Walking with Moses
Morning by Morning
October 1, 2017
First Presbyterian, Columbiana – Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Exodus 16
Morning by morning they gathered the manna. Morning by morning. Reminds me of the line from that old hymn:
Morning by morning new mercies I see
Morning by morning.
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook seeking ideas for nurturing her long distance relationship. Like many young people, post graduation employment had disrupted the blissful togetherness of collegiate romance. She was now in South Carolina. He wasn’t. They could Facetime and text. They could call and talk late into the night. They could watch the same movies, read the same books, create Spotify play lists for each other, hop an occasional plane for a quick visit but nothing would make up for the little daily things that keep a relationship alive – the look, the touch, the micro-ritual. The smell, the sound, the affirmation of togetherness; the very things that we miss the most when a partner dies or leaves; the very absence of transforms partners to strangers even while they live in the same house, under the same roof.
Morning by morning. Morning by morning we affirm our connections, our togetherness, our oneness. Morning by morning new mercies we see. Morning by morning we become alive.
Morning by morning God sent manna into the desert. For forty years God sent manna into the desert. Each morning for forty years God sent substance into the desert so his people could live.
Refugees and exiles often find themselves beyond the edge of civilization. The Israelites are no exception. Goshen, where the Israelites had lived for generations, is one of the most fertile places in Northern Africa. Sinai, where they find themselves after crossing the Red Sea, is one of the most desolate. Even today nobody lives in the Sinai desert. The desert’s one town, St. Catherine’s, has a population half the size of Boardman and relies extensively on water and food trucked in from elsewhere in Egypt. According to scripture the Israelites were a roving metropolis approaching a million people. Even allowing for historical inflation, sustaining that many people in the desert would be suicide. But morning by morning God provided the people manna. Morning by morning. Just enough for them to gather for that day. Just enough to last until a new morning dawned.
Most scholars agree that manna was most likely insect poop – secretions from certain insects that feed on the tamarisk tree, one of the few plants that grow readily in the Sinai desert. This secretion is rich in sugars and other nutrients, dries rapidly into a white, flakey substance and has long been prized as a delicacy among the nomadic desert people. It also disappears quickly – not because it melts in the sun but because it’s eaten by ants, worms, small lizards and everyone else at the bottom of the food chain. Even so it would have taken a miracle to provide enough manna for the tens of thousands of Israelites camped in the desert. It would have taken a double miracle to provide enough to sustain the Israelites through the Sabbath.
Morning by morning the Israelites went out and collected manna. Morning by morning they were reminded of God’s sustaining grace and mercy.
When I go on retreat I revel in the opportunity for consistent morning prayer. Its sort of like how my friend in her long distance relationships, might revel in the ability to spend a week or two with her boyfriend. If they are lucky, after a couple of days, the little things return – the touch, the look, the smell, the sound, the micro-rituals, the things that keep them together, that morning by morning remind them of their love.
While I was on retreat this summer we observed total silence each morning until about 9:00. No chattering televisions. No Facebook or newsfeed. No small talk or even deep meaningful conversations. Silence. Space for the little things. The ray of sunshine or the answered prayer. The taste of food or the first little hit of caffeine. The damp of dew on the labyrinth or the splash of a frog in the pond. Holy manna delivered each morning. New mercies to be seen.
I’m unable to duplicate such an experience when I’m not on retreat. I could if I got up with the sun, the birds and the dew, before its time for serving breakfasts and walking dogs, packing lunches and finding shoes, signing homework journals and organizing for the day. But most mornings my bed and I have a special relationship I seek to preserve at the expense of all else. Frequently I find time later in the morning for prayer, but its not the same. The manna has already begun to disappear. God seems further away. Sort of like the difference between waking up with your partner and only connecting by phone later in the day.
And should I fail to connect at all? The sense of God’s presence experienced the day or week before rarely lasts so long. Manna is a fleeting substance. Always enough for the day, but impossible to collect and store for the days ahead. So I find myself empty, hungry, yearning, wondering if God still exists, if God still cares, if God has abandoned me to walk on my own through my desert of desolation, through the challenges, worries, fears, stresses and disappointments inherent in each day; if God has had anything to do with the successes and the joys, the victories and celebrations that may come.
Morning by morning God blesses us with the holy manna of his grace.
Just enough. Just enough for each day. Never enough to store.
Morning by morning. Reminds me of the line from that old hymn.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.