This Isn’t What I Ordered

Posted on 15 Jul 2019

This Isn’t What I Ordered
{Read Exodus 6:2-21}

This isn’t what I ordered…I didn’t ever think I’d be a widow so young. This isn’t
what I ordered…my child was supposed to be perfect and happy and healthy.

This isn’t what I ordered…I thought this job would be ideal and I was doing such good work. This
isn’t what I ordered…the only way to feed my family is to work three jobs. This isn’t what
I ordered…how could he/she have left me. This isn’t what I ordered…my parent or
partner doesn’t see their problem with alcohol. This isn’t what I ordered…we thought
getting pregnant would be easy. This isn’t what I ordered…we thought that rescue from
Egypt would mean freedom not wandering around in the desert, not hunger and thirst.
Lord, this isn’t what I ordered. This isn’t what I expected. This isn’t what I thought would
happen.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we planned, does it? Life doesn’t always
turn out the way we thought it would. We all have hopes and dreams, plans and
aspirations. But our dreams don’t always come true. Our hopes are not always fulfilled.
Our carefully made plans can be torn to shreds. Our aspirations may come to nothing.
We may seek rescue and freedom and healing and end up wandering around in the
wilderness for forty years. What happens then? What happens now? What do we do
when life throws curve ball after curve ball? What do we do when we’re hungry…hungry
for love, for safety, for direction, for comfort, for justice, for peace? What do we do when
our hunger is speaking on our behalf? It’s probably not the time we make rational
decisions. There’s an idea in 12 step programs called HALT. You shouldn’t make
decisions when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. This idea recognizes that we
aren’t at our best when our fundamental needs are not being met. We don’t make good
choices. We don’t do the smart thing. We just might revert to old ways of being or make
a poor choice or decide that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know.
We can relate to the Israelites in this, can’t we? They were in a circumstance that
was completely out of their control. Moses, sent by God, rescued them. They thought
things would be great. They thought they would be free. Things didn’t quite turn out the
way they imagined, though. Freedom was taking longer than they anticipated. They
didn’t anticipate being hungry or thirsty or not able to see the road ahead. The great
unknown stretching out in front of them made them yearn for what they did know. In
their discomfort, they thought back to those good old days in Egypt when they were
slaves but at least they had food to eat. In their discomfort, they grumbled and
complained first to Moses and Aaron and then to the Lord. There’s nothing wrong with
grumbling to the Lord. I believe it is an act of faith. I wonder, though, if sometimes
there’s an element of trust that’s missing. Complaining to God is the first piece. Trusting
that God hears and that God will respond is the second piece. I’m not sure the Israelites
quite had a handle on that second piece. The Story Bible, Growing in God’s Love,
recounts this particular tale and in it, God says “They know I can hear them when they
complain, right?” Moses answers, “I’m not sure they do.” This seems to me to be a very
real life possibility. God must have thought so, too, because God decided to offer proof
that their complaints were heard and received. God decided to offer proof of God’s own
goodness.

This proof comes in the form of food. They were physically hungry, after all. The
Lord provided meat and bread. It was just enough for each person for each day. In fact,
they were instructed to gather only what they needed and nothing more. The meat
portion made sense and it was clear they’d been provided quail. The bread portion,
though, was a little less obvious. We’re told that a fine flaky substance, like frost,
covered the ground. The people asked, “What is it?” We know it’s manna. We’ve heard
that word before but they didn’t know exactly what God was offering to satisfy their
hunger. Again, this wasn’t what they ordered. It wasn’t familiar. They didn’t recognize
this thing that would provide nourishment. They didn’t recognize this thing that would be
exactly what they needed. God’s provision came each day and it was enough. God’s
provision was new each day and if they tried to hoard it, to stockpile it, it would no
longer be what they needed it to be.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that we might forget about God’s provision
sometimes. If I’m honest with myself, I forget most days. There is something about our
human condition that causes us to forget the goodness of God. I think this spiritual
amnesia is very often caused by circumstances in our lives and sometimes by
circumstances in the world. The Israelites, after all, had been set free from slavery in
Egypt. God provided a way for them through the Red Sea. They were on their way to
the land that God promised to them. And yet, they’d forgotten the goodness of God.
They’d forgotten who it was that rescued them in the first place and provided a way
when there was no way. They were hungry and they needed nourishment. They were
tired, perhaps they were lonely and even a bit angry. Things hadn’t turned out they way
they thought they might. God’s plan looked different from their own. And the complaining
here in chapter 16 sounds a lot like the complaining from previous chapters and from
chapters yet to come.

