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Learning to Give Thanks (Exodus 16.2-21)

Fourth Midweek Lenten Service

“Learning to Give Thanks”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus     

Exodus 16.2-21

30 March 2022



A Jewish mother had her toddler son with her at the ocean to enjoy the sunny day. She sat him down on the ocean’s edge as the surf came gently in. She turned away for a moment and when she turned around a gigantic wave came crashing down and swept her son away. She could not see him as the tide went swiftly out. She looked up to heaven and cried out to God to save her little boy. After an agonizing few moments another big wave came crashing down and deposited her precious son back on the beach. She ran over and picked him up in her arms while she shed tears of joy. She then looked up to heaven and exclaimed, “He had a hat!” At that moment her thankfulness had given way to grumbling about a baby hat!

I suspect that this story could be a commentary on ancient Israel as well. Having been led by God out of slavery in Egypt and brought safely to the wilderness where the Egyptians would not pursue them, two and one half months after the great miracles God had performed before their eyes, they became restless. “The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron . . .” They thought that they had been better off in slavery where they had meat pots and bread. Here in the wilderness they had found fault with Moses and Aaron, but it was really grumbling against God himself. 

They complained that they had no bread nor meat. Even though they really complained against Yahweh as Moses said, God had already decided to test them as to whether or not they had faith. They did not. They could see beyond their own bellies, their own base physical needs and desires. God spoke to Moses:

“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” 

That evening quail covered the camp and in the morning a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost lay on the ground. They did not know what it was, so they said to one another, “What is it?” Moses replied that it was the bread that God had given them. A literal translation of the Hebrew word “Manna” is “What is it?” God fed Israel with manna for 40 years, until they came into the Promised Land. 

In spite of God’s promises to care for his people that generation continued to grumble. They were constantly finding fault with Moses and Aaron and, ultimately, with Yahweh himself. Grumbling is a sin which betrays a lack of faith in God’s loving care. Grumbling betrays a heart set on earthly things and not on heavenly things.

“Enough is never enough” for most people. The mother with the infant grumbled against God about a stupid hat! How man times have we grumbled that God did not give us everything that we wanted or that he didn’t give us enough of what we wanted.

The Israelites were to gather only as much manna as they could eat in one day. Jesus calls it “daily bread.” The people tried to horde the manna but it didn’t keep. It spoiled, bred maggots, and stank. Only on the eve of the Sabbath did God allow them to gather enough for two days. Even so, some of them went out on the Sabbath looking for manna. God’s anger burned hot against them for violating his commands. 

The Apostle Paul warns us by using Israel as a bad example. In writing to the Corinthians he said:

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. [1 Cor. 10-11]

Grumbling, thanklessness, puts Christ to the test.

God gives bountifully, so much so that we find it overwhelming when we consider it. None of us is starving. We throw away almost 30% of the food we have according to some studies. Our garbage cans are full to overflowing, as I can attest as I survey neighborhood garbage bins stuffed beyond capacity. In spite of the politically charged term “food insecurity,” there is no evidence that God has withheld it from our nation. Whatever insecurity happens is due to the sin of those who live as if God had not provided. Poverty is not due to God’s failure but man’s. Homes without fathers are most at risk but no politician has the courage to address that social ill. 

You learned it from the Small Catechism, Fourth Petition, this way:

God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. [Fourth Petition, meaning].

How often do you and your family simply dive in to eat without taking a moment to offer thanks to God for providing your daily bread? The children have already begun to sample and play with their food or perhaps you are in a public place and worry what others may think of you praying, even silently! It isn’t what others think of you, it is what God thinks of you and your lack of thanks for what he provides in super abundance.

Let’s look at the other side of this for a moment. What happens when God takes away some of that “daily bread,” and I don’t mean the food on the table. I’m talking about that extensive list that Luther gives us:

Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  Luther, M. (1991). Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Concordia Publishing House.

God sometimes takes one or more of these items away. It could be house or home, a spouse or children, a job, good government, or good friends. Luther said, “If our Lord were to snatch it away, there would be nothing.” [House Postils, vol. 1, p. 350] We should learn thankfulness so that if God does take it away we can say with Job, 

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” [Job 1.21]

Lent is a season when we reflect on our sins and shortcomings. Grumbling and ingratitude are prominent in the Old Testament and the Gospel readings for Laetare. In the Holy Gospel we heard of those whose only concern was for bread, so much so, that they want to take Jesus by force and make him a king. All these efforts at putting daily bread first are doomed to fail. Focus on Christ and his righteousness as most important and God will provide what you and I need. 

Dear Lord Jesus, help us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving and keep us from grumbling about what you take away.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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