Peace Sunday is on the 24th September. Fellowship of Reconciliation always produces resources for churches to use to explore the theme of peace, including reflections on the readings. This year I was invited to write one of them (with a strict word limit!): so here it is:
Exodus 16: 2-15
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
The people of Israel are in the desert.
Earlier, the story makes clear why they are here: they escaped from an oppressive regime under which they were violently persecuted. It is still, sadly, an all too familiar story. And so they seek the Promised Land: a place of freedom from economic oppression and safety from the violence inherent in maintaining it. Among those I have met who are seeking asylum, these two: safety and freedom, feature most frequently among the things they value here.
The passage opens with a very human struggle: from the desert, looking ahead to an amorphous dream, the Promised Land doesn’t glitter as brightly as it did from amongst the ruins of lives lived under an oppressive regime. As they struggle to cling to a belief that something better is possible, their grumbling is directed against the lack of the very basics of what is needed to survive: this is a people who want to live.
So where is God? God is in the desert. God is alongside the Israelites when they fear they will starve. God is by the broken down truck in the Sahara which is running out of water. God is on the MSF boats dragging drowning toddlers out of choppy waters. God is in the Calais camps handing out tarpaulin to those whose shelters have been ripped apart again.
And what does God do? God provides. He provides enough. More than enough, he provides an abundance: not a surplus, but an abundance. I don’t believe that is a contradiction. I also don’t believe it has changed. Biblical economics stands in stark contrast to market economics. The bible suggests God will provide and there will be enough. The market tells us we must grab and hoard more than our share. We must choose who to trust.
There are plenty of people who could write their own exodus story today. Just as God intervenes to change the story for the Israelites, so must we when we hear the cry of those still ‘in the desert’. And thus I hope that they too, through the encounter with His people, will be able to write a story which witnesses to the reality that God was in the desert and God provided enough.
You can download the booklet with all the reflections (or order paper copies) here: http://www.for.org.uk/peacesunday/