They forgot about God’s goodness like we all do when we’re hungry for
something. And deep down the truth is that we’re afraid God won’t provide. We are
afraid that God will abandon us and leave us hungry in the wilderness. We are afraid
that God will not give us enough for the day. We are afraid that God’s promises aren’t
true. There’s a myth of scarcity that runs rampant in our world. It’s a myth that we can
easily buy into if we’re not careful. It’s the myth that says there isn’t enough to go
around and if God is good to you, God can’t be good to me. If God’s grace is abundant
for you, it can’t be abundant for me. If God satisfies your hunger, God can’t satisfy mine.
But it’s a myth. It’s a lie. Our God is a God of abundance. Our God promises that there
is enough and there will be enough. This is the truth of who God is and who God will
always be.

There’s a piece from Walter Brueggemann in the Christian Century from 1999,
from 20 years ago, in which he writes about the liturgy of abundance and the myth of
scarcity. One paragraph is about this particular chapter in Exodus. Brueggemann says
this:

When the children of Israel are in the wilderness, beyond the reach of Egypt, they still
look back and think, “Should we really go? All the world’s glory is in Egypt and with
Pharaoh.” But when they finally turn around and look into the wilderness, where there
are no monopolies, they see the glory of Yahweh. In answer to the people’s fears and
complaints, something extraordinary happens. God’s love comes trickling down in the
form of bread. They say, “Manhue?”-Hebrew for “What is it?”-and the word “manna” is born.

They had never before received bread as a free gift that they couldn’t control,
predict, plan for or own. The meaning of this strange narrative is that the gifts of life are
indeed given by a generous God. It’s a wonder, it’s a miracle, it’s an embarrassment, it’s
irrational, but God’s abundance transcends the market economy.

The gifts of life are freely given in abundance by the Lord God Almighty. God’s
provision may not always look like what we think it should. God’s provision may not be
what we expect it to be. God’s provision is sure, though. When the life before us isn’t
what we ordered, it is difficult to move forward in faith. Moving forward into the unknown
is scary. And when we are scared or grieving or lonely or angry or unsure or hungry for
something we can’t even name, we may be tempted to turn back to what we’ve known
before and get caught up in what used to be. We may only look for God to show up in
the places and people we are familiar with or in the ways that make sense to us.
Sometimes, though, we’re given manna from heaven and we, too, are left asking, “What
is it?” And we find that God showers us with exactly what we need that will nourish us
and make us whole and give us strength for the journey.

It’s good to remember that the way God provides today may not necessarily be
the way God provides tomorrow but God will provide. And we know there is enough in
God’s goodness. When we are hungry for companionship, friends come from
unexpected places. When we are hungry for comfort, consolation comes from
unexpected places. When we are hungry for rescue, the way out may be a long road,
indeed. What we can know for sure is that God’s goodness and God’s love will be
enough for us. God’s goodness and God’s love will be enough to see us through our
grief, doubt, pain, and fear. God’s goodness and God’s love will give us strength for the
journey.

God knows the ways in which each of us is hungry. God knows the places where
we feel powerless and unable to move forward. God knows what we need for
nourishment and wholeness. So we keep our eyes and hearts open trusting that God
will provide exactly what we need. Here’s the thing: we’ll forget every day and we’ll need
to be reminded every day. The Lord will provide and it will be enough. God’s economy is
one of abundance. And God’s goodness and God’s love is not something that we can
stockpile or hoard or keep to ourselves. It is something to be shared freely and
generously. Like manna from heaven, God’s mercies are new every morning. Does that
remind anyone else of a hymn? “Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great
is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” The Exodus story tells us over and over again who
God is: the One who keeps promises, the One who makes a way, the One who provides
for the hungry, the One who showers us with the gifts of life, the One who hears the
cries of the oppressed, the One who is with and for God’s people.

Rev. Alexandra Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Associate Pastor for Faith Formation and Congregational Care