09/24/2017 - Father Knows Best

Sermon by Pastor Dan Woodman


Exodus 16:2-15
Matthew 20:1-16


For those of you under fifty, you likely have no idea as to who the family portrait is on the front of your bulletin.  For those of you older than that you absolutely know not only who it is but can likely name them all by both character and actor.  The characters are the Anderson family.  The show, Father Knows Best, was one of the most popular shows on television.  It ran from 1954 to 1960 and won six Emmy awards along the way.  It was based on a radio program with the same name. It was on at 10:00 on Sunday nights and then switched networks and aired on Wednesdays at 8:30, and everyone was watching.  If you’re scratching your head trying to come up with all of their names:  Robert Young played insurance manager Jim Anderson.  Jane Wyatt was the wise housewife, Margaret Anderson.  The oldest daughter Betty (aka Princess) was portrayed by Elinor Donahue.  The son, Bud, was Billy Gray, and finally, everyone’s favorite, the youngest daughter was Kathy (aka Kitten) played by Lauren Chapin.  Jim Anderson was the problem solver as he and Jane raised their kids in suburbia.  He always had the answer, even if the answer was sometimes not what they wanted to hear.  It was that golden age of innocence and optimism in the country, and it was reflected in its television programming.  We all know now that that innocence was far from perfect.  There was still racism, poverty, substance abuse, gender inequality, sexual discrimination, and a host of other social problems that have, thankfully in recent years, been brought out from behind the curtain of ignorance and looking the other way.  But today I want to focus on our need to have the answer.  Even if that answer is not what we wanted to hear.

I’m referencing God as father in this message, but I recognize that for some people that does not work, and for all kinds of good reasons.  So, feel free to substitute your own pronoun or no pronoun at all.  The point is about our need for answers.  And, my intention is not to elevate Jim Anderson to divine status, but simply to lift up that we have a need to know what to do and how to do it.  When we don’t know that, we complain.  Complaining is one of the easiest things in the world to do.  Nowadays it seems almost like a national pastime.  As we look at today’s scripture passages it’s pretty obvious that it was a national pastime then, too; both in the Old Testament and the New.  And, I think we all know people who are not happy unless they are complaining.  I’m sure that’s none of us!  The point is that we complain because we are in a place of discomfort.  We want what we don’t have.  We want to be guided, to have certainty of direction and purpose.  When we don’t have it we are insecure and aimless; always in search of that which will forever satisfy our longing, and thus we complain.  I came across a quote recently and I would like to share it.  It’s on this very passage, describing how the Israelites awoke to fine manna on the ground and Moses says, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”  This poem lifts up how we might perceive God despite our hardships.  It is by Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

What gets you through the desert?
What gets you through?
What gets you through the chemo,
the healing from abuse, the bad marriage,
what gets you through
the job that tries to kill you,
the dark alley of the shadow of death,
the rotten places, the placeless places,
the evil you fear, the evil you've done,
your daily inadequacy,
what gets you through?

Some will call it courage or stamina,
luck or faith or reaching down deep.
But you know it's not you, not yours.
It's given. To you. For you.
From the Holy One.

The thread you follow,
the source you drink from,
the encouraging voice,
the Divine desire that you thrive,
the gift amid the desolation,
you find it anywhere—
the usual, the impossible,
the unwelcome.
You learn to recognize it.
You learn to receive it.

For that grace that gets you through
you learn to say thank you.

You learn to count on it,
and be surprised,
every morning.
Every morning.

Pretty good, right?  God does listen.  God does care.

So, on to our Gospel message.

So, let’s take a look at our Exodus reading.  The Israelites here are what we might call professional complainers.  It’s in the seventh word of the passage: “The whole congregation of the Israelites complained” against Moses and his brother Aaron.  They said they would have been better off dead in Egypt rather than die of starvation in the wilderness.  This whole exodus thing was a bad idea and it’s all your fault, Moses.  Why did we ever listen to you?!  Do something!  God does indeed hear their complaining and tells Moses he’ll fix it.  But it comes with stipulations.  He sends manna from heaven but they can only take what they need for a day.  On the sixth day they can take two days worth so that they can keep the Sabbath Day holy.  As grateful as they are for the food that brings them sustenance, do they follow the instructions?  In the subsequent verses we learn they do not.  They try to hoard it, and it goes bad.  They look for it on the Sabbath and there is nothing.  The message here is pretty clear to me.  God hears us, but we don’t hear God.  God provides us with our needs but for us it’s never enough.  We need something to complain about because we have been unable to clean the wax out of our ears so that we might be open to receiving God’s grace.  God can take our complaints.  God invites our complaints.  God knows life can be tough.  People get sick.  People are mistreated.  People die.  It so soften appears that life is just not fair. The Psalms are full of laments (another word for complaints).  There is a whole book of lamentations.  God wants to hear our innermost feelings, our deepest sighs, our most passionate expressions.  And, it’s so good to let them out!  But, for maximum benefit we need to make it a two way conversation.