Bread of Angels, Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16- 24-29, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21), September 30, 2018
People who idolize the past think fondly about the good old days, and more often than not, just mumble, grumble, and complain about the present. They conveniently forget all the bad of the good old days and only remember a self-glorified past.
That’s what we hear about this morning in our Old Testament text from Numbers chapter 11. It is the Israelite’s response to an idolization of the past. Here in this part of the story, the people of Israel have only recently been released from the grip of the Egyptians, maybe about a year or so earlier. They had been to Mt. Sinai, they had received God’s glorious Law, and now they set out on a journey to the Promised Land that God would give them.
They were led by God, Himself, with a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. They went when He went, they stopped when He stopped. They didn’t have to know where they were, and they didn’t have to figure out where they were going. God was gracious enough to provide the way, and be their Leader.
And then there was the food, oh the food! Every morning they would pull back the flap of their tents and there, with the morning dew, was their sustenance, sent from Heaven. Manna, even the name itself contained the very mystery of God. It was to provide for His people who didn’t deserve it. The psalmist calls it, the Bread of Angels (Psalm 78:25).
Their Journey was laid out for them, their food was provided, and they had the very presence of God leading them every step of the way. It would seem as things couldn’t get much better for Israel.
Well you know the story. I’m sure it didn’t take long before they began idolizing the past. As if Egypt had been some kind of five-star restaurant, in which they had the menu memorized. But now just manna! Baked and boiled, hot and cold, beaten and bland! Who’d have thought you could get sick of the Bread of Angels? Nothing but mumble, grumble, whine and complain.
Can you imagine how they could idolize the past? How they could forget that the food of Egypt was bought with the very expensive price tag of over 400 years of slavery?
Can you imagine how their desires for the Egyptian cuisine caused them to forget their oppression that they had been under, and the difficult labor that they were forced to do? Maybe the manna, day-in-and-day-out, didn’t taste so good, but had they forgotten that it was a gracious free gift of God?
They didn’t see what they had, but what they lacked. So rather than pull open their tent flap and rejoice at the freshly provided Bread of Angels, they mumble, they grumble, they whine and complain. They long for the good old days. And the cry-baby tears they shed blur their vision so that they couldn’t see the present works of God.
We do the same thing. We completely miss the mighty works of God that He’s doing right now, in our midst, because we’re too busy fondly remembering what happened 30 years ago. This is interesting because what God was doing 30 years ago He continues to do even now. He hasn’t changed, and yet in our sin and our rebellion we take the life-giving sustenance of God, like His Word and His sacraments, and we despise it, because we’ve grown tired of it. It just doesn’t give us that “feeling” like it is supposed to. Can’t we try something new, different, and fresh? Who’d have thought you could get sick and tired of the Bread of Angels.
There was a high school senior who was getting ready to head off to college. She had already checked out where she was going to attend church. Thankfully there was a Lutheran Chapel right there on campus. It had a big sanctuary, with vaulted ceilings, and could probably seat about 300 people. It had beautiful stained glass windows and a booming pipe organ. It had a pulpit, an altar, and a baptismal font that was right there front and center. And the pastor had a real zeal and love for teaching the pure Word of God.
This new College freshman was so excited to get involved. She was so excited to make new friends and to continue learning and growing in her faith. She was so excited to worship with this new community of believers. She went to worship the first Sunday that she was on campus, but when she got there, there were 7 people. Two of them were the pastor and his wife, and she made eight. Eight people gathered together in a sanctuary to fit 300.
At first she was disappointed. But they were friendly folks and she heard God’s Word, which was the primary reason she was there. The next week attendance went up slightly, as more students arrived but it usually hovered around 7 to 10, maybe 15 on a good day. After a while, she didn’t even notice the number anymore. She didn’t care how small or big they were, because she was being fed God’s Word and she was falling in love with the Bread of Angels.
Now when she would go home, she would talk to some of the members of her home church and they would ask her how things were going. She would tell them a couple sentences about how things were. But soon she figured out that people didn’t actually want to know what was going on there. They thought they knew. I mean there were only seven people, what could be happening with seven people!
What they really wanted to do was to be able to idolize the past about that wonderful place when it was booming and filled to capacity. They didn’t want to hear about the present as much as they wanted to remember the past.
Oh, how she wished that people would have cared about the present. Because then she would have been able to tell them that Sunday after Sunday, those 7, 8, maybe 10 people got to feast on the Bread of Angels. The Word of God was placed in their ears, a word about Christ crucified and risen for their sins. His forgiveness was placed on their tongues, His true body and blood, to sustain them in their faith on a college campus that was largely opposed to God.
Sure anyone looking in may have easily asked the question, why do people keep going back there, why do they even keep that place open? What’s the point? She wished she could pull back the tent flap and show them, the mighty works of God that happened in that place. But all they did was mumble, grumble, whine and complain.
Maybe it’s the same for you; maybe you have fond memories of that church back home that you used to go to, that you miss so much. Maybe it was the preacher, or the people, and you struggle to see right here, the beauty of Christ’s bride.
Maybe it’s the same for you; maybe you fondly remember how things used to be here, in this place. Maybe you remember when this building was built. You remember when folding chairs had to be added in the aisles. It was crowed and exciting! You remember the good old days of our school, the crowded classrooms! Things were good!
Maybe you remember all those things for sure, but how easy it is to forget that the one thing that God uses to sustain His people then, hasn’t changed at all. His Word of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, His sacraments where He claims us as His own and where He feeds us with the very body and blood of Christ for our forgiveness. Have we forgotten? Has our idolization of the past caused us to forget about the mighty works of God here and now?
How does God deal with such people who suffer from an idolization of the past? Well, in His love and mercy He jogs our memory. He reminds us of His mighty works. For Moses and the Israelites, part of it was reminding them just how much He was able to provide for them. They thought that He hadn’t provided enough, so He had to show them again, just how much He could provide. When He was up to His nose in complaining, they were up to their nose in quail meat. So much quail meat, in fact, that they weren’t able to eat it fast enough.
But that wasn’t the only thing God did for them. More importantly He gave them His Spirit. They were at the Tent of Meeting, in the middle of the camp, God took His Spirit and He poured it out upon 70 elders and they began to prophesy. We don’t know what they said but we know it didn’t last long, and somehow even Eldad and Medad prophesy.
A young man comes and tattles on them, and Joshua tell Moses to just tell them to be quiet. Moses said “Would that all God’s people were prophets, and the Lord would place upon all of them His Spirit.”
About 1400 years later that’s exactly what happened! That simple prayer of Moses was answered as the rushing wind, and the tongues of fire, and a multitude of languages showed the mighty works of God on the day of Pentecost. Peter stood up with the 11 and with a profound sermon he pulled back the tent flip, which vailed their understanding. He proclaims the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ.
That’s what the Holy Spirit comes to do, to point us to Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes to remind us all what Christ has done and taught; to remind us how this Jesus was proved by so many signs and wonders; how this Jesus was delivered up, crucified and killed by lawless men. How He was raised up by God on the third day making Him both Lord and Christ of all. The pangs of death are loosed and the curse of sin is lifted.
2000 years after that first day of Pentecost, here we are, and it would be easy to idolize the past and long for the excitement of the early church that was growing. Yet we must consider what happens even today.
Today the very Word of God is read and proclaimed into your hearing. Today Jesus is placed into your mouth for the forgiveness of your sins, true body and true blood. Such are the mighty works of God. How could we ever get sick of such Bread of Angles! Today we gather to have our memories jogged of a God who does remember. He remembers His promises to you. Amen.