Today we had a Matins service led by Christy & Jeff Wetzig. Below are the scripture readings as well as their reflection.
Reading 1: Exodus 16
Bread from Heaven
16 The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 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.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”
27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29 See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 An omer is a tenth of an ephah.
Reading 2: John 21: 1-14
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
A lot of us sitting under this tree have gardens, and this is a time of peak harvest. You might have colanders full of produce waiting for you to deal with when you get home from church. Thanks for coming to church anyway.
Our two passages for today deal with two very different harvests. We heard first about the Israelites, who, wandering in the desert, found themselves without food. Although they usually get a bad rap for complaining a lot, I think we can all understand how they felt. They couldn’t have had gardens, there were no foodtrucks, and any food they could have brought with them from Egypt was long gone by now. Their children were crying with hunger; I think anybody would complain.
And because God is good, and like any loving parent used to hearing their children complain, God provided this stuff for them to fill their bellies, this food that seemed to condense out of the air with the dew every morning. It tasted good plain, but you could boil it into a porridge or bake it into bread; plus, poultry wandered into camp every evening, so it could have been way worse.
The free food came with conditions. The manna was a test of the people’s trust in God. God had told them they would find it outside their tents every morning. Canning, dehydrating, freezing, pickling was unnecessary, because God had promised to provide food every day. If you trusted that promise, you kept nothing for tomorrow; you ate every crumb in the cupboard every day.
It’s not what happened–people squirrelled manna away, as any prudent person would do as a caution against unforeseen events. But even if you pressure canned the stuff, or baked it and set it in the window sill, you woke the next morning to a stink, and to worms all through the stuff. And to a fresh crop of manna, covering the ground outside your door.
Strangely, mysteriously, even if you sent everybody in your family out with bushel baskets, you’d only have enough for your family for that day. But if you were only able to gather a little that day, you’d still have enough for your family. God seemed to be putting a finger on the scales. No matter what you wanted, worked for, deserved, God gave enough.
Even on the Sabbath, when God rested from sending manna, the people had enough, because a double portion precipitated the previous day, a super generation of manna that didn’t spoil overnight. So on the Sabbath the people could eat and also rest from gathering and cooking, if they had trusted God the day before and did their double work.
They called it manna, which means, “What is it?” The whole 40 years that they ate only manna and quail, they never came up with a better name for it. No scientific name, no cookbook terminology. It remained a mystery, a miracle, and they kept a sample of the stuff for every generation to see, a physical manifestation of trust in a good God, who sends enough, to everybody–every day, enough.
Here’s another harvest in the Bible.
Some of Jesus’ disciples had been stewing away, spiralling on about Jesus’ resurrection, his mysterious appearances and disappearances since his death, and finally they just needed to blow off some steam. “Let’s go fishing,” they said, looking for solace in the familiar, the old days, the wide open sky, good work to do with their bodies, and hopefully good fish to fill their bellies when they were done. Although they fished all night, they got skunked.
Until this stranger calls out to them from shore to try it a different way. When they do it his way, they suddenly find themselves hauling in a boatload of fish. Something jogs their memory. Something seems familiar about this. This plenty, this magnitude, they’ve only experienced with one person: Jesus. They had seen him take bits of bread and satisfy a multitude; he had healed crowds of sick people and never run out of potency; he had preached a kind of love that never gives up, and had lived that love and acted out that grace every day of his life, even when it killed him. In their lives, this kind of plenty had always only come from Jesus, and that is what they recognize, not his face or even his voice.
When they get to shore, they find Jesus with a fire already started, and he already has fish on it; he even has bread too. He lets them contribute from their sudden abundance, but he doesn’t need their fish. (How did he get them? they wonder.) Jesus would have fed them breakfast with or without their miraculous catch. Here, maybe, is the real miracle, this food out of nowhere. The bounty that came from the sea only opened their eyes to the real miracle before them, on the shore.
Jesus breaks the bread for them, distributes the fish amongst them, and he eats some himself, just to dispel those rumors that he’s a ghost. They sit around the fire and eat together, there on the beach in the rising sun, their backs casting shadows on those nets full of fish. They have plenty. Their bellies are full and their nets are full and here, sitting beside them, is Plenty itself.
When we started our orchard 8 years ago some of the first plants we put in the ground were hazelnut bushes. We wanted fruit from our orchard, yes, but we also wanted protein, and hazelnuts seemed to be a good answer.
Most of the country’s hazelnuts are grown in the Pacific Northwest, where they grow these giant, beautiful nuts in giant monocultural groves. Maybe you’re not surprised to hear that a disease called hazelnut blight is wiping out the groves in that region.
So it turns out that a big topic of research currently in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where we have small native hazelnuts, is to breed a larger nut to replace the production of the Pacific Northwest monsters.
So we began shopping around the experimental hazelnut nurseries in the region to find the best, most blight resistant, hardy, tasty, large nuts we could buy. We ended up with seedlings grown from the nuts of the best, most blight resistant, hardiest, tastiest, largest nut bushes around. We put them in the ground and waited.
As we mowed around our six expensive little baby hazelnuts, we noticed a curious plant coming up on the edges of the orchard. A wild woody bush with very similar leaves to our little hazelnuts. You guessed it. We had mowed a whole bunch of wild hazelnuts bushes to plant our six expensive, well-bred specimens.
For the purposes of scientific experimentation, we let the wild plants grow alongside the nursery-bought ones.
Eight years later, our expensive hazelnut bushes are six feet high and the wild ones, because we had mowed them several times by accident, are only 5 feet high, but bushy and thick. This summer, we watched our 6 precious plants with anticipation because most of them were growing those hairy, ruffley, lime green hulls that surround the hazelnuts. A nut here on this branch, a nut cluster over there on that branch. It was a pleasure to watch them grow, like a parent watching a child learn to walk, it filled us with pride. But then, when you turned around to look at the wild hazelnuts on the edge of the orchard, you saw it was covered with clusters of nuts, weighed down with them, bursting with clumps of nuts.
We gathered them all (and by we I mean the chipmunks and us), we gathered both wild and domesticated, and in the interests of science we (not the chipmunks) kept them separated to compare the harvest of each bush.
Maybe you’ve guessed. There were two champion hazelnut bushes that we had planted, with largeish nuts, also dearly loved by the chipmunks, which means we only harvested a couple from each bush. The other four of our nurtured, cherished hazelnuts produced shrivelled nuts or barren shells or tiny, shrunken nuts with ghastly thick shells.
The wild bushes made smallish nuts, true, but they were well formed and chubby and outweighed the domesticated varieties with their sheer number.
Sometimes we look for plenty and all we find is enough. Sometimes when we hope for enough we find plenty.