2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that theLord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. 5 On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7 And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” 8 Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against theLord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to theLord, because he’s heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening a flock of quail flew down and covered the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the desert surface were thin flakes, as thin as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What[f] is it?” They didn’t know what it was.
Moses said to them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
“Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” “When can we stop to go to the bathroom?” “Why are we going there instead of Disney World?” “I’m hot.” “I’m cold.” And my personal favorite: “She’s touching me! She’s on MY side!” Does this sound familiar? If you’ve ever traveled with kids in the car on your family vacation, you are probably all too familiar with these words. My sister and I whined and complained and spoke these words all too often on long car rides growing up. Sometimes our questions would be answered, and sometimes they were ignored. But we kept on anyway, probably just to annoy our parents. But in our text today, the whining and complaining is not just coming from children, but from all of the Israelites: “the whole community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert.” I’m sure that Moses and Aaron felt worse than 2 dads sitting in the front seat of a mini-van. How relieved Moses and Aaron must have been to hear that God would send something down to appease the masses in the form of bread and meat. Maybe the people would be more cooperative. Maybe they would believe…but why didn’t they believe already?
The Israelites that we encounter this morning sound uncomfortably a lot like the church today. In their complaints about hunger and thirst, we also hear echoes of the words, “Can’t we just go back to the way things used to be? When the pews were full every Sunday, when we had tons of children and youth in Sunday school, when everything was closed on Sunday?” We want to sit around and talk about “the good old days.” Did you know that there is even a magazine called The Good Old Days? It is described as “a magazine filled with America’s favorite memories and warm thoughts of the happy days gone by. Find nostalgic stories and articles in each issue.” One of the reviews of the magazine said, “I am in my early 50s and started reading this magazine while in the doctor’s office. I just love the old stories! I find them refreshing and comforting in many ways.”
While there is nothing wrong with reminiscing about the past, we have to be careful not to get stuck in it. When we get stuck in the past, it is then that we fail to move forward together. Churches are so often times prone to group nostalgia and what I like to call, “glory day syndrome.” I recently read an article that asked the question, “Do you have glory day syndrome?” It starts out describing what glory day syndrome is NOT: It is not Glory Day Syndrome unless we feel that life is not now, or will it ever be that good again. When we think of past times with great fondness and enjoy reflecting on them, it is normal and healthy, even comforting.
“As long as we can continue to look forward to tomorrow with a positive sense of eager anticipation then we are fine. In this case, our good old days are just the really memorable parts of our living experience. But our focus is still in the here and now, and we expect each coming day to be a positive and worthwhile experience.”
So what is Glory Day Syndrome? When we are so emotionally invested in the past that it prevents us from seeing and appreciating the joys of our present lives, then we’ve got it. If we spend our lives always looking in the rear-view mirror instead of seeing what’s around us, we will only see what is behind us. “We all glance in the rear view from time to time, but our focus should be on where we are now and where we are headed.” It’s all about where we choose to put our focus! (http://advancedlifeskills.com/blog/do-you-have-glory-day-syndrome/)
The Israelites in our text today are desperately in need of a new focus. They are struggling with glory day syndrome- big time! Being stuck in the past, and perhaps a little amnesia, is a big problem for the Israelites. How quickly they have forgotten the parting of the Red Sea and the presence of God among them. They begin to grumble and complain like kids from the back seat, and they long for “the good old days” of being back in Egypt where they could eat their fill of bread and at least know where they would sleep that night. The grass is always greener, as they say. But they seem to have forgotten one key element of their homes in Egypt- they were slaves! Their lives were not their own! They lived as victims under oppression. And how quickly they have forgotten the mighty acts of God that resulted in their freedom. But, we can’t really blame them for complaining. Egypt is what they knew- the life that they were used to living, the food that they were used to eating. This new life is not what they had in mind because it was new, unknown, risky, and different, not to mention that they are in the desert, hungry and thirsty. So they complain, they cry out to God, and God hears them. We imagine hearing again from the back seat, “Did we bring enough snacks?!” The answer is yes: God offers them something new- not the bread of Egypt, but bread and meat from the sky.
God not only offers them bread and meat, but God also offers them a new routine- a new way of living and working together. The people are told that bread will come down from the sky in the morning, they are to go out and gather it, and take only what they need- no more, no less. In the evening, meat will be provided, and the same rules apply. Order and routine is established in the midst of chaos by means of the rhythm of divine provision (workingpreacher.org). And just like that, God challenges them to overcome their glory day syndrome and embrace the present day while also looking ahead to what’s next.
Like the Israelites struggling to overcome their glory day syndrome in the wilderness, we too need to consider our desert wanderings and discern what is next for us as a church- to stop longing for the past and look toward the future instead. After all, this text reminds us that our God is a God of the wilderness who sits with us in and through it, and provides the resources that we need to get through and look ahead instead of looking back. God hears the cries of God’s people and sends physical nourishment, yes, but also spiritual nourishment as well. They are reminded that it is God who guides them by day and provides for their needs. So too, we are reminded that in times of struggle, chaos, or spiritual emptiness, that when we call upon God, we can trust him to provide for our needs. The Israelites longed to go back, but God’s grace pushes them forward “in the form of food and structure to their days and weeks” (workingpreacher.org).
It also serves to remind us that when we feel lost or find ourselves in the midst of stressful times, that we can let the rhythms of religious observance, such as prayer, worship, studying the Bible, taking time to sit in God’s presence…these all remind us to slow down and see the bigger picture and purpose of our lives so that we do not begin to grumble and complain that things are not what they used to be or that we are not getting our needs met. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes and see what is directly in front of us, and then we can move forward as individuals and as a faith community.
The Israelites found that after all the hardship and manna munching that they were right where God wanted them to be. So, we too, as a church, are called to be right where we are today, and it is up to us how we will move forward. Will we keep looking back and complaining that things just aren’t the same? Or will be trust in God to move us forward and give us the tools necessary to make positive changes? While we reminisce and long for the past when things seemed to be better, we might also find ourselves with a bit of amnesia about the things of the “good old days” that were not so great, such as institutionalized racism, gender inequality, and our now admitted ignorance about a plethora of issues. So, in many ways, we might look around and say that things are better now after all.
Even if we feel like we might be wandering in the desert, we can look around at the people that are here now and form relationships with one another now, and use the gifts we have to offer now. We can celebrate and be in worship and learn together now to make the church where God can be experienced in powerful ways now. We need to stop whining and longing for the good old days, because I believe that the best is yet to come. More importantly, I believe that God will lead us into these days if we let him. God still has work for us to do. So let’s sit down over a bucket of quail or manna or chicken or homemade bread and really see who or what is directly in front of us. What we see in front of us may be unfamiliar or strange or not something we are used to seeing. The tasks set out for us in this desert may be unclear or rough or completely unknown to us, but God will provide us the means necessary to move forward together and face the future unafraid. Let’s embrace today, as Pastor Rob Bell gives us some advice in this clip:
So people of God, let’s change our focus to the here and now and look at what’s ahead of us. All of that energy that we spend longing for the past – let’s put it toward building a better future to the church, the community, for our youth and those who have yet to walk through these doors. Let’s not get so stuck in the past that we forget to see what is directly in front of us, and that God is here, still working and doing wonders among us. Let’s cure ourselves of Glory Day Syndrome and open our eyes to see what God is doing now before we miss it completely. May we taste and see that the Lord is good and has been in the past, is now, and will be in the future. May we have hearts to trust that God is leading us forward and providing the means necessary to do so. May we have arms that open wide and embrace today. Amen.