10 Pentecost B—8/2/15
Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; Psalm 68:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Pr. Scott Kramer
Have you ever felt homesick? Maybe it was summer camp as a child, going away to college or work, or getting married. For some, moving to a new city or even a new country can leave a person longing for the familiar faces and foods and things of home.
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. It’s not surprising that the people of Israel weren’t happy about their new life in the desert; food was scarce, water was scarce! But there’s more to this story than a hard life in the desert. This sounds like homesickness!
Four hundred years before they left Egypt, the people of Israel had left Israel and had been welcomed into Egypt during a time of famine. But the good times ended and the Israelites wore out their welcome. The Egyptians began to see the Israelites not as guests but as a burden, then as a threat, and finally, as slaves. And yet, many generations of Israelites had no experience or knowledge of Israel. They had forgotten who they were. Egypt was their home!
Leaving home is a really big theme in the Bible! In the very beginning, Adam and Eve left their home in the Garden of Eden, and not voluntarily! Abraham and Sarah, on the other hand, had a great life in their homeland but heard the voice of God, took their family and everything they owned, packed it into a Starving Students moving van and left home for a new land.
Leaving home is a really big part of human life. Last week my wife and I saw the new animated Disney-Pixar film Inside Out. It’s the story of an eleven year-old girl named Riley who has a happy life in Minnesota. One day her parents up and move the family to San Francisco. She is not happy. She is homesick!
But the film is not just about this family. It’s about the voices inside their heads. Five emotions are at work in each person: Fear, Disgust, Sadness, Joy, and Anger. Each of these emotions vies for control of each life situation. When the family moves, Joy doesn’t have much of a chance.
In today’s reading from Exodus the people’s complaint sounds reasonable. To grieve the loss of what’s valued and familiar is normal and can be good. The problem is that their complaint is not a one-time deal. It’s become a pattern–even a lifestyle!
Having left Egypt God’s people are now free. But that’s not enough. They complain of a food shortage. God provides and they eat miraculous bread called manna. But soon they tire of this, and want meat. The Lord provides quail. But nothing will satisfy the homesick heart. If a soul is determined to find their home in another place or another time, like the people of Israel wandering in the desert they may not see the gifts of God in the present and may never be happy.
The evidence for that is our gospel reading from John. Jesus is an expert in leaving home. He travels through Galilee. He travels to Jerusalem. In today’s gospel he shows up in Capernaum. Throughout his travels the closest he comes to homesickness is when he says, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
Jesus knows where his home is. It’s no house, no city, no people, no nation, and it’s no time from the distant past. For Jesus, home is wherever God is present and at work. For him that means…here and now!
How different from the people he meets along the way! They follow him all right, but their heart and their home are elsewhere. When did you come here? What must we do to perform the works of God? What sign are you going to give us? What work are you performing? So many questions! Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Even down to quoting scripture, these people were looking for the God they remembered from the distant past, blind to the Bread of Life named Jesus among them then and there.
Near the end of the movie Inside Out the young girl Riley runs away from home. She is convinced that she will never be happy in San Francisco so she steals money from her mother’s purse, buys a bus ticket for Minnesota, and jumps on the bus. But before the bus is out of town something clicks inside her head. She jumps up, shouts at the bus driver to stop, jumps off the bus, and walks back to her new home in San Francisco.
When she walks in the door, of course, her worried parents are thrilled and relieved to see her. As they embrace her, the young girl breaks down crying, apologizing for not being able to be happy in their new home. But then she hears something unexpected. Her parents agree! There’s lots they miss about Minnesota, too! By the end of the movie we see that something has shifted. The family is no longer stuck in some other time or place. In their shared grief they are beginning to make a new start and to see the abundant opportunities all around them. Not only the young girl but her parents are learning to grow up.
In a similar way, our scriptures describe the spiritual process of moving from childhood to maturity. We must no longer be children…but speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together…working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
The writer of Ephesians here describes the work of discipleship. No longer distracted by homesickness for some other time or place, Christian disciples devote themselves to discerning where God is present and at work here and now. They leave behind a spirit of complaint and discontent, to leading “a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
God provides bread from heaven for God’s people in every time and place. In one generation it’s called manna. In another generation it looks completely different, in the person of a man named Jesus. In our own time that Living Bread from heaven continues to rain down on us if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Dear friends in Christ, the table is prepared for us every day. Taste and see that the Lord is good!