Exodus 16:1-18 CEB
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Sin desert, which is located between Elim and Sinai. They set out on the fifteenth day of the second month[a] after they had left the land of Egypt. 2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. 5 On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7 And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” 8 Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the Lord, because he’s heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening a flock of quail flew down and covered the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the desert surface were thin flakes, as thin as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What[b] is it?” They didn’t know what it was.
Moses said to them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Collect as much of it as each of you can eat, one omer[c] per person. You may collect for the number of people in your household.’” 17 The Israelites did as Moses said, some collecting more, some less. 18 But when they measured it out by the omer, the ones who had collected more had nothing left over, and the ones who had collected less had no shortage. Everyone collected just as much as they could eat.
15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.
The word “remember” marks many pages of scripture and the call to remember echoes from many pulpits and the walls of many churches. I was curious to see how many times a variation of the word occurs in scripture and here what I found (these statistics of course vary from translation to translation.) In the Old Testament the word remember occurs roughly one hundred and twenty-five times and occurs about thirty-four times in the New Testament. Both our text from Exodus and Matthew call us to remember.
In our Exodus text, the Israelites though they had recently escaped the grips of Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt, succumb to bringing forth various litanies of complaints to Moses and Aaron. The crowd even goes so far as to saying, ‘we would have been better off staying with the oppressive Pharaoh in Egypt, at least we had food there. How could you bring us out to the wilderness to die?’ They were well past the point of becoming what you may call a combination of hungry and angry—they were hangry– and in need of a Snickers to reset them. But let’s not be too harsh on them. We know folks are not at their best when they are hungry, angry, or tired- and the Israelites were all three of these things.
Sometimes we complain just to complain—I know I’ve been guilty of this, and I suspect at one point or another in our lives; we all have been there. It is easier to complain than to regroup and take steps forward. However, sometimes our fears come out of our mouths as complaints. I think this is what is going on with the Israelites. They are in the wilderness, hangry, worried about all the unknowns, and scared for their futures. Can you relate? When fear is driving complaining, people make non-healthy choices. It would have been ridiculous for Israelites to retrace their steps back to Egypt.
As a response to complaints, God calls them to remember. To remember God brought them out of Egypt, to remember that no matter what God is with them, in the glorious cloud. To remember to trust that God will provide as resources are scarce. God provides them with daily quail and manna. God sees their fear and sends bread.
Theologian Amy Erickson observes, “God acknowledges not only the Israelites’ need for assurance but also God’s desire to shape them as a different kind of people, a different kind of community. In the ritual practice of daily gathering of food that falls from the sky, they learn with their very bodies, to come to trust their God.” Through the daily collections of manna and quail, the people are reminded that they belong to God. The daily gifts of manna not only provide hope in fearful times, but also reminder that God is with them, inviting them to draw closer, trust more, teaching always enough manna for daily needs, always replenishing the supply.
What has been your daily manna these days? What little nuggets of nourishment and reminders might God be placing in front of you to remind you that in all things—you belong to God? Cards or phone calls from loved ones? Glimpses of green leaves exploding with brilliant colors before our eyes? Warm cups of coffee or tea? These gifts are enough to keep us going another day, our daily bread. All of these “manna’s” remind us of God’s presence.
This week brings us that incident from Matthew 22, wherein the Pharisees, along with supporters of Herod, try to trap Jesus by asking if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. They once again seek to trap Jesus in his words, but once again Jesus’ answer outsmarts them.
They know, as does Jesus, that for Jesus to say no puts him in direct opposition to the government, and for him to say yes breaks the hearts of the poor who have no money to pay. He would also anger the Pharisees and the crowds. A conundrum indeed, worse than being at a family dinner table talking politics and religion. So in typical Jesus fashion, he provides a “both-and” answer: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He not only to responds to a challenge with an even greater challenge, but takes a step further and insists that the relationship between faith and politics is too complex to reduce to platitudes. He looks at the coin given to him and basically takes a step further- Caesar’s face is on the coin so then give back to Caesar, however He also poses a harder question: What belongs to God? What do we owe to God? To be overly blunt- everything belongs to God- we are made in God’s image—but What (or Whose) image is really stamped upon us? This is what makes the difference.
As I researched for sermon, I came across several questions that keep me up at night. Questions like, what does it mean to give God what belongs to God in these hard and divisive days? How do we bear forth God’s image while our families, communities, and churches splinter over political and cultural differences that seem unbridgeable? How do we live into the all-encompassing reign of God while a scorched-earth, ideology-driven, “the end justifies the means” divisiveness reigns within American Christendom? How are we able to interact and play nicely with our brothers and sisters we disagree with around the world?
To reflect deeply on such thoughts and questions, Debi Thomas goes on to say, “When I read the Gospels, I don’t see a Jesus who cares more about the end than the means. If anything, he privileges the means: the one who calls himself the Way understands that the way we go about achieving our goals — the language we use or abuse, the stories we privilege or silence, the people we protect or oppress, the sins we confess or indulge, the truths we proclaim or deny — these make all the difference in the world. When I look to Jesus to think about how to practice my faith in the political realm, I see no path to glory that sidesteps humility, surrender, and sacrificial love. I see no permission to secure my prosperity at the expense of another person’s suffering, no evidence that truth telling is optional. I see no kingdom that favors the contemptuous over the brokenhearted and no church that thrives for long when it aligns itself with power.”
In the “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God” remark God always surpasses Caesar. Always. We are called to bear the Imago Dei, the image of God. We won’t always get it right, but we are called to try as everything belongs to God. One commentator observes, “We are beloved children, able partners in the ongoing work of creation, people who are living daily into our baptismal identity by giving God what is God’s: our lives, ourselves, our energy, our everything.” (Theodore Wardlaw)
So friends, what are we called to remember this day—-what do we need to remember? We belong to God. And in God we find belonging.
We belong not to the Caesars of our world, or to the names on our political ballots–we belong to God.
We belong not to the partisan political claims we make in election seasons–we belong to God.
We belong not to our possessions and things that keep us comfortable—we belong to God.
We belong not to the list of demands of our vocations or our seemingly never ending and rapid changing to-do lists—we belong to God.
We belong not to the charms of our secular world—we belong to God.
We belong not to our insecurities, grades, or perceived social standings—we belong to God.
In life and in death,
In times we shed tears of sadness and tears of joy,
In financial abundance or financial scarcity—-we belong to God.
We belong to a God who hears our joys and complaints—and provides life giving bread.
A God who journeys through the wilderness alongside us, who sends us daily nudges of care, and supplies us with daily quail and manna, enough to nourish us and lift our spirits.
May we remember every day, we belong to God. God’s image is stamped on our hearts and the call to live accordingly is a journey.
May we work towards being bearers of God’s image, and conduct ourselves accordingly. Until we become living sacraments of God’s love, grace, and mercy—of God’s call to ‘go out into the world in peace, to have courage, to love justice, do acts of kindness, even for people we disagree with, and to walk humbly as God’s children.
Friends, may it be so. Amen.