Sunday, October 17

1 Samuel 3:1-5

Piñatas were a mainstay at our childhood birthday parties. As we grew older and stronger, we had to spin blindfolded in a circle, one for each year of our age. Once we finished our spinning, we were unleashed to take our whacks at the paper-mâché animal. Still blindfolded, we would always swing and miss, not knowing in which direction we were stumbling. In the end, we had to listen for our friends’ voices in order to get our bearings.

The scene between Samuel, the Voice, and Eli is also disorienting, both to their physical senses and to their spiritual sensibilities. It is late in the night, and Eli’s eyesight is similarly dim (v. 2). From another room, Samuel hears a Voice calling out his name. The entire scene plays out in near darkness, repeating itself several times as if the author is spinning the characters around blindfolded, trying to offer us enlightenment from different angles.

Such is the case in revealing their spiritual circumstances, too. It was rare to receive a vision from God in those days (v. 1). Eli’s dimming vision is both a physical malady and also a metaphor of his spiritual atrophy. Even still, the lamp of God had not yet gone out (v. 3), which signals to us both the time of night and the flickering hope that God had not abandoned them.

When challenging times come our way, finding our bearings can be difficult. When we feel overwhelmed or afraid, discerning God’s presence in those moments can be hard. Yet even in our disorienting hardships, this story reminds us that God is right there. God is awake at the wheel, bright-eyed and watching over us.

Consider

When you start to feel overwhelmed by the circumstances all around you, remember that God’s Spirit is within you.

Pray

Spirit, remind us of your persistent presence with us, even in the dizzying moments of our hectic lives. Amen.

Saturday, October 16

John 6:41-51

In this passage, Jesus shows that in God’s economy everything—whether it is physical food or spiritual food—is a gift. We seem to have trouble with receiving life’s good things as a gift. We think we must earn everything we have.

Johannine scholar Gail O’Day says that we have misunderstood the whole concept of food and work. According to Jesus’ teaching in John 6, work is not what we think it is. It is living in and out of faith.

We have difficulty getting beyond physical perception to spiritual understanding, so how can we grasp what Jesus is trying to say? He says the manna kept the Israelites alive for forty years, but they eventually died. “I’m trying to tell you,” he continues, “that there is a kind of food that will sustain you forever” (v. 51, paraphrase).

Arthur John Gossip, another Johannine scholar, describes the people in today’s scene (and us as well, I think) as “dull creatures with no glint of poetry in them.” That’s a little harsh, but surely we can imagine Jesus’ exasperation with them and with us. His audience is thinking of the young man who grew up among them. How can he be the bread from heaven?

But Jesus keeps saying to all of us that he—what he is, what he teaches—is the true food of the soul. Gossip says that this spiritual food nourishes and sustains each soul, “enabling it to do and be all that it is meant to be and do.” Both our work and our food, O’Day says, is to live into the life of the one who loves us and gives us life.

Consider

How can you and I live into the life of Christ today?

Pray

Holy God, show us the way to receive the gifts of food and work, the bread of life. Amen.

Friday, October 15

Exodus 16:27-36

In today’s text, we watch as the Israelites settle into the rhythm of work and Sabbath. Some of them, of course, learn this rhythm the hard way. They go out on the seventh day to gather the manna and find nothing there. Eventually, however, it seems that they, too, follow the rules.

The Israelites will live on manna for forty years, until they come to a habitable land. Knowing this, God instructs the people to keep a portion of manna to remind them of God’s faithfulness. So Aaron takes a jar and puts the equivalent of one person’s daily portion in it.

Aaron places the jar before the covenant to be carried with them through their wanderings (v. 34). Most scholars say that this is a reference to what later will be the ark of the covenant. Hebrews 9:4 says that a “golden urn holding the manna” was inside the ark of the covenant with other sacred objects.

This jar is to be a sacred token of remembrance of the time when God rained bread from heaven. It is to remind future generations of God’s faithfulness, of a time when each family took only what it needed for each day, and of a time when there was enough for everyone. Walter Brueggemann calls this a “sacramental memorial.” The Eucharist, he says, remembers the manna story and envisions “what it will be like when bread from heaven is not hoarded, but is trusted in by the human community on a daily basis.”

Consider

Do you have any tokens that remind you of God’s faithfulness?

Pray

God, help us remember the times when you provide for us all. Help us to hold the vision of your faithfulness in our hearts. Amen.

Thursday, October 14

Exodus 16:19-26

When God sends manna to the Israelites in the desert, they receive specific instructions: “You are only to gather enough for one day and only enough for yourself and your household” (16:4, paraphrase). Today’s text goes into detail about how they must gather the food and put it aside for the Sabbath. They are told to gather enough on the sixth day to cover two days so that on the seventh day they will be able to rest. The permission to store food for tomorrow will not be allowed for any other day of the week.

