lost sight of God and praying for open eyes to hope again.
Fretheim, T. E. (1991). Exodus: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (2010 paperback ed). Westminster John Knox Press.