(watch here: https://youtu.be/ayWkxARCw8k)
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.
This morning we wrap up our monthly series dedicated to exploring the wisdom of Luther’s catechism. For several months, we’ve reflected on what Luther had to say about the essential Christian traditions of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and confession. These traditions help structure both our worship services and our daily lives and yet seldom do we take the time to actually consider what we are reciting over and over. We simply memorize them to spit out during the appropriate time without fully understanding the depth of the words we speak. We simply come to the baptismal font or the Lord’s table out of mindless habit. We simply ask for forgiveness without a genuine heart of remorse. We do these things simply but the words and beliefs underlying these traditions are far from simple. They are profound words and acts that need explanation…that need Luther’s wisdom.
So we close out the series by looking at another ritual that often becomes rote as well: the ritual of asking for God’s blessing on our days, on our nights, and on our meals. When we wake up, we ask God to bless our day ahead. When we sit down for a meal, we ask God to bless the food to our bodies. When we lie down at the end of the day, we ask God to bless our rest. We ask for these blessings not because the Bible tells us to, not because the church tells us to, but because we need God’s blessing on our work and our meals and our rest. Without God’s blessing, we are guided by the world and all it’s evil ways. We are guided by chaos and fear. God’s blessing enables us to live without fear. It enables us to live in service to God and each other. It enables us to live fully, freely, and faithfully. We need God’s blessing more than anything. We are simply lost without it.
Unlike the other traditions, Luther didn’t really expound on asking for God’s blessing in his catechism. He simply offered appropriate morning, evening, and meal prayers. For the morning blessing, we are to pray,
I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have protected me through the night from all harm and danger. I ask that you would also protect me today from sin and all evil, so that my life and actions may please you. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen
In this blessing, Luther has us not only give thanks for his keeping our bodies safe while we slept but also ask God to protect us from whatever harm that might come to us throughout the day. We live in a dangerous world. We live in a world of catastrophic hurricanes as we saw recently in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico. We live in a world of senseless violence as we saw recently in Las Vegas. We most certainly live in a dangerous world that allows for such terrible, random acts of death and destruction to occur. None of us is impervious to the danger of this world! Weather will do what it wants, wherever it wants and whenever it wants. We’re pretty good at predicting it but we can’t prevent it. All we can do is prepare for it and hope it will pass without hurting us. And crazy, selfish gunmen, well, none of know when and where they’ll strike either. All of us are vulnerable to them too. No, we live in a dangerous world filled with sin and evil and the only reason we aren’t affected by it is because of God’s blessing.
Before meals, Luther has us pray, “the eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature.” We are to then recite the Lord’s Prayer and conclude with, “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts, which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” In this blessing, we give praise to our God for providing us a meal that will sustain our fragile bodies a little while longer. News flash: our bodies need food to live in this world! Without food, our bodies will die, plain and simple. God creates the food we need, whether in the form of an animal or a plant. We ask God to continue creating our food and so generously giving it to us. And it’s good form to thank God for doing it:
Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good, for God’s mercy endures forever. God provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they cry. God is not impressed by the might of a horse, and has no pleasure in the speed of a runner, but finds pleasure in those who fear the Lord, in those who await God’s steadfast love. We give thanks to you, Lord God our Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord for all your benefits, you who live and reign forever. Amen
Finally, when our day is over and we go to rest, Luther has us ask for one final blessing:
I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today. I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously to protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen
Just because we survive the work of the day doesn’t mean we’ll survive the rest of the evening without God’s blessing. In fact, we’re at our most vulnerable while we sleep so again we need God’s protection from whatever may harm us. Earlier this week, a fellow ELCA pastor here in Nebraska, 36 years old and of seemingly good health, went to bed and died of a heart attack a few hours later, leaving behind a wife, 2 little kids, and a vibrant ministry. We need God’s blessing to help us through the night just as much as throughout the day.
We need sustaining work, we need nourishing food, and we need restful sleep. Yet none of us is guaranteed any of these. Only God can bless us with these and Luther gave us helpful prayers to ask for God’s blessings. Let us not turn his prayers into rote, disingenuous pleas but instead use them for honest requests. God hears our prayers and wants to bless us. God wants us to live as He created us to live: fully, freely, and faithfully. God blesses us. All we have to do is ask for his blessing. Finally, let us give thanks for Luther’s wisdom so generously given to us 500 years ago. It not only reformed the church but also our understanding of God.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.