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Bread of Heaven

Rev. Kate Layzer
Sun, May 01

Texts: A retelling of Exodus 16 and “Stone Soup”

So what do you think is the secret to having enough?

Both stories are about sharing, yes?

Both are about people caught in an old way of doing things, learning a new way that brings freedom and life—
and learning it together, young and old.

They’re wise stories: They know that people don’t just happen on new ways of being together. They have to be shown. They have to be led into the new way, by someone who has had a taste of it, someone who can look beyond what IS to envision what might be. In the folktale, the wisdom comes from outsiders—traveling strangers. In the Bible it comes from God speaking through Moses. In both stories the people must take a chance on a new way of being together.
Of course, being human, they resist. They mistrust. They have to be led, step by step, like walking in the dark. The path of liberation is always frightening—always a journey into the unimaginable. We can’t truly envision what we’ve never experienced, until we find ourselves IN it.

Indeed, the story of Israel begins with just this uncertainty: “Go,” God says to Abram, “to the land that I will show you.” What land? You’ll see when you get there. Faith calls us to journey together, out of our settled ways and patterns and onward to new ways and new patterns.

Both stories, the folktale and the Exodus story, invite us to imagine plenty appearing in the midst of seeming barrenness. Share? Why, there isn’t enough even for us! But then it turns out, there is. When the people draw closer together. When they discover a common purpose—something with the power to pull them out of the cramped, anxious world of their personal affliction, and their fears for the future… into relationship. Into collaboration. Into community.

It’s not enough to cross the Red Sea. We have to gain freedom inside ourselves from the Egypt we’ve internalized for too many generations, the ingrained patterns of an exploitation society, by actually doing something different, in the flesh.

“We have nothing,” the people say. “We are powerless. This is the way things are.”

But then someone brings carrots, another onions, another noodles. And suddenly, in the midst of them, there is joy. Together they become so much more than the sum of their parts.

Are you nodding, all you people out there who have been a part of the Friday Café? Or sandwich making? Or Tuesday Family Nights? or First Church Fellowship lunches?

There is deep wisdom here that can only be learned by participation.

Left to ourselves, our temptation will always be to isolate. We have to be coaxed out of our hiding places and back into life in community, with all the thorny, unpredictable, unfathomable, awkward orneriness that entails. (Oh, sorry, am I talking about myself again? I beg your pardon.)

It takes real, honest-to-goodness practice, and a willingness to risk. A monthly practice of getting together to make sandwiches for hungry neighbors. A weekly practice of opening our doors and creating space for community where every life is valued, everyone’s needs are recognized and dignified. It takes showing up and trying and failing and learning, in the flesh, so that tomorrow’s flesh will know something that today’s flesh only dimly apprehends.

The secret is in the shared participation. So risky, right?

Which is why, in the manna story, everything has to be spelled out so explicitly, and in the imperative voice.

God resorts to command, not to teach the people to be docile, but to set them free. It’s the voice of experience helping the inexperienced master a new and unfamiliar way of moving in the world. Like my rowing coach, the Rev. Dan Smith, who has been helping me with rowing machine ergonomics: Keep your back straight. Push with your legs, then lean back into the stroke… until it becomes second nature.

It’s taking me a while to get to the second nature part. I hope it doesn’t take forty years. Because that’s how long God kept the people of Israel in the wilderness, practicing the new economics. Day after day of learning to depend on God, to trust God, to loosen fear’s grip on their lives, and learning to live together in good faith. Forty years.

“Go out in the morning, and gather enough for the day. Don’t take more than you need, but make sure you have enough. Don’t hoard: Trust God that tomorrow there will be enough for your needs. For EVERYONE’S needs.”

Unless everyone thrives, no one does.

God must have really, really cared about forming this people—this ornery, mistrustful, awkward, holy people who were to be models of God’s new reality right in the midst of all the peoples of the world—a tiny, peaceful, but unsettling presence, an implicit challenge to the status quo. A light for all to see, and perhaps, one day, to follow. “Put some of the manna in a jar, and keep it in your holiest place,” God says. This is life-or-death stuff, folks. You have GOT to remember about the manna.

The manna says: “God is with us. God’s steadfast love endures forever.” It says, “All good things come from God.” It says: “God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore I will not fear, though the earth should change.” Do not lose the manna.

Where is it, by the way? Whatever happened to that jar?**

At Friday Café, we are trying in our imperfect way to live into the manna story. Once a week we open up a space where people from all walks of life can step out of the daily reality we know as the way things are—a world of security and privilege for some, struggle and invisibility for others, where all of us have our positions in the social pyramid—

(pyramid, as in those things the Israelites were toiling to build when God swooped in and rescued them out of Egypt, y’all… just saying…)

…out of that world, and into a different reality, where all belong and all are fed, and no one is measured, ranked or excluded.

It’s creating quite a stir in and around Cambridge, our little Friday Café. It’s so simple and so radical, and even on our bumpier days, grace-filled. The world is noticing—and imitating. Do you know there’s already a Thursday Café in Worcester? True story.

Okay! Enough talk. Are you ready for some participation? We’re going to make sandwiches, together, following the children’s lead, because they’ve done it so many times, it’s second nature to them now. These kids know it’s about more than bread and ham and peanut butter. They get it, in a really deep way. “Simon, Son of John, do you love me? Feed my lambs.”

And then, when those lunches are made, but before we take them out to the streets of our city, we’re going to open our hands, young and old, and receive the bread of heaven, as a community on a faith journey together. The food of eternal life, from God’s self to ours.

And then, then we’re going to go into our church hall and take the next risky step of our journey together into the unknown. We can, and we will, together—trusting in God, who makes all things new… in us, and through us, for the good of all.

Thanks be to God! Let’s make sandwiches.

* ** Thanks to Bible scholar Ched Myers for that question, posed at a church retreat about 15 years ago.

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