Reflection: September 18

Gracious God,

we pray that your spirit of love

will flow through each one of us

as we gather to worship this day 

and as we walk together 

on this journey of faith.

Amen

 

A journey of faith is what the Israelites took when they followed Moses out of the bondage of slavery into an uncertain future travelling in the wilderness. This story, recorded in the book of Exodus, tells the trials and tribulations of the Hebrew people as they journey together. The portion of the story, which Laura read for us today, reveals that the people are getting tired, hungry and grumpy. They have been travelling for a month and a half and this “wilderness wandering” is causing some frayed nerves and caustic tongues. They complain vociferously to Moses, and his brother Aaron, and even more acrimoniously they complain to God.

We don’t know exactly how many people were on this journey but we can assume it was a very large group because the account tells us that it was “the whole congregation of the Israelites” (Exodus 16:1,2); all those who had been enslaved in Egypt. This congregation would have included a wide range in ages from “babes in arms” to the frail elderly. A large number of people travelling on sandalled feet carrying food, water, and a few other essentials such as tents for protection, would have been a slow moving group. I’m not sure how many kilometres they travelled in a day but after a month and a half they still had a long way to go and their destination was not yet within sight or reach. It ended up taking them forty years to get to their final destination, but if anyone had known that when they started, Moses’ life would probably have been in danger.

As I said, the challenges of the journey and the uncertainty about their future put a great strain on their patience and their faith. They began to think they might have been better off staying enslaved in Egypt. In Egypt they didn’t have their freedom but they did have food and shelter. So far, as they journeyed, liberation was proving to be challenging. They were remembering the past more fondly that was deserved because of the difficulty of their present situation. Then, on this epic journey, just when many thought all was lost, they discovered what they referred to as “bread from heaven” which provided sustenance and hope for the future.

When the people saw the fine flaky substance on the ground they declared, “What is it?” because it wasn’t anything they’d ever seen before. The term “manna” used later in the story may have come from the Aramaic word meaning, what is it.

The part of the story from Exodus that caught my attention this week was the reminder that the people were instructed to gather just enough manna for the day. The second half of chapter sixteen, that we didn’t hear this morning, explains more fully about the gathering of the manna, “morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted”. (Exodus 16:21) Verse 20 says that if any of the manna was saved for the next day it became foul and inedible.  And, verses16-18 reinforces the mandate to gather only what was enough for their daily needs: “ ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer [which was a dry measure] to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.”

Often, when there is a deep psychological need or perceived scarcity, people will be tempted to hoard or stockpile goods in hopes of ensuring their future. In the exodus experience people had to live one day at a time trusting in God’s presence and guidance and trusting that their neighbours would take only what was enough for their family’s needs and leave the rest for others.

The Hebrew word for “enough” is, “dayeinu”. Immediately following this reflection we’ll be singing a song which recalls some of the experiences of the Hebrew people in their time of exodus. Each verse says that if God had only done one thing it would have been enough. It is a song of thanksgiving for the abundance of God’s generous love and attention. In times of uncertainty and crisis God’s loving presence is made known in small ways, and in mysterious and wondrous ways, and each sign of God’s presence is enough to sustain faith and courage for the journey.

We are often reminded of this in our personal journey of faith. It is in times of personal hardship, loss, or life changes that are challenging, that we realize that to love and be loved is often enough to sustain us. Thinking of this reminded me of a story. I don’t know whose story it is but I felt that it could be my story so I’ll tell it in the first person singular, as it was written:

At an airport I overheard a father and daughter in their last moments together. The departure notice for the daughter’s plane had just been announced and standing near the door the father said, “ I love you, I wish you enough”. His daughter replied, “Dad, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough too, Dad.”  They kissed goodbye and she left to board her plane.

The father walked over to the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me by asking, “Did you ever say goodbye to someone knowing it would be forever?” “Yes, I have.” Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my father had done for me. Recognizing that his days were limited I took the time to tell him face to face how much he meant to me. So I knew what this man was experiencing. “Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever goodbye.” “I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is her next trip back will be for my funeral.” “When you were saying goodbye I heard you say, I wish you enough. May I ask what that means?” The man began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents use to say it to everyone.” He paused for a moment remembering the details and as he remembered his smile made his whole face glow. 

“When we said, I wish you enough, we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with enough good things to sustain them. I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright, I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirits alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy you wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish you enough ‘Hellos’ to get you through the final ‘Goodbye’.” 

When he was finished he said, “I wish you enough” and he walked away into the night.

 

When do we have enough? When are we enough? When do we do enough? When do we share enough? These are some of the questions that have swirled around in my thoughts this week.

I know from my own experience that it is easy to get caught up in a negative mentality of never quite being, doing or serving, enough. To counter this tendency I have tried to develop what I think of as one of my spiritual disciplines. I do what my time and energy allows and at the end of the day I give thanks to God for the people I’ve seen and the work that I’ve done and the times of rest and recreation. Instead of feeling guilty for what I haven’t done that day I try to focus on the positive aspects and learnings from the day and offer to God what is yet to be done knowing that tomorrow will bring new opportunities and challenges. Sufficient unto the day is the phrase that I say to myself as I retire in the evening and that helps to reassure me that whatever my day has been like it has been enough.

In our journey together I wish for us enough. Enough of giving thanks, of sharing and receiving. Enough of opening our doors and welcoming strangers as friends. Enough of going beyond the security of our own walls and sharing the joys and challenges of life with others. Enough of building relationships through work and play and enough  of resting and reflecting and growing in love and faith together.

 

With this hope I’ll end with a prayer for the journey:

God of each new day, we are walking into mystery.

We face the future, not knowing what the days

and months will bring to us or how we will respond.

Be love in us as we journey.

May we welcome all who come our way.

Deepen our faith to see all of life through your eyes.

Fill us with hope and an abiding trust

that you dwell in us amidst all our joys and sorrows.

We give thanks for the gift of being able to rise

each day with the assurance of your walking

through the day with us. With faith and hope we pray.

Amen

 

 
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