Ordinary 18, Year B | Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15 & John 6:24-35

EXODUS 16:2-4, 9-15

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

Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'"And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.  The LORD spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, '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.'"

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?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

JOHN 6:24-35

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."

Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"

Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

SERMON

Writing a sermon is hard. You start out with nothing and are expected to produce maybe 15 minutes of brilliance. From nothing. Well, you have the lectionary. That's the Bible verses recommended by the Christian churches that are offered as a start for all the churches each Sunday. So there is that. But other than that, you have nothing.

Except they have Commentaries, which are academic papers written by people much smarter than me about the particular Bible passage. These offer historical insights, contextual references to the time the passage was written, and other helpful bits of information, making the passage informative and relevant. But other than that…

Well, I do have a computer and paper and a printer and..And most of all, I have the Holy Spirit, framed by my experiences, emotions, and intelligence.

So actually, there is a great deal provided from what seems like a blank sheet of paper. Because no matter how hopeless it may seem, God provides. And here I stand before you, as Preachers do all across the world and have here for over a century. Because no matter how daunting...

God Provides.

Easier to say if you have a room over your head, clothes on your back, food in the cupboard and money in the bank. But for many of us, these are luxuries. Not knowing if you have a next meal, let alone where it is coming from, can be unsettling.

And we need to understand that when I say “God Provides,” it is not through a magic “Santa Christ,” who grants us our every wish. If that were the case, we’d all have ponies. Most of us have what we need, if not what we want.

In Tanzania, where I visited summer, people have less than 1/10 of what we have. But they have what they need. Most of us were not alive when the most basic cell phone was made available. Somehow we managed to live 40, 50 - maybe more - years without them. Yet today, we feel naked without our “pocket computers” within reach. And yes, they are immensely convenient, but unless they are directing us to a medical facility or to clean water or to shelter, we don’t need them.

Bethany is again searching for a Pastor.

What’s up with that? But we were blessed with Rev. Will for nine months. And then he left and we are seemingly adrift.

God will provide.

God has provided, by giving us a strong search committee, and the guidance of Presbytery in suggesting Pastoral candidates. God and Greyhound will put a Pastor in our Pulpit. Not next week and maybe not next year, but God will provide.

Our church finances are not unlimited.

And God will Provide.

I’m not talking about Session choosing winning lottery numbers at random. But God has put in Bethany a hard-working and hard-thinking Budget and Stewardship Commission, which manages our money.

Maybe God will guide us a direction that puts more butts in our pews and those butts will have fat wallets. And that would be terrific.

But for Christ’s sake - and I mean that in the venue we are worshipping - for Christ’s sake - and ours - that is not why we are here. Whether we celebrate Jesus as a small, loving, family congregation or as a multi-service megachurch, the key phrase is “celebrating Jesus.”

God has provided Bethany with over 100 years of celebration. We share Creator God’s word and Jesus’ will - to love and and serve each other and our neighbors.

And God provides.

God has given us the property to house the Food Closet. God has given us the resources to support the Imdad Family. It is not going too far to say we may have saved lives.

Forty years ago, God gave Bethany the resources to welcome Vietnamese Refugees. That blessing to them has become a blessing to us, as the support of what was once a nascent congregation is now a vital part of the campus we call Bethany.

I will say it out loud here; if things don’t change soon for Bethany, our time will have come and gone and we will be a wonderful memory as to what once was. But the celebration will come just as a parent rejoices when a child sets out in the world. Grace Presbyterian - our Vietnamese Brothers and Sisters, to whom Bethany gave birth many years ago - is growing so strongly in Christ’s work that we should stand up and applaud them - and ourselves - for their success in sharing Christ’s message.

God provides.

Just a few days ago, I lost a beloved mentor and our church family lost a friend and matriarch in Gail Cullerton. But we don’t focus on the loss. Let us remember a friend who was among us for many years and the blessings she gave us of her wisdom, her spirit and her love.

Our neighbors in Redding and throughout the state are suffering significant loss, some of them losing their lives. We could pray for rain, but that’s not likely to happen. And we can ask, “What the hell, God?” But instead of bemoaning our fate, we must look for the manna. Firefighters from all over the western United States and the world are rushing to our aid. Red Cross, Salvation Army, and others are setting up rescue centers. Dollars and donations are pouring in. As Fred Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.”

We are not alone.

God provides.

Every time we sing the Doxology, we proclaim God will provide: “Praise God for whom all blessings flow.” We don’t sing “Praise God for all the things we get.” Nor do we sing “Praise God for just the stuff we want.” No! It’s “all blessings,” whether we recognize them or not.

When Job said to God, “Give me a break, Lord!”, God did not respond, “Okay - just kidding.” As we learned a few weeks ago, God said, “Who are you to question me?  I put the mountains up and set the borders for the seas. Don’t you tell me what’s what!” And so, as Children of God, we must trust God. And we have more reason to do so than the good Job did; we have the Christ - God’s visage on earth - to lead us on God’s path. And while even the Yellow Brick Road had its obstacles, that way - God’s way - is the way of love and peace and, yes, even prosperity; the prosperity of a full heart.

But a full heart and loving spirit, while essential to the soul, does nothing for the body.

James, brother of Jesus, tells us that If a brother or sister is in need of clothes or food and one of you says unto them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” and you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is that?

James reminds us that while we need to feed our souls daily, we also need the material manna, not unlike that which God sent to the Israelites. Good food and clean water. That is available for us through many different agencies - government, charitable, and personal. Maybe not cake or wine turned from water, but here, in Sacramento, we are blessed. We are blessed with food and drink for the body.

And today, as we take Communion, the bread and juice before us - the food and drink - is a reminder of the body and blood of Christ, who died so that we may live without sin. Manna today and manna mañana - the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, today and for the rest of our lives. Brothers and Sisters, I cannot promise that our bellies will always be full. But whoever comes to Christ will never hunger for love, and whoever believes in Christ will never be thirst for salvation.