Exodus 16, Stretching to the fullness of new potential, the butterfly begins to sense the calling to new heights. Expansion of wings, however, means something profound — it cannot ever go back into the cocoon. Not even if it wanted to. And so it is time to leave it behind.
Those that left Egypt were aching for freedom and yet when faced with the disorientation of all that was new and unfamiliar, many began crying to go back; back into slavery. Chapter 16 of Exodus is a long narrative, and a great illustration for folks and churches facing a crisis of faith that occurs between bondage of the past and a future of well-being, as they hear GOD’S Call.
The Israelites’ crisis of the wilderness is a material crisis with GREAT ANXIETY over what to eat and what to drink. After establishing the nature of the crisis, there is a giving of the gift of bread, GOD gives the Israelites Manna from Heaven. The folks were complaining to Moses and GOD; and then GOD provided the bread from heaven, manna.
On page 59 of our Pew Bibles, please hear chapter 16 verse 31 and following, “Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer (an omer is about 2 quarts) ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept.
The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.” A full generation, 40 years passed before the Israelites crossed into the land of Canaan.
Folks, they ended up putting this container of manna into the Arc of the Covenant, when they had constructed the Arc and The Tabernacle. They did this as a testimony and witness to GOD’S providence for all future generations.
My friends, We can remember our past, and learn from it, but we also need to LET GO OF WHAT WE DON’T NEED FROM THE PAST!
And that requires deep trust in the God, who has promised to be with us always.
Rev. Ben Hensley is a wonderful Bible commentator who words have helped me with this message series.
He wrote the following, “I have two undergraduate degrees: one in music and one in theatre. In my theatre training, I remember a mantra I learned that illustrated the personal risk and fear one might have before a big performance or audition:
Gulp. Leap. Soar.” End quote
Friends, to me this is a beautiful and elegant way to describe how the most worthwhile things in life involve risk. I can only imagine, after being interviewed, and preaching, leading workshops at conferences; the terror or pressure or whatever you have with you before an audition, or a big performance can be petrifying. You might want to counterintuitively give up (despite all of your preparation and work), and you might be struggling with demons telling you lies about your shortcomings.
So, the first step is not to ignore that reality:
You swallow—or you GULP.
It’s time to take all of yourself with you and walk on the stage for your monologue or solo or even if you have to confront someone. It's time to walk across the stage under the intimidating and discerning gaze of directors who might offer you a role.
It’s time to sing the first note, or utter the first word, or dance the first step. You are on the precipice of greatness: Leap!!
It is only after you gulp, take the leap, vulnerable as you are, that you can SOAR!!
GULP! LEAP! AND THEN YOU CAN SOAR! The greatest talents on stage and screen all have stories of the pressure and fear involved with putting yourself out there.
And the greatest talents themselves
took the risk, gulped, then leaped, and then soared.
What fear might paralyze the butterfly before its maiden flight? To have undergone so much transformation, from a crawling caterpillar, to a stationary chrysalis — what frame of reference could a butterfly have for flying? The butterfly's wings have dried and fully extended. It is now time to let go of the branch it clings and SOAR!!
We find the Israelites in Exodus 16 complaining. They are in the middle of their wilderness wandering. After all the plagues sent by GOD they witnessed against their oppressors the Egyptians, after GOD split of the Red Sea, after Miriam's song of triumph over the Egyptian army, the Israelites are liberated. FREE!!
Their oppressors have been defeated.
But they are finding life difficult and scary, they said, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Their time in Egypt is known to be a place of deep abuse and heavy-handed oppression.
The Egyptians were becoming so afraid of the increase of the number of their slaves, they tried to force the Israelites midwives to kill all of the male babies that were born.
In our reading of Exodus, the Israelites encounter some of their first difficulties that were not in the regular rhythm of suffering to which they had become accustomed during their slavery in Egypt. One question is worth exploring: was it the hardship of the wilderness that led the Israelites to complain, or was it that the difficulty was new and unknown?
Israel was not reprimanded in this narrative for its anxious concern; grumbling against Moses and GOD, but they receive immediate, positive response from GOD. Israel is not required to repent its yearning for food; rather, they can expect to receive food from another source, one that requires dependence but does not lead to a fresh bondage.
Four times it is affirmed that GOD has heard Israel’s complaint. Then twice, on the basis of being heard, GOD says, “you shall KNOW that it was Yahweh who rescued. Moses, through Aaron, invites Israel, the congregation to “draw near,” to gather in worship, and when they do they see “the glory of the Lord,” the real, visible presence in the midst of worship; in the pillar of clouds during the day and a pillar of fire at night. GOD revealed GOD’S presence.
Israel’s complaints finally depend not on theological talk, or religious manifestation, but on the availability of food for life. And then it happens—enough quail to blanket the camp, meat all over the place! Next morning, there is manna from heaven. Moses must tell them that it is “bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” Thus, their complaints are answered precisely. In place of Egyptian flesh, they are given quail; in place of Egyptian bread, they have bread from GOD. The wilderness, which seemed a threat, has become a nurturing place. Jehovah Jirah! GOD Provides!!
Words in John’s Gospel chapter 6 when he makes the direct and explicit connection to this narrative in verse 25, “It is my father who gives you the true bread from heaven, followed by verse 41 when Jesus tells us, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
There is a fear that can grow within us in response to the unknown. Perhaps the Israelite people in their fear thought that the suffering they could recognize was better than the suffering of the unknown.
God gave the Israelites a unique opportunity to learn how to trust in God's provision. In their Egyptian bondage, they had to sit by fleshpots for food.
In the wilderness, God caused manna to literally appear with the morning dew and quail to come right into the camp.
In Egypt, the Israelites had something they recognized and were able to eat their fill. But they had no concept of what awaited them after liberation. The land into which God was sending them, as well as the food God provided them, was so different and yet so much more than they had in Egypt. But they didn’t know that until they experienced it. And we have their story as a witness!!
The butterfly only knew the stems and leaves it crawled and feasted upon as a caterpillar. After the wrinkled slimy creature crawled out of the chrysalis its wings started to expand.
This moment, just before it takes flight, is so crucial as wings are unfurled, but also because the proboscis (the tube through which a butterfly feeds) is still forming in this precious time of “hanging out.” Important things are happening in this moment. When ready, the butterfly experiences the full reality for which it was made: flight.
The new food for the butterfly is the sweetness of flower nectar drawn up through its feeding tube rather than chewing the fibrous greenery of leaves and stems. The new butterfly lets go of the familiar and emerges into a whole new wonderful part of the world.
The Israelites only knew the certainty and regularity of slavery. But in this crucial moment after liberation, before entering into the new land God is sending them to inhabit, God provides the Israelites a taste of something so much greater than they would have ever had in their past.
I know that some folks in our churches are wistfully remembering of the bygone days of our churches; and that remembering is similar to the Israelites' hesitation to embrace the newness into which God was calling them? Is our congregation clinging to the stem like a newly emerged butterfly from its chrysalis, fearful of leaping into a future we don't know as we try desperately to recreate the successes and vitality we do know from our already told story about past glory days?
What flight into newness is God calling us to take?
What is God calling us to leave behind in our own lives so that we can journey forward into the life God is calling us to live?
Let us pray… Oh GOD, I know we need to let go of somethings from the past so that we can live into the future and trust you to guide us. Help us leave anything behind that might hold us back from trusting you to provide us with what we need now and into the future….
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.