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Back to the Beginning

Rev. Kate Layzer
Sun, May 06

Exodus 16:1–5, 13–26; Luke 12:13–21

Two stories for Feeding Sunday… A commandment, and a warning.

In the first reading, God’s voice is heard at the beginning of the story. Here is what you must do, my people…

In the second, God’s voice comes at the end. “You fool.”

Prescription, and judgment.

Israel has just emerged from the waters of the Red Sea. Camped in the middle of the wilderness, the people cry for food, and God responds with not just bread, but social revolution.

In Egypt, bread was a source of profit and a means of control. The people who owned the land called the shots. This is God’s chance to press the RESET button.

Back to the beginning, people. Remember the beginning?

“God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’”

“See, I have given.” Who made the earth? God. Who caused the earth to bring forth food? God. Who is the food supply for? Every living creature.

Of course, things go wrong. The Bible is one long, painful record of rebellion against God’s goodness. The story of the manna is one of those moments when God says, “Let’s go back and start over, shall we?”
This time God says: Let’s try it this way. Everyone shares in the labor. Everyone gets what they need. Stockpiling is forbidden—you’re not going to do what people have always done and put yourself in the place of God, gathering surpluses to give yourselves that false feeling of autonomy, and using those surpluses to boss other people around.

One day at a time—just like the 7 days of creation. Each day a reminder of our good Creator. Things go so terribly wrong when we forget!

God will later look back on those days as the period of Israel’s infancy—a time when they were new-born out of the waters of the Red Sea.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Ba’als,
and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11)

When Jesus tells the story of the rich man, he doesn’t need to remind his listeners about the manna. They get it. And he certainly doesn’t need to explain about rich men with barns. There were many, many such rich men in Galilee in Jesus’ day. They’d forced countless small landowners off their land and hired them back as laborers, compelled to buy the food they used to grow for themselves and their families. There was enormous wealth, and enormous income inequality. Sound familiar?

It’s hard to get away from Pharaoh.

I’m speaking personally: I have my own barn full of grain. I have a retirement account. I’m too scared not to. I get a cold clutchy feeling when I think about what happens in an extractive economy like ours when you don’t have the resources required to “take care of yourself,” as we call it; a system in which housing and healthcare and food don’t get delivered unless they’re making a profit for someone.
I am by no means certain that I will always be able to hold up my side of that bargain. One serious diagnosis, one prolonged medical crisis, and my security vanishes. Fear is the reason we keep “sacrificing to the Ba’als and offering incense to idols.” We call them by other names these days, but the impulse is the same.

Do you think God means for us to live as if each of us is effectively alone in the world?

Doesn’t it feel as if the time has come for a new beginning?

I think a lot these days about our nation… how the construct of race and the lie of white superiority were baked into our earliest laws and our founding documents, to justify black slave labor and keep poor whites in their place so that a few elites could gather wealth into barns. Our founders embraced these evils not because they didn’t know better, but because they wanted the barns.

I remember visiting Mt. Vernon a few years back, touring George Washington’s house, viewing the fields and gardens of which he was so proud—thinking, as I gazed, about the people who had tended those gardens and harvested those crops. And soon I found myself standing before a replica of the old slave quarters, my heart leaden with sadness. I looked to my left, and saw that another family had joined me, and was gazing into the meager living space, as I was. But their skin was black, and I had no words, nothing to say that wouldn’t feel utterly hollow.

I try, but I find it hard to imagine how we would go about fixing all this, 240 years in. It’s as internal as it is external. Pharaoh has a way of getting in people’s heads.

How do you go about leaving Egypt? What would a new beginning look like?

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” Jesus says to Nicodemus, and Nicodemus answers, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…”

God’s hand, held out to us, telling us not to be afraid. Telling us we don’t have to live this way. We don’t have to prey on each other, and be preyed on.

Really, though? I mean, really? In the real world?

Well, join the children of First Church in Margaret Jewett Hall on the first Sunday of each month as they work together around our church fellowship tables, expertly making sandwiches and assembling lunches for 36 hungry neighbors on the street.

Join the small band of First Church folks who gather on the first Saturday of the month to do the same thing—and then take those meals out to the streets, and hand them out directly to neighbors in need.

Drop into our Shelter some afternoon when Jim is cooking the evening meal, getting ready to welcome our guests in for the night.

Give Hilary a hand transporting our monthly food pantry collection to the Cambridge Towers on Rindge Ave., and see the long line of people waiting to pick up the food we bring in on the first Sunday of each month.

Or come on a Friday afternoon, and watch the Friday Café come together: setting up serving tables, dining tables, clothing, toiletries, beds where the weary can lie down in safety…

Watch how, from our new kitchen, the donated food begins to pour in—real food, a veritable feast, gathered like manna, enough for everyone—even as our numbers keep growing!— all of it beautifully organized by a small multitude of cooks, shift volunteers, and donors, every single week.

Linger to see the doors open at 1:00, and the room fill up with friends and friendship and belonging—belonging! It’s an amazing feeling. I can’t really describe it for you; you have to experience it for yourself. You have to come and be washed in the beauty of what God is doing here at First Church. It’s the most amazing outpouring of generosity, community and love, week after week.

One of our regular guests stayed in our Shelter for a time while he worked to get back on his feet. He left me a letter the day he picked up his keys and moved into his new place. I’m going to read you a portion of it, because this letter is for all of us.

“Thank you,” he wrote, “for providing me with a safe place to feel nourished and enriched, both physically and spiritually. Without your help, and the help of countless volunteers involved with Friday Café who meet and talk with people like myself, I wouldn’t be where I’m headed today. You all made me feel like a normal human being without any stigma of being homeless.”

Manna from heaven.

Is new life possible? Is a new world possible? Come see with your own eyes. Where God is, the world is forever being made new. Your life, and mine, young and old together—a new vision; a new, old way of being together—if we’re willing to become God’s children, again; if we’re willing to open our hands and be fed on God’s justice and mercy, God’s kindness and imagination and joy.

Are you ready? Then let’s ask the children to show us how to make a sandwich. And to our God be glory and praise, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.

Looking for ways to support our community during this unprecedented time of need? The Missions and Social Justice Committee has compiled and vetted a short list of organizations looking for assistance to aid in their work in the COVID-19 response...

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Shelter has expanded into Sage Hall to allow for greater social distancing, and is now open to guests around the clock, thanks to additional funding from the Commonwealth. They would very much welcome...