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Laetare, The Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 10, 2024; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
Proper 14B. living bread from heaven.jpg

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Grumbling to Rejoicing

A popular chocolate bar advertisement made the assertion, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” The premise is that when you are under-performing or more irritable than usual, you just need a chocolate bar for a snack and then you’ll be back to normal. But that advertisement really has it backwards. It is times of trial and temptation, including hunger, when the real you is revealed. And it has been our experience that hunger brings out the worst in you.


That is why fasting is a difficult spiritual discipline. It’s not just about denying yourself some food, but doing so and still maintaining a joyful countenance. Jesus said, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,” (Matthew 6:16-17). When you fast, keep a joyful countenance and a glad heart.


When on family vacation road trips, there were times when I would press on to cover more distance, rather than stop to feed the family at our usual eating times. You might expect that the children would get grumpy and irritable, but they usually held it together best (their resolve was strong enough to suffer in silence). I, on the other hand, would get anxious about finding a place to rest and eat. I would drive faster than I should have. I would get snappy at anyone who asked an innocent question, and also be frustrated with other drivers on the road. We can often put on a good face when we are fully satisfied, but when we begin to hunger, then our real character is exposed.


That is what our Old Testament reading for today reveals. The children of Israel became hungry in the wilderness and their real character came to the fore. “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (Exodus 16:2-3).


It seems over-dramatic to us. This people had just witnessed the great wonders and signs that the LORD did against the Egyptians in order to release them from slavery. They had just walked on dry ground through the midst of the Red Sea with the water forming walls on their right and their left. They had seen the water come crushing down upon the pursuing Egyptian army, drowning them, and sending their dead bodies washing upon the shore. They were following the LORD who appeared to them in a pillar of cloud and fire. He was leading them triumphantly to freedom. But when hunger set in, they couldn’t help themselves. They began to grumble. You are truly you when you are hungry.


It came up from the depths of their corrupted nature. The sin that lives like a virus within us flares up at such a little exacerbation as hunger. It presented itself in the people of Israel headed to the promised land and it presents itself in us even when just headed for a vacation destination. Perhaps you have a family trip planned for this week. I don’t advise you to deliberately poke the god your bellies, but if you feel it yourself or observe it in others, you’ll know where it comes from. You’re truly you when you’re hungry.


We also learn from our Old Testament Reading that the grumbling of people directed to Moses and Aaron was really a grumbling against the LORD Himself who brought them out of slavery and was leading them to their promised land. We need to recognize this too with our own grumblings. They are often directed at people in authority over us (parents, teachers, management, government), but really our complaints are against the LORD who has set these authorities over us and told us to submit ourselves to them and to their decisions which so directly influence our lives. We feel the decisions they make in our bellies, whether those decisions may be to drive on further before stopping, work a little overtime, or increase the taxes we have to pay).


Yes, their grumbling and our grumbling is against the LORD who has brought us out of our slavery to sin and is taking us to the promised land where He will dwell in our midst. But we keep wanting to go back to Egypt, to the slavery of our sin which permits us to complain and grumble, not just against those close to us (our parents, our spouse, our coworkers), but also against the LORD who has ordered all of these relationships and has set us in our place and commanded us to be subordinate to others.


He has His own itinerary, and we do not have full knowledge of it. We don’t always know how much farther or when we will get there. We don’t always know His purpose in allowing Pharaoh to hold His people for so long or for allowing us to experience the hungers and other deprivations that come upon us involuntarily.


Sadly, our sinful complaints over discomforts are complaints against the LORD and not just against people who make bad decisions or are lacking in care and attention. And these sins of complaint are truly sins of the first order, sins of failing to love and trust in God. For the children of Israel reveal to us that despite the great wonders that God did for them, despite the awesome works of His hand to deliver them, they still did not trust Him. They even would prefer to return to slavery under the abusive Pharaoh, then trust that the God who saved them would keep them alive and well.


Perhaps that is why complaints made against us sting so much. We recognize that those complaints come from a lack of trust in our care for others. They don’t think we want the best for them. They don’t think we are able to make the proper decisions or execute the correct actions to look after them. That is the kind of insult that our complaints bring against the God who has saved us.


Yes, God has saved us and yet we complain. He has brought salvation. He doesn’t do this because we complain, but because of who He is. Out of His compassion and mercy, before a cry is even on our lips, He is acting toward our salvation. He did not bring the children of Israel out of Egypt in order to kill them in the wilderness with hunger. He had a plan all along to feed them and preserve them and bring them safely to their destination.


The LORD revealed His plan to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16:4-5). It was all a part of the plan, and the LORD would give them opportunity to exercise their faith in the One who saved them, even though they had already failed initially.


Every day they would have the chance to exercise their faith by gathering only what they needed for the day, eating their fill and holding nothing back for the following day. Weekly they would have the chance to show their obedience to a precursor of the third commandment to do no work on the seventh day. This was all the LORD’s plan from the beginning.


This same divine character of mercy and compassion is also evident in our Gospel reading for today. Jesus had already decided to feed the crowd of more than five thousand people, and He gave Philip an opportunity to declare his faith in the LORD’s provision. “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5). Jesus revealed Himself as the LORD who brought His people out of Egypt and fed them in the wilderness, by feeding the crowd that had come to Him at the time of the Passover (John 6:1-15).


God supplies for our every need, but even in doing so He tests whether we will have Him as our God. We do have a hard time trusting in God for all things, and that is why He exercises our faith and gives us opportunities to show our trust in His grace and mercy which He has shown again and again. His constant provision for us is based on His grace, not our faith. He revealed His grace to us before calling upon us to trust in Him. He secured our salvation by sending Jesus as the true bread from heaven to give life not just to thousands, not just to the children of Israel, but to the whole world. There is ample provision for all in Jesus the Christ.


He came down from heaven so that we would have provision for each and every day of our complaints. He is the bread baked in the oven of suffering and death for our sins. He is distributed by the hands of His apostolic ministers to the thousands who receive Him with joyous and glad hearts every Lord’s day. All have as much as they could want and there is an abundance left over. We have full and complete forgiveness in Him for life everlasting.


It is this divine mercy and compassion that changes our complaining to rejoicing. It brings it through times of hunger to satiety. He strengthens us through times of testing but always fulfills our need. You are truly you when you are hungry, but Jesus fills our needs and satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness so that we find our true joy and happiness in Him.



The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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