“Enough is Enough”
September 22, 2019
This box of sand here typically lives in our Godly Playroom.
During the 11:00 service, our 4, 5 and 6-year-olds gather in a circle and play within the stories of our faith.
Whenever one of the biblical stories takes place in the wilderness,
the storyteller puts this desert box in the middle of the children, sits among them with eyes fixed on the story and says something like this:
So many important things happen to the people of God in the desert … we have just a piece of it here to remember the stories.
The desert is a dangerous place … in the daytime, it is hot — the sun scorches your skin.
At night it can be bitter cold.
People need special clothes to protect them from the heat and from the cold.
There’s very little water in the desert; it almost never rains.
There’s not enough water to grow crops.
And without food and water, people cannot live.
When the wind blows, the desert changes its shape, so it’s never the same.
It’s easy to get lost in the desert, hard to find your way.
No one goes into the desert unless they have to … or unless they have a very good reason .
In our story today the Israelites are in the desert because they have to be.
The only alternative is slavery – but slavery is precisely what God cannot abide.
They have been wandering in the wilderness wastelands.
But understand – wilderness is not just a matter of geography.
Wilderness is a spiritual state.
A condition of the soul. An ache of the heart.
Wilderness is seldom found among sand dunes.
Wilderness is more likely found around family tables, in the hallways of our schools, among colleagues at work, right beside you in the church pew.
Wilderness is when your best friend or even your life partner acts like he doesn’t even know you exist.
Wilderness is when the doctor starts using all the P words like prognosis, port, and procedure.
Wilderness is when you sit at the table with a stack of bills and it adds up to more than what’s in your bank account.
Wilderness is when you walk in the room and your parent no longer remembers who you are.
I may not know what your experience of the wilderness has been.
What I do know is that you have been there.
The Israelites wandered the wilderness for forty years.
Jesus stayed in the wilderness for forty days.
And if Jesus doesn’t escape the wilderness…
well, God knows we won’t either.
So as we listen to this story let us remember that it’s not just a story from once upon a time, but a story for every time. Let us recognize our own place in this wilderness waste.
The whole congregation of the Israelites came to the wilderness of Sin after they had departed from Egypt.
They complained against Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight, you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’
Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person.” ’
17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But 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.
19And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over until morning.’
20But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.
21Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
31 The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.” ’
35The Israelites ate manna for forty years; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36An omer is a tenth of an ephah.
The Word of the Lord
THANKS, BE TO GOD
A story like this raises many, many questions I’m sure.
Even now, I can see them like thought bubbles forming over your heads.
But one stands out above the rest – you know which one I’m talking about.
“What…in the HECK….is an Omer?”
Everyone was told to gather an omer’s worth of manna…but what is an Omer?
Well – Scripture really does have all the answers.
The final verse of our reading tells us that an omer is one-tenth of an ephah.
Oh! Of course, it is. Thanks for clearing that up, Exodus.
I got a little curious about this but you see, I don’t Math very well…yes, I just used Math as a verb. I don’t math very well. Better mathematicians than I tell me what the answer is, but I figure let’s have some fun with this and make it into a test.
So I asked my new friend John Wallace – this John Wallace over here – He loves numbers so I asked him to help me out with some conversions because it is possible to Rosetta Stone an Omer into the metric system.
So I’ll invite John to join us upfront as my lovely assistant brings out my daughter Naomi’s old school desk for your examination….it should be exceedingly uncomfortable to sit in. Oh – I see you brought your number-crunching calculator. We’ll allow it.
Are you ready?
So we already know that 1 omer is 1/10 of an Ephah.
Now – An Ephah is the equivalent of 72 Babylonian logs
Each log is 1/60 of a Maris.
And a Maris, of course, is the quantity of water equal in weight to a royal talent, which as we know is 30.3 liters.
So let’s give John a moment to do the computations while the rest of us hum the Jeopardy theme song.
Jarrett: “John – for Final Jeopardy, wagering your public dignity before the congregation of UPC, can you tell us what a metric omer is?”
John – “An omer is 3.636 liters”
Jarrett: “Let’s give him a hand…”
John goes back to the seat
So an omer is about 3.64 liters.
But perhaps the clearer answer is to say that an omer is enough
Measure enough to be satisfied.
