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November 2010 Issue

God’s Abundance in the Wilderness

By Marti Zimmerman

The current economy can’t be worse than what our foreparents in the faith faced in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. God’s extravagant gifts of abundance broke anxiety’s hold on them then and will do the same for us today.

Read Exodus 1-23:13

Pharaoh had a nightmare. We learn from the book of Exodus that when the powerful have nightmares about scarcity, the working people end up living them. Pharaoh feared there wouldn’t be enough wealth, power or food to go around. Pharaoh cried for more bricks, and the Hebrew slaves were forced to work longer and with fewer resources to make them, usurping time to worship, rest, be with families and tend a little garden on the side. 

Pharaoh’s fears built the Kingdom of Scarcity and Anxiety, and it reigned hard over the Hebrew people.

The Hebrews cried out, and God heard, looked around for leadership, then from a burning bush called Moses. Reluctantly, he accepted the challenge to go back to Pharaoh’s court where he had grown up to demand time off for the slaves to worship and rest.

“Who shall I say sent me?” Moses asked.

“I am who I am.”

Pharaoh still said no. It took a contest between the God of Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians — today we’d call them consultants or unnamed government officials — complete with the Nile turning red, onslaughts of gnats and flies, and, finally, death of Egypt’s firstborns, including Pharaoh’s son, to win the slaves a safe passage out of the Kingdom of Scarcity and Anxiety through the Red Sea toward the Promise Land and God’s Kingdom of Abundance flowing with milk and honey.

Time and time again, God provided a way out of no way for the Hebrew people, including a dry path across the Red Sea. Once through the water, Moses’ sister Miriam used her voice and tambourine to lead the celebration. “Praise God!” the people cried, “Praise God!”
But the economic downturn, I mean wilderness, loomed large, and the people were afraid they wouldn’t have any, let alone enough, bread or water for their trek through the desert toward a new life. They began whining about the good old days back in the slave pits of Egypt.  

The Kingdom of Scarcity and Anxiety still had power over them.

Moses whined too. 

“Go to bed,” the Lord of Abundance said, and in the morning the ground was covered with manna, which meant wonder bread in Hebrew because the people wondered what kind of bread it was. There was so much manna.  Some gathered a little.  Some gathered a lot.  All had enough to share. 

In a huge act of abundance, God provided the “daily bread” that Jesus would later teach us to pray for, and the Kingdom of Scarcity and Anxiety lost some of its hold over the people.

The manna came with instructions for the people to gather only what they would eat in one day. Jesus knew, and the Hebrew people learned, abundance cannot be stored or accumulated or it will destroy or make you sick.  It is simply a gift from God — one that has the capacity to break the control of anxiety. God’s extravagant gift to all the people in the wilderness allowed them to get their minds off scarcity and themselves so that they could care about others and their community.

10 Commandments for Abundant Living 

The rules Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai helped the Hebrews with the task of caring for their community. The first three commandments reminded the Hebrews that Yahweh is the only one to be worshipped, nothing else, no idols.  God requires time for relationship. The rules called for them to stop working, stop shopping, stop making other people work and take time to be with God. 

The first three commandments still invite the faithful to rely on God’s abundance and say simply, “I have enough for today.”

The fourth through ninth commandments reminded the people to care for their parents, honor the promise of fidelity, stop killings and refuse to repeat or start false rumors. No bearing false witness, be it about political opponents, how well a stock is doing or how much a mortgage loan will cost.

Commandment 10 was “Thou shalt not covet.” They must have had particular trouble with this one in the wilderness because it’s the only one repeated for emphasis. Knowing the human heart, God put brakes on our proclivity for acquiring other people’s stuff — like 5 percent of the world’s population consuming 25 percent of the earth’s oil. There are probably folks in some oil-rich countries who would like to use some of that oil to power the lights in their homes.

Love your neighbor

In the Last Supper Jesus celebrates this essential story of our faith: God’s extravagant gifts of abundance in the wilderness had and continue to have the power to break our attachment to the Kingdom of Scarcity and Anxiety. God’s abundance gets our minds off ourselves so that we can care about others. Jesus expressed this when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and when he taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He demonstrated the story on cross and in the Resurrection.

John Wesley celebrated God’s abundance when presenting three simple rules to live by: Do no harm; Do good; Stay in love with God. Life was hard in the 1740s when Mr. Wesley, then a young pastor in the Church of England, presented his simple rules to small groups of Christians who met weekly, seeking to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength, and their neighbors as themselves in visible and concrete ways. 

Mr. Wesley wrote in his diary that everywhere he looked he saw the Kingdom of Scarcity and Anxiety in the effects of poverty: hungry children working 12-hour shifts in mines and factories; persons who couldn’t afford medical care; debtor prisons full of folks who, like his father, couldn’t pay their bills; human beings captured in Africa and shipped to the colonies as slaves.

Faith for today 

The economic challenges we’re experiencing today can’t be any worse than what our foreparents in faith faced while in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. God’s extravagant gifts helped break the chains of anxiety then and will do the same for us today. As the Kingdom of Scarcity and Anxiety looms, we gather with Christians around the world to take bread, watch it blessed and broken — and remember that when Jesus blessed, broke and distributed the little loaves shared by a child, there were leftovers, tons of leftovers, enough to give again. 

This reminds me of when I was a mission intern in Chile during an economic crisis. Members of one church in town quit coming because they were ashamed they didn’t have anything to give. Members of another church in town had also been laid off from their jobs, but their theology said, “God is with us.” They came together, and this one had a carrot, that one had a pot, and they ate soup together. Members of the first church sat home alone.

In our current economic crisis, God continues to raise up leaders — including United Methodist Women — to organize the people to sit down, get in groups and share so that they can experience the blessing of picking up the leftovers so that others can be fed too.

Psalm 72 promises that God “delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.  God has pity on the weak and the needy and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence God redeems their lives; and precious is their blood in God’s sight.”
As United Methodist Women members, you are privileged to help folks see that in Jesus’ hands there is enough for all. We can insist not only on a living wage, but also livable hours so the people have time to sing, to dance, to pray and meditate, to rear the children, to care for the elders, to make love. Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

And each time you get fearful, and the Kingdom of Anxiety and Scarcity starts to expand, sit down and remember how you have been bless.

O Lord, grant that what we have said with our lips,
we may believe in our hearts;
And that what we believe in our hearts,
we may practice in our lives
through Jesus Christ our Lord
by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Reflection questions

  • Have you ever experienced God’s abundance during a time of need? If so, what happened?
  • Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” What does that mean to you?
  • What is enough? 
  • Has your concept of enough changed since you were a child? If so, how?
  • What’s coveting? 
  • How does coveting factor into our consumer culture? 
  • Who in your community is organizing to help families facing home foreclosure? 
  • How can your unit or church support this effort? 
  • What can your unit or church do to support families facing job loss? 

The Rev. Marti Zimmerman is senior pastor of Smoky Hill United Methodist Church in Centennial, Colo.

Last Updated: 03/17/2014

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