This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 5, 2020. We continue in our summer series “I Love to Tell the Story.” It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were Exodus 16: 1-18 and 17: 1-7
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs points out that when your basic needs aren’t being met, food, shelter, clothing and safety, you can’t focus on anything else. We all know this, on a personal level, when you’re extremely hungry or thirsty, the only thing you can focus on is rectifying that situation. When there is hunger and thirst on a community level, an entire group of people are kept in a pattern that doesn’t allow for worry on a collective about the future, education, neighborhood, or anything past survival. Survival becomes the only thing you can think or talk about. And you wonder if anyone sees your needs and hears your cries for the basics of life that others seem to have. You feel invisible. Your focus on these needs might be heard as complaining, which culturally for us in our society is taboo. We are enculturated to not ask for help, that not meeting our own basic needs is a failure and to just push forward no matter the suffering. We are taught and perpetuate the myth that it is better to not be seen or heard at all, then to be seen or heard as a problem. But the problem with that is that it leads to other problems.
Complaining has such a negative connotation in our culture that we judge and label people who complain. “Oh, that person is just complaining to complain.” Or “they should quit complaining and do something about it.” I know I’ve done it. We think complainers are weak and self-centered, and we certainly don’t want to be labeled that or around those people. When I read our two stories from Exodus for this week, my first thought is “why are the Israelites complaining to Moses and God after being liberated from the Egyptians? It seems ungrateful.” But I then I realized what the Israelites where unhappy about: they were hungry and thirsty. Their basic needs for human existence weren’t being met, they were in the middle of a desert where they couldn’t meet these basic needs themselves, they needed help and they weren’t sure if God really saw them.
The Israelites genuinely wondered what God was up to and if God was perhaps no better than Pharaoh, who had only seen them as free labor with no value. Maybe it’s better to be seen as less than, and have some food, than not seen at all by God in the desert? We might view that as a lack of faith, but again, I will admit to questioning God’s motives or lack of action every now and again too, wondering if God really sees the situation I’m in. Moses’ reaction to the demands of the Israelites is interesting. He takes it very personally and immediately deflects to God by saying, “This isn’t my problem, it’s God’s. Don’t look at me!”
God did look at Moses though, and God saw and heard the Israelites. God saw and heard their grumblings and didn’t chastise them, didn’t become annoyed, but instead said yes, I will give them what they ask for, bread from heaven, quail from the sky and water from a rock and even more, they will see the glory of God. God wanted them to know that God saw them for who’s they were-God’s. And God will give them what they need to survive, acknowledging that basic needs are a reality, not a nicety. And God gave them agency to gather their own food, to have a part in the provision. God doesn’t just give charity, God gives empowerment and dignity. God looked to Moses to provide leadership, God looked to the people to share, and God looked to the people to keep moving. God showed the Israelites to keep looking and listening for God who will meet their needs in unexpected ways.
Being seen and heard is a basic human need as much as food and water. The Israelites wanted to know that they mattered to God and so do we. Admitting that I have needs isn’t a lack of faith, it’s an act of bold faith that as someone created in God’s image, as someone with dignity and worth, these needs should be met. It’s a proclamation that if I have value and worth to be seen, heard and responded to by God, then other people do too. It’s a statement that the needs of our bodies do indeed matter, each body, are gifts that God promises to provide for. God does indeed provide, and not just for some individuals, but for the whole community. All the Israelites were included, all had what they needed.
God calls people such as Moses to lead and work with God to provide for the needs of the people. God calls to us to see, hear and act for the needs of our neighbors, their reality of what their bodies need for health, safety and life. Right now, many people are crying out for basic needs, to be seen and heard. They are crying out for us to act. We show that we see, hear and act for the care of our neighbor and to show that their bodies matter, when we wear a mask, when we say “no” to harm being done, when we protect our clean drinking water sources, when we ensure that food is not hoarded but shared, when we work to ensure fair pay for essential workers, for health care for those without, for human and civil rights for those denied, creating spaces for people who are disabled, and when we hear the words of Jesus in our ears: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” We meet basic needs, when we see Christ in people whom we dislike, fear or don’t understand. When we see and hear each other as God does, we will act how God does, for the sake of people hungry and thirsty for food, water, grace, mercy and justice. Amen.