Amount enough to live.
Math enough to make it through, thanks be to God.
Today we are kicking off our Stewardship campaign. Last Spring the committee chose the theme “Abounding in Hope.”
You might be asking yourself: “Preacher – if the theme is about abundance why are you leading off with a story about ‘Just Enough.’
Let’s read the one about 5000 people fed out of one boy’s lunchbox
or the one where Jesus turns 180 gallons of water into the finest wine.
Abundance is fun.
Enough just sounds…boring!”
We’ll get to some of those more extravagant stories – but before we can appreciate abundance, maybe we need a reminder that enough is enough.
This story may not be the go-to Scripture for Abundance, but it does serve another very important function. It unequivocally proves that “Hangry” is Biblical.
The Israelites are out there in the wilderness and they are hungry and they are angry about it…angry enough to down-vote Moses for freeing them from the Egyptians.
If only we were back in Egypt where we had bread and hours of back-breaking labor in the scorching sun.
You would think God might be getting ready for an old fashioned smiting.
But no – God comes to them in their complaints – complaints which are really the kissing cousins to fear.
God comes to them in the place where they are terrified of watching their children starve to death and God rains down bread from heaven.
It actually is every bit as extravagant as Jesus feeding 5000.
There’s manna everywhere – it’s covering the ground.
But God says ‘take one omer per person – that’s it.’
Some collect more – some collect less – but when they get out their measuring cups it always come just up to the one omer line.
Some anxiously sock some manna away for a rainy day, but it becomes foul.
The leftovers melt in the sun every day.
Everyone gets enough – just enough…nothing more, nothing less.
It’s almost as if God is saying “I will provide…maybe not as much as you like, but it will be enough to see you through to the next day.”
Jim Collins wrote a motivational book titled Good to Great.
His opening line is “Good is the enemy of great.”
If we are content to settle for what is good, he argues,
we’ll never achieve anything great.
That might be true.
But the opposite is just as true, if not more so.
Great can be the enemy of Good.
If we are so single-minded in our pursuit of perfection and abundance
we may miss the good, Good News that is right in front of us.
So maybe more than anything today we need to be reminded that an omer is just enough,
but that “enough” is guaranteed to get us all the way home.
This week Meg and I attended an event put on by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce – an opportunity for them to share some statistical data about this community we call our home. It all suggests that the Chapel Hill community has a number of assets – great schools and healthcare, significant economic growth and a robust tourism industry that employs people of all skill levels. This is a good place to live.
And it has problems. The number of 3rd-grade children reading on grade level is dropping – even more so if you are a person of color. It got me wondering what a Church like this might do to help. With all of these resources we are gathering for the coming year; with all of the expertise that is concentrated in this congregation – what contribution could we make to address this reality in our schools? That would be a very interesting conversation that I would like to have.
But then I started wondering how easy it is for us to let the Great become the enemy of the Good;
how our wish to do the right thing can mean we never do anything at all.
Maybe we have an omer to offer.
It may not be perfect and it may not be extravagant, but if I understand this text, perhaps it would be enough.
When it comes to manna in the wilderness, Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim would demystify this story by telling us about the tamarisk tree.
There is nothing supernatural about manna he would tell you.
Even today in the Sinai Peninsula a common plant lice punctures the fruit of the tamarisk tree and it excretes a substance from the juice.
What you end up with is a yellowish-white flake.
It has a sweet taste.
It disintegrates during the heat of the day.
The natives of that land still gather it and bake it into a kind of bread that they call manna.
Now to hear the miracle of manna from heaven explained away like that may burst your bubble.
OR – maybe that is just like God – using everyday, ordinary materials to provide a way in the wilderness.
Every day, ordinary people like you and me.
Which means that – in spite of all of our fears and insecurities –
WE are enough.
Of course, if you are anything like every other person I have ever met, it is easier to believe that bread falls from the sky than it is to believe that you are enough.
But we are enough…
This church is enough to make a difference for 3rd graders here in Chapel Hill and for college students down the hall and enough to make a difference in the reforestation of Haiti.
We are enough to keep this Good, Gospel story going,
Perhaps for no other reason than the grace of God which comes to us one omer at a time.