Bread of Heaven
Let us pray:
Lord, we so long for you, to experience your presence and your peace. So, take away all bitterness and complaining from our lives. Take away all grumbling about our community and our neighbors. Help us to appreciate all that is done for us, and refresh our souls with your peace. Amen.
The revival service had just finished. Moses’ sister, Miriam, identified as a prophetess, (which just goes to show they were not all men) had led a women’s chorus with timbrel and dance, singing to the Lord, “for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” The event, which prompted this outpouring of enthusiasm, and the creation of the world’s first women’s circle, was the beyond-all-shadow-of-a-doubt liberation they experienced when God opened the Red Sea before them and closed it upon the Egyptian army behind them.
They were free of the bondage that enslaved them for generations, and more than that they now knew that God had with them all the time. Even when they thought they were alone, they realized God was still there unseen. There was another set of footprints in the sand. After the Red Sea the Bible says, “They feared the Lord and they believed in the Lord.”
Now, the open road was before them and expectations were high. They thought it would be all down-hill from there. They thought they just had to kick it into cruise control and enjoy the ride.
The reason they believed that was because they knew God was with them. They could see the direct manifestation of the presence of God in the Shekinah, the “pillar of fire that lead them by night and the pillar of smoke that led them by day.” 
So, they concluded, with God on their side, how could anything go wrong? God would surely clear the way. The Lord would to be their minesweeper diffusing any danger in their path. They thought, “every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain be made low; and the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain.” They thought the hard part was over.
So, imagine their surprise when they discovered that all of life’s challenges were not behind, but still before them. Three days past the Red Sea their canteens ran dry. They were out of water, so the Bible says, “The people began to grumble and murmur.” They began to moan and groan and cut off their conversations when Moses approached.
Their new mantra was, “Sure, you brought us out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, but what have you done for us lately.”
In these few verses a pattern is set that will repeat again and again over the next few chapters. It began with a blessing that lifted their eyes. They looked up. That is followed by expectation, which prompted them to look ahead. When their expectations were unfulfilled, disappointment followed stooping their shoulders and causing them to look down. Finally, they mumbled and grumbled and murmured and moaned and talked about how great things were in the past. They began to look back. This is a pattern that recycles until this day.
One preacher asked if any of this sounds familiar:
“I’m not happy in my work. When I got the job I never realized it would be like this.”
“Marriage has become a drag! On our wedding day I thought it would all be so different. It’s nothing like I imagined at all.”
“She was once a friend of mine. I reached out, helped her, loved her and gave myself to her. I thought the least she would do was respond the same way to me, but she didn’t.”
“We came to this church with high hopes. Expecting great things, we threw ourselves into the program without reservation. Now we’re disappointed in the whole thing. It didn’t turn out to be like we thought it would.”
Why do we do that? We have a vision about what we think life is supposed to be like, or better yet what we hope life will be like. Then a couple of good days, or a few good years of a rising Stock market convince us that we’re finally over the hump, that the hard times are behind us. We breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve made through the tough days. We want so much to believe the worst is behind us because we cannot imagine ourselves ever facing it again.
There are some who even develop a whole theology around this dream. They preach a health and wealth gospel that declares faith is like a get-out-of-jail-free card. “Believe”, they say, and you will be exempt from the trials and temptations that plague other people.
This is a powerful lure for people who have been knocked down by life. I saw this happen in the early 1980’s in a town on the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania. It was a one-shop town. Everyone worked at the lone steel mill or for a business that benefited from it. Then the mill closed and immediately almost everyone lost their jobs.
It wasn’t too long after that a preacher came to town and rented the newly vacant Ford dealership and began to tell everyone that if they believed and tithed, the mill would open up again and life would go on as it had. The church exploded in membership because people wanted to believe, needed to believe that their employment problem could be solved in the way they wanted by doing what that preacher said.
He quoted Jesus’ words “Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened, ask and it shall be given” and compared it to a kind of American Express card, that you should never leave home without. But, when the mill failed to reopen they were just as bewildered as the children of Israel when they finally found water only to discover it was undrinkable.
That’s when the murmuring starts. When things don’t work out like we thought they would or should we mumble or grumble or do both. Beneath their breath they mumbled, “Would that we died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to die.” They started to idealize the old days looking back through rose-colored glasses at something as terrible as their own bondage.
There is nothing that tears the fabric of faith apart quicker than murmuring in the community. It’s worse than flat out fighting because then you at least know who your friends are. But, whispering and grumbling behind someone’s back is always more insidious. It’s just not honest.
