I got a pocket call yesterday from a dear friend. I didn’t pick it up because the phone was deep in my purse, where I did not hear it. She left a two-and-a-half minute voice mail. It sounded like she was talking to someone in a store, but since her phone was probably in *her* purse, too, I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I know her well enough to know this happens sometimes, and whether or not we like to admit it, most of us have perpetrated pocket(book) calls.
They are a plot point in the “How I Met Your Mother” episode “Last Words.” Marshall’s father has died suddenly, and they had no chance to hold a final conversation of any meaning. His dad’s last phone call to him was pocket-dialed, but even though he can only hear static, Marshall can’t bring himself to delete it. He thinks back over his last encounters with his dad and tries to find something memorable, but is still dissatisfied.
I’m guessing Moses would have preferred a pocket call from God over the face-to-face encounter described in this week’s Narrative Lectionary text. We don’t get the whole conversation (the burning bush comes up some other year), but there is definitely some caller ID.
Moses could not escape by getting on the Do Not Call list. I AM had work for him to do. I Will Be Who I Will Be was sending him back to Egypt.
I’m guessing the first part of this conversation sounded like static. Moses hemmed and hawed. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He dismissed it, tried to talk himself out of the situation.
When Marshall finally listens to the whole message, he finds that in the end his dad realized he was connected to Marshall’s voice mail. He laughed at his pocket call mistake and left Marshall the message he longed for, that last “I love you.” It’s a comedy show, so he went on to discuss foot cream, but Marshall concluded, “My dad’s last words to me were, ‘I love you.'” He chose to call it good.
This won’t be Moses’ last word from God. But it’s momentous because he learns the name of The One Who Is And Who Will Be. He learns the name of The One Who Will Be With Him. And even if the beginning of the message felt like nothing but static, in the end he got the Word and went.
These questions are the not-so-musical refrain of vacation travel. We want to get away. We’ve got to get away. But when you’re traveling with children, these are the questions asked and heard. And asked and heard. And asked and heard.
And whined. And heard. Sometimes the people asking are not the children.
The Israelites did not have the modern conveniences even of a 2001 Honda Odyssey: the doors that open with a remote control if you’re racing for the car in the rain; the air-conditioning vents aimed at “the way back;” the proliferation of cup holders for the omnipresent water bottles we require for travel. Even still, there were times, with a teenager and a 2nd-grader in the back seat, when the grown-ups in front wished for the kind of panel a limousine driver can close for the privacy of the passengers.
When the ear buds slip or the volume is loud and the music of two iPods can be heard.
When the boy starts petting the girl’s hair and you hope she doesn’t push back, literally, the way her older brothers would likely have pushed her.
When he asks her the same question so many times she finally says, “It’s the same answer as the last time you asked me.”
And then the mamas asked, “Are we there yet?”
The Israelites complained:
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
The Israelites 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.” (Exodus 16:2-3, NRSV)
I’m sure Moses and Aaron felt worse than two dads in the front seat of a minivan.
We’ve brought you out of slavery! We’ve saved you from oppression! We’ve taken you to the beach and Hershey Park!
Yeah, but when are we going to Disney?
Whine, whine, whine.
It would have been better for God’s own hand to kill us in the land of Egypt, because at least there we had enough to eat.
“Did we bring any snacks? When can we stop for a snack? I’m hungry!”
Honey, we just got started. Hold on. We’ve got 40 years of wilderness to go.
40 years – really, that was a lifetime under those circumstances, a lifetime of wandering and marrying and giving birth and burying the dead and getting into arguments and wondering what God meant by sending the people, so many people, out into the wilderness without the proper provisions.
***Some people say the Israelites needed to wander that long
so no one would be alive to remember Egypt
when the younger generation finally got to the Promised Land. ***
No one would remember the fleshpots – the hot meals in a pot – the meat and the bread that kept them going while they worked for their Egyptian masters.
What a relief it must have been to Moses when God promised to rain down bread from heaven!
Maybe the people would believe and be more cooperative!
But if he had already gotten them out of Egypt, with God’s apparent and miraculous help, why didn’t they believe already?
Maybe it’s our nature to question.
Are we there yet?
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom (God) has sent.” (John 6:28-29, NRSV)
Maybe it’s our nature to question. Which is exactly what makes it, whatever *it* is, hard to believe. We always seem to want more than we have, no matter how much we have. We’re hungry and afraid of starving even when we’re overfed.
I’m not just talking about bread here.
The crowd following Jesus had been fed – as Holly told you last week, the command to sit down and eat meant it was a real, filling meal – but they wanted more. They followed him and asked for a sign. I find this baffling. Turning five loaves and two fishes into a banquet for 5000 people wasn’t enough of a sign for them?
But they wanted to know for certain.
So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:30-33, NRSV)
“Who are you? Are you the one we’ve been hoping for? Can you show us one more sign, prove it to us one more time?”
Are we there yet?
They wanted to get there in a less confusing way. They had trouble following the route of Jesus’ thoughts. He left them wandering in a wilderness of words. They knew the stories of their ancestors well. Being fed out of nowhere had a precedent. Jesus had done it, too. But who was he? That’s what they wanted to know. Who was he?
“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The bread was not enough.
The people wanted more. They wanted to understand. But when he answered, they grew more confused.
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:34)
It’s a theme in John’s gospel. Jesus is the living bread, the living water.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
We live in the time of fast food. We can buy just about anything between two pieces of bread or two halves of a roll. Few of us have ever ground wheat by hand. Maybe some of us have baked our own bread. Most of us go right to the store. Hunger was real to the people Jesus met. They knew the complex and time-consuming process of making bread, or drawing water. This man claimed to be the one who would eliminate not only hunger and thirst but the effort required to relieve them.
I am so sure this is a metaphor that I cannot understand not understanding him—except when I can.
“Lucy, have you found your college yet?”
Her seatmate in the back of the van asked this question all through vacation. He is seven and interested in her, and he wants to understand. We tried to explain that you can like some colleges, but then you have to be sure they like you before you can decide which one you like the best. That answer was too complicated, so he asked the question again.
“Lucy, have you found your college yet?”
Finally she said, “It’s the same answer as the last time you asked me.”
Are we there yet?
We are. We’re two thousand years past the people following Jesus, pushing closer to ask him what they need to do, and who in the world, who in heaven, he is. We understand the metaphor.
Well, we understand that there is such a *thing* as a metaphor, that Jesus isn’t actually bread or water.
But are we there yet?
We aren’t. Because really being there means taking in what he said, not just in our heads, but in our hearts and bodies. It means really trusting that God will feed us, in the ways that matter, always. It means letting go into believing.
So we whine, all the way to the Bread.
Are we there yet?
It’s the same answer as the last time we asked. Come to him and never be hungry. Amen.
My friend and colleague, L, came to dinner at our house tonight. She arrived with a bag full of colored strips of paper and sat with Snowman and LP to teach these origami-loving young people the craft of a different culture: Moravian Stars.
While they worked patiently (or not so, in some cases) to create a star for the first time, we marveled at L as she turned pieces of wrapping paper ribbon into an example. This was hard enough with larger, less slippery paper in contrasting colors!
It always interests me to listen to the way one person will describe an action and how differently another person will hear it. I become easily frustrated when I cannot understand how to do something, and it is perhaps fortunate that I was occupied getting dinner on the table while they worked.
We think of a star, especially at Christmas-time, as shining a sudden, amazing, even clarifying light, but these stars took building, weaving the paper in and out to make the points. And I suspect enlightenment, or to put it less dramatically, understanding, comes in a similar way, one movement leading to another, a seemingly random set of actions or thoughts or feelings finally creating a whole.