Proper 13B’21
1 August 2021
Ex.16.2-4,9-15; Ep.4.1-16
John 6.24-35
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone+

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Amen.   – from Ephesians 4

Have you ever gone to one of those large outlet malls and gotten lost or disoriented? It’s an all too familiar scenario: You and your family have split up to divide and conquer the retail world in pursuit of the best bargains; and when it’s time to regroup you suddenly realize you have no idea where you are? At that point the best thing is to go and find one of those large mall kiosks that have a big map of all the stores on the property. The next step is to look for the big red star and those anxiety lowering words, “You Are Here.” X From that point of reference, you’re able to reorient yourself, and find the store where you’re supposed to meet up with your family.

With the fading of religious and institutional faith in the west, we are adrift, and becoming an increasingly secular people; with the big questions of “who are we, why are we here, and where are we heading,” left unanswered. The need for genuine faith and a caring community of faith has never been greater. Perhaps the church’s role is more relevant and crucial than ever? The church used to be the “metaphorical kiosk” where “the map” could be found, the place where we could find those comforting words, “You are here.”

In today’s reading from the Old Testament, we are reminded that the spiritual life has, and always will be, a journey – a process of faith. Theologian, Walter Brueggemann has identified the shape of this spiritual process and names three stages: 1) Orientation: this is the place of stability, predictability, where life seems to make sense, and can often be a static place. If anything else, it’s at least predictable (usually).   2) Disorientation: this is the stage where change and curveballs come our way and throw us off balance, into fear, anxiety, and sometimes despair. The old ways don’t seem to be working anymore, yet there seems to be nothing better. We can easily become stuck in this stage of things.   3) New Orientation: you have gone through the suffering, the uncertainty, the trials and tribulations and suddenly we arrive at a new normal, where life once again makes sense again. That is, until the next period of ‘disorientation’ strikes!

In Exodus, we find the people of God freshly released from slavery and on their way to the Promised land but who presently are lost and disoriented. They have left an oppressive epoch of slavery behind where life was hard, and demeaning, but was stable, predictable, and static. Then God, after many years of the children of Israel being victimized by Egyptian bondage, brings deliverance through his servants Moses, and Aaron. Their sudden freedom brought with it great excitement, and an infusion of fresh faith, and hope! Things would be soo… much better now – so they told themselves. But, after some time spent in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land of Canaan, they experience the difficult stage of disorientation. They were in a harsh and unfamiliar environment. Food supplies are dwindling, with no apparent way to replenish them.

Making things more challenging, the leaders can’t seem to fix things, or take away all of the people’s anxiety that comes from growing hunger pangs, and their precarious and uncertain future. At this stage in their journey, they were prone to do several things. The first was to vent their hot anger at their leaders, in order to soothe themselves from high anxiety they needed a target, a scapegoat, where they could place the blame for their predicament:

“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 into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16.2-4

In such a state of distress it’s only human that they would look for a scapegoat – if we can find a scapegoat then we are relieved from the daunting task of taking responsibility for our own lives, and growing up into mature and functional adults.

Journey from victimhood to children of God: When the slave is released and given their freedom, they discover that they carry the history of victimization with them, and there is the discovery that freedom is a process of embracing their personal power and living their lives as someone who has needs, wants, feelings, with personal power and a voice. Learning to live not as a victim but as a beloved child of God is a journey/ a process.

The children of Israel were freed slaves who were now right in the middle of the disorientation stage. They would now have to learn how live by faith, and God through Moses and Aaron was going to teach them.

Their sufferings in the desert would not be wasted, their adversity would become God’s university where they would learn how to live by faith and not by sight.

One of the ways God taught them to trust was through their food supply. Early in the morning the dew would fall and leave behind a white substance on the ground that could be collected to make bread. When they first saw it, they asked themselves “what is it?” which is the literal Hebrew translation of the word “manna.” In the evening God would send Quail into the camp so that the people could have meat to eat.

On the front of your service leaflet, you can see a 16th cen. illumination from the Nuremberg Bible showing the Israelites gathering the manna. In the upper right-hand corner, you can see a covey of Quail coming in for a crash landing. Each day and each night this process would be repeated, and day by day these former slaves were learning how to live as children of God. They would grow up in faith and eventually be able to possess and live in the land promised to them by God. I believe their story in the wilderness is our story during a pandemic.

Even prior to the pandemic we as a country were beginning to move toward the stage of disorientation. Political, and racial tensions had been on the rise for some time and combined with COVID to create the perfect storm. I have lost count of how many “new normals” we have already been through, and it appears we aren’t done. We can’t change the past and we have no idea what the future will be when it gets here, but now is the only time we’ve really got. Being present in the present and walking in love with faith, and hope as we move away from slavery to this world on our way to the promised land as children of God is our calling.

[One day in prayer], suddenly, my Lord was speaking:

           “My name is I Am.”     He paused.

I waited                                         He continued:

          “When you live in the past,

           With its mistakes and regrets,

           [or rosy memories of a past golden age]

          It is hard.

           I am not there.

           My name is not – I WAS.


         When you live in the future,

           With its problems and fears,

         It is hard.

           I am not there.

           My name is not – I WILL BE.


         When you live in the moment,

           It is not hard.

           I am here.

           My name is I AM.”


           Helen Mallicoat (revised by Carey Stone)