When the children of Israel got thirsty or hungry they blamed Moses and his leadership. But, Moses rightly pointed out “your murmurings are not against us but really against the Lord.” Prophets, like pastors and quarterbacks always get more credit than they deserve when things go well and more blame than they deserve when things don’t, because the Lord is the only one who can really provide what we truly need.
After the season of blessing, which led to great expectations and then to even greater disappointment, and after the grumbling and groaning the Lord did provide. When they were thirsty God gave them to drink and when they were hungry the Lord provided manna.
God provided, though, according to need and not desire. When the manna came it was sufficient for the day, but all attempts at hoarding ended up with further disappointment. It just didn’t last. That was the frustrating part, because we often have difficulty discerning the difference between need and desire.
You see this most clearly in your children who need a new toy, or need the latest in designer clothes, or need a later curfew because that’s what their friends have. These requests are never identified as wants or desires, but always as needs.
As adults we do the same thing. Just compare today’s average kitchen with kitchens of only sixty years ago. Dishwashers, garbage disposals and microwave ovens are standard faire. Nearly everyone has these things, but they didn’t even exist a half-century ago. So, do we need them or just want them? So, how do we distinguish between need and desire?
Jesus spoke to this when he looked back on this story in Exodus. In the sixth chapter of the gospel of John we find a similar context. People were hungry. It was long past their dinnertime. Their rations were meager, just a little boy’s lunchbox with a few loaves and fish. As God provided manna, so Jesus multiplied these loaves and fish and fed the five thousand.
The next day that same crowd followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee. Why? They had received the blessing and so their expectations rose. They followed Jesus hoping that he would do it again. Just show up at Jesus’ revival meetings and you can cut your food budget in half or eliminate it altogether. Jesus knew the story of the Exodus. He knew that these expectations would lead to disappointment and that the disappointment would result in murmuring, and grumbling and groaning. And in fact that is what happened. In John 6:41 the exact same word that the Greek translates, murmuring, is used to describe the Pharisee’s reaction.
So, he nips it in the bud. He said, “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man has given you.” In other words there are needs and then there are needs.
We all need food to live, but the Bible says we also need Jesus who is “the bread of life because when we come to him we will never hunger and never thirst.” There are needs that are temporal and needs that are eternal. Anyone who is well fed yet still discontent knows this is so. Anyone who exists on the margins of society yet is still at peace knows this is so.
People look to fill this need for contentment in a thousand different ways. I don’t need to list them. You know what they are, and deep down you also know that neither position nor prestige, neither wealth or health, neither lust nor even human love will completely satisfy that need.
The prophet Isaiah diagnosed our condition when he observed, “As when a hungry man dreams he is eating and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams he is drinking and awakes faith, with is thirst not quenched so are we…” That is why he later adds, “why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy?”
Well, why do we? Paul Scherer, a contemporary American theologian, was on target when he said, “The greatest question of our time…is whether man can bear to live without God.”
There are many who try, but to what end?
There is a “peace that passes all understanding” for which we all yearn. There is a secret, which Paul discovered that leads to his contentment in all circumstances. What is his secret? He said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
He didn’t say I can do all things because I’m better or smarter or stronger. He didn’t say I can do all things because I deserve it. He said, “I can do all things through Christ.” In other words, it is in receiving and understanding the grace of God the contentment and peace is found. Only grace can break that cycle of expectation and disappointment and murmuring.
When you realize that all of life and everything in your life is a gift, there is no talk of deserving or demanding, so disappointment does not cause such heartache. When you receive Christ, you can do far more than you thought you could through his strength.
An old hymn describes it this way:
He giveth more grace, as the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase.
To added affliction He addeth mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limit; His grace has no measure;
His power has no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
Let us pray:
O Lord, creator of all things, we put our trust in you. In you we live and move and have our being: without you we would become nothing. In times of weakness, when resources run low, help us to trust in you, for you are our helper and our shield, a very present help in times of trouble. Amen.
 Exodus 15:20-21
 Exodus 14:31
 Exodus 13:21
 Isaiah 40:4
 Exodus 15:24
 Swindoll, Charles: Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns. Multnomah Press, 1979, pg 61.
 Matthew 7:7
 Exodus 16:3
 Exodus 16:8
 John 6:26
 John 6:35
 Isaiah 29:8
 Isaiah 55:2
 Olgilvie, Lloyd John: The Bush is Still Burning. Word Books. Pg 57.
 Philippians 4:7
 Philippians 4:13
 Flint, Annie Johnson. “He Giveth More Grace”. Lillenas Publishing Co. 1969. New Church Hymanal.