So, what is the first thing they do? Some of them decide to save some manna for the next day. Maybe they gather just a tad more than they need for that day. The human instinct for hoarding, for creating just a little bit of surplus to tide us over, is so strong that we ignore God’s instructions again and again.

But hoarding doesn’t work. As we see from the text, the food rots and maggots infest it. Under God’s system, it doesn’t do you any good to take more than your share. This is a theme that runs throughout the words of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus. The prophets preach themselves hoarse over injustices to the poor. Jesus tells parables about people who refused to share their wealth.

We are so much like the people of Israel. We can’t seem to pay attention to God’s instructions. We face our own wilderness, just like they did. We look into the desert and we see scarcity, just like they did. We find it very hard to trust, just like they did.

Consider

How have we drifted away from God’s instructions?

Pray

God of plenty, forgive us when we forget your instructions. Help us to trust your bounty and to share out of our abundance with our neighbors. Amen.

Wednesday, October 13

Exodus 16:13-18

When evening comes, and quails fly into the hunger-stricken Israelite camp, it must have been something like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. There is quail meat for everyone.

The next morning, when the people come out of their tents,
they see a white substance covering the ground. “What is it?” they say (v. 15). This is how traditional scholarship translates the Hebrew man hu, from which we get the word manna. I like this translation for the power of the story it evokes. I like to think of the people coming out of their tents like children on Christmas morning, looking at the ground in wonder and saying, “What is it?”

There are many speculations as to what the stuff really was, from some kind of lichen to insect residue. It’s interesting that the subjects of all of these postulations are edible, high in nutrients, and have a sweet taste. By most accounts, this was a substance that appeared naturally in the desert. So we can imagine that the gift was there before the people of Israel arrived; they just hadn’t seen it before.

In the next few verses in this chapter, we’re going to learn that some of the Israelites do not pay attention to God’s instructions, and we are going to see how that works out for them. But for now, dwell on the mental image of people gathering the food, tentatively tasting it and discovering its sweetness, then looking at each other with goofy grins on their faces.

Consider

“What is it?” Will you greet the gifts of God today with this sense of wonder?

Pray

God of manna, we pray that you would open our eyes to the gifts around us. Make us more aware of your abundant care for us. Awaken in us a new sense of trust and joy. Amen.

Tuesday, October 12

Exodus 16:9-12

Isn’t it interesting that from the beginning of this story in chapter 16, the murmurings of the Israelites are not pointed at God, but at Moses and Aaron? Isn’t this the inevitable crisis of leadership that seems to take place in Act II of every story? After people start on the journey, they run into problems. Then a few with short tempers and big mouths stir up the community with their grumbling.

Isn’t it also interesting that God reacts before Moses does? Instead of berating the people for their whining, God says, “Tonight you will eat meat. And tomorrow morning you will have bread. Tell them, Moses. I have heard their complaining.”

So here the Israelites are, standing in a crowd, listening to Aaron relay what God just told Moses. As they listen, they begin to look toward the wilderness. In doing so, as Walter Brueggemann suggests, they finally look away from Egypt. They see a strange light or cloud near their camp that they recognize as the presence of the Lord.

Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has written a song called “Rumours of Glory,” in which he evokes the longing we all have to glimpse signs of God’s presence. He suggests that we see them in the midst of everyday things, in the midst of our isolation from one another, in the midst of our own deserts. Each verse ends with “something is shining / like gold but better / rumours of glory.”

When the Israelites recognize that the strange light near their camp is God’s presence, they finally realize that the desert is not the deadly place they thought it was. The desert is the place where they can see God’s splendor.

Consider

Where will you see rumors of glory today?

Pray

Holy God, help us to see where you are in our world. Help us to draw our hope from those glimpses of your presence. Nourish us with those moments. Amen.

Monday, October 11

Exodus 16:4-8

When we are in the wilderness of our discontent, God often speaks hope to us, but we are complaining too loudly to hear it. In today’s passage, I hear the note of exasperation in God’s voice: “Okay, tell them they will be provided for. I will saturate you with bread from heaven. You will have plenty to eat.”

The instructions God gives to the people have many layers. They must only gather enough food for each day. It will provide for one day, and one day only—except on the sixth day so the people can observe the Sabbath on the seventh. They must trust God for the next day and the next. God says to Moses, “Let’s see if they follow my instructions. Let’s see if they trust me.”

This whole concept of daily bread is so difficult for us to fathom, much less embrace—especially in our affluent society. Really? Just a one-day supply? I can imagine thinking to myself, “At least give me enough for a week. How do I know this food will rain down from heaven the next day? And we have to wait until evening? I’m hungry now.”

