Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (26 April 2015) by the Reverend Christine McSpadden, Associate Priest
The Reverend Christine McSpadden looks at want and says 'God provides. Enough. Every day...And that is more than enough.'
Wandering in the wilderness - our reading from Exodus tells us - the Israelites whine about wanting food. Attentive to their need, God rains down manna from heaven, a flaky bread that settles on the earth each morning like dew.
But we know from the Book of Numbers that there is more to this story. The parallel story from Numbers fills in a little more detail, disclosing that as soon as the Israelites had their manna - which provided enough to eat for everyone, each day - they wanted more. Enough did not suffice. They wanted More Than Enough.
"What’s with this bread of angels?" they complain and kvetch. "We want meat!" God delivers, pouring down quails for them to eat. "Meat? You want meat? I’ll give you meat." So much meat that they are absolutely stuffed. So stuffed, that the quail meat comes out of their nostrils!
"While [the meat] was still between their teeth, not yet chewed, the anger of the Lord burned hot against the people..." The Lord struck many dead and they were buried there. "And they called that place Kibrot ha Ta’avah, which means 'Graves of Craving (Numbers 11:33-4).'"
Graves of Craving. A terribly frightening phrase if you think about it. Wanting so much, wanting more than enough, even to the point of killing ourselves.
It is a powerful force: wanting - the dynamic of desire. Because of course, we don’t desire what we already have; all desire arises out of a sense of lack. We feel an emptiness that will, that can only, be filled by the object, or the person, or the situation craved. Desire, then, manifests as restlessness. Tension.
And of course, so many of us are feeling tension already, so much of the time! So we seek expedient ways to release this tension. There is actual, somatic relief in gratifying desire. In other words, wanting seeks to not want. Not wanting brings peace because you’re no longer expected to do anything. The restlessness subsides. You can just be.
But the dynamic of desire can become a vicious cycle. We desire because we seek release. We want peace and calm, but to get there we must satisfy desire. And unfortunately, most things we chase after don’t ultimately satisfy.
Fundamentally, they leave us still wanting. All our trivial yearnings for more, bigger, better, thinner, greater point to the deeper, existential longing lying at the heart of all wanting—the great underlying desire to be fully known and absolutely loved.
The psalmist names this great underlying desire, over and over again, diagnosing cravings as the striving to fill the gnawing emptiness which can only be satisfied in, and by, God.
The psalmist diagnoses the dis-ease perpetuated by the Myth of More, yet it is our lesson from Exodus today that prescribes the remedy.
First, the story tells us that God heard the murmurings of the people and gave them food. God hears. God is responsive. And God provides.
Second, God provides enough. Each day the manna comes in perfect proportion to how much the people need to eat, with a double portion for the day of rest, the Sabbath. Everyone is entitled to, and gets the same amount.
They get what they need, and can’t store up more or hoard it for later. Manna has no shelf life. Not too much, not too little, just enough.
Third, there is always more tomorrow. The promise of more is trustworthy. God steadfastly provides their daily bread.
I call this the manna ethic. God provides. Enough. Every day.
When we live by the manna ethic, we can keep the crazy-making tension of desire at bay. We debunk the Myth of More and sign onto a lifestyle of sufficiency. We take only what we need and ensure the fair portion for others.
The faith-full truths of our tradition—the deep wisdom of the Books of Exodus, Numbers, and Psalms we have explored today—show how living by a manna ethic, we are resurrected from graves of craving and set free to live life to the fullest, trusting that by God’s good grace, we are utterly known and absolutely loved.
And that is more than enough.