We could learn a great lesson from this, if we were only willing. Just think what we could accomplish if we learned to believe that provision will be there. Just think what the world would be like. Wouldn’t we be less likely to take more than our share? Wouldn’t it make us less likely to worry about how much others are taking, and whether that affects our portion?

Consider

What is holding you back from trusting God for daily bread?

Pray

Holy God, have patience with us. Feed us with the bread we need for this day and show us how to trust in your abundance. Amen.

Sunday, October 10

Exodus 16:1-3

Human beings are fickle. Most of us really do mean well, but fatigue and hunger can strike us down and turn us into selves we aren’t proud of. It’s all well and good early in the morning, after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, as we pack our bags and take off on our spiritual adventure. Sometimes we are so content following other people, we don’t even pay attention to where we’re going. We assume they know the way.

But then evening arrives, and we haven’t even eaten, and our legs hurt, and we’re pretty sure our leaders are lost. Perhaps they were never headed in the direction we all intended to take. So, instead of trying to help and encourage them, or even just stay out of the way so they can think, we whine about how hungry and tired we are. We begin accusing them of getting lost on purpose. We turn on them.

This is what the Israelites do just over a month into their journey out of Egypt. Like the Israelites, we’re great at beginnings. But when we start to fade and the map becomes confusing, we want to go home. We don’t care if we’ll be slaves to that old life. We just want a hot meal and a bed.

At that point, we must stop. Literally stop. We must rest and see to our immediate needs. We must let go of our fears and trust God. Perhaps tomorrow the path will be easier to see.

Consider

When you are overcome by weariness and the lack of spiritual nourishment, what could you do to renew your strength and recommit to the journey?

Pray

God of our journeys, forgive us when we forget who we are and whom we serve. Give us rest and guide us as we try again to follow your path. Amen.

Saturday, October 9

John 8:48-59

When religious leaders ask Jesus who he claims to be, he says, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing” (v. 54). Those of us who struggle with self-promotion may prefer the anonymity of the background to the spotlight. Maybe we were taught that touting our accomplishments is showy, while being unpretentious and not making waves is better.

Damon Runyon irreverently writes, “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.” If we aren’t willing to speak up on our own behalf, why should we expect others to do so for us? The desire to keep our horns silent can be taken to extremes. In a 2018 study, over half of surveyed intensive care patients hesitated to express their health concerns because they feared being seen as a troublemaker by their caregiver.

What is positive self-promotion? Entrepreneur author Seth Godin observes that we don’t encounter the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and think, “Wow, what a self-promoter.” Why? Because people such as Yo-Yo Ma promote ideas, methods, or products that benefit others, rather than boosting themselves at the expense of others. It’s more about how you make others feel, less about how you yourself feel.

Paul echoes Jesus in his letter to the Corinthian church. He says that gifts, powers, understanding, generosity, and even faith are all noise and nothingness if not undergirded by love (1 Cor 13:1-4).

This week, we saw Moses being offered an opportunity for glory by following God and delivering the Israelites from slavery. Because glorifying himself was not his aim, his story shines with the possibility of what God does through those who care how others feel.

Consider

When someone asks about your accomplishments, which ones show that benefitting others was a higher priority for you than self-promotion?

Pray

Lord, you did not make me to be a Moses, but to be myself. Open my eyes to see the opportunities you have for me and help me glorify you through them. Amen.

Friday, October 8

Exodus 4:13-17

While traveling on an isolated stretch of interstate in the Southwest many years ago, I looked up from my reading when my wife gasped. Ahead of us we saw a van weave, clip the edge of the highway and roll over several times, spewing paint cans until finally coming to a rest on its side. Stopping several hundred yards behind it, I jumped out of the car and ran towards the motionless vehicle . . . then slowed.

There was no cellphone to call for help. I was aware of our isolation. I knew I lacked medical training. I feared what I would find.

So, I yelled, “Are you all right?” Mercifully, a hand and then a head popped out of the side window, saying they were okay.

I’d like to think I would be that courageous person who would run back inside a burning building to save a child if needed—but I remember that van and wonder.

Today, in a last attempt to avoid God’s calling, Moses asks, “Lord, is it possible you asked the wrong person?” The person who simply dismisses Moses for not having enough faith is missing the point. His fears—rejection, authority, skills, and disabilities—are legitimate.

An experiment at the University of Pennsylvania followed a group with general anxiety disorders for a month after participants shared their fears. They found that 91.4 percent of the predicted worries never happened. As Rudyard Kipling writes, “Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”

Moses finds then, as we can discover today, that God knows both our fears and dreads, and can be trusted to equip us for the journey ahead.

Consider

On many calendars, next Thursday is National Face Your Fears Day. This week name your fears and any steps you can take to address them.

Pray

Lord, thank you for hearing my doubts and fears. Calm me. Guide me. Help me trust you more. Amen.