Can God Set A Table in the Wilderness?

table in the wilderness

NEHEMIAH 9:16-20; PSALM 78:1-29; ROMANS 8:35-38; ST. MATTHEW 14:13-21

A few years ago I was talking with a neighbor, who worked at Nissan in Smyrna, and he was telling me about the buyouts that Nissan was offering it’s workers in order to reduce the work force. Sales had been so bad that they were eliminating an entire shift. I could tell he was worried even though his buyout package along with his 401k and retirement seemed to me like he had won a minor lottery. Still, he saw his future as tinkering with cars and selling things on Ebay. Not exactly the American dream is it?

As I thing back on that conversation I don’t thing that things have improved that much. I keep hearing on the news about our improved economy but I am not seeing that reflected in giving to the Church. I also know that my neighbor is not alone in being concerned and even worried about his future and that is why the Psalm that we have today is such an appropriate one.

The people of God are in the wilderness and they are worried where their next meal is going to come from and so they ask the question “Can God set a table in the wilderness?” They admit He struck the rock and gave them water but they seriously doubt that He can give enough bread and meat to provide for all of the people. Sure He is God and sure He brought them out of slavery but can they expect Him to provide? Can we expect Him to provide even during a recession? Let my try to answer that question?

First, I think that we need to ask if it is okay to even ask such a question. Some would say that this kind of question expresses doubt or a lack of faith and since the Bible says that which is not of faith is sin, therefore it is a sinful question. But I think that is a shallow reading of the Scriptures. The context of the line about that which is not of faith is sin has to do with our actions when we know deep within that what we are about to do is wrong but we do it anyway. I can easily see why that would be sin and which one of us doesn’t own that T shirt?

But that is not the same thing as saying that it is a sin to question God. In fact there are numerous examples in the Scriptures of people questioning God and God not condemning them for it. The Book of Job is a classic example. Last week in Bible Study we read of both Martha and Mary in their grief asking Jesus where He had been. “If you had only been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus did not rebuke them for questioning Him.

The real issue is not the questioning but rather what is going on in our hearts when we ask the question. The people in the Psalms today are going about it in the wrong way because in verse 17 we are told that they are “rebelling” against God, in verse 18 they are “testing” God, and in verse 19 they are “railing against” God. You don’t even have to know much about the Bible at all to know that rebelling, testing and railing against God is not advisable. But many other of the Psalms represent honest questions from people who are feeling overwhelmed by circumstances or genuinely confused or are in grief and pain and they are speaking to God on an honest way, as creature to Creator. The folks who say that we should only make positive confessions are missing the kind of relationship with the Lord that keeps things real.

If we are struggling to keep our faith in tact or if we are struggling to deepen our relationship with the Lord, it is not only okay it is important for us to seek and knock and ask. But we must do it in such a way that you are not rebelling or testing or railing. A sinless but broken hearted Jesus even cried out asking God where He was when He cried “My God, my God why has thou forsaken Me?” It is okay to ask.

As the Psalm goes on to show, when you ask God a question you had better be ready for Him to answer it. He rained down so much manna on them that after days of manna, three times a day. They even asked Him to stop with the manna so He rained down birds. Can God set a table in the wilderness? You will be drinking manatinis when He gets through with you, so be prepared. Yes, God can set a table in the wilderness.

But let’s keep going. I think it would be instructional to ask the question “When will God set a table in the wilderness?” The short answer is that God sets a table in the wilderness once we get IN the wilderness. He did not give them manna in Egypt. They had to take a great risk and step out in faith and put themselves in a situation where it was literally going to be life or death. That is when they saw God’s miraculous provision. Similarly Jesus did not go into the towns and villages and start feeding everyone. It was when they were away from their homes, following Him in order to learn from Him, that the need arose to feed the multitudes.

I honestly believe that we saw some miraculous provisions once we left everything behind and entered the wilderness as St. Patrick’s. And these were provisions that we would not have seen if we had remained behind in Egypt. Some miraculous provisions came in the form of people who joined us after we left. Fr. Palmer saw us on the news and called me up and said that he wanted to talk. We met for a few weeks and we got along so well that he joined the parish and he has been a total godsend to me and to the parish. Fr. Chris has been an equal godsend.

I also consider our wonderful property a gift from God. Our previous property was 18 acres of flood plain and a crack down the middle of the nave. I used to sit in my office, working on a sermon during a rain storm and literally see logs float by in the fields. Now we are on 71/2 acres of beautiful farmland, not a foot of it is in a flood plane. I have carpeted the center aisle but to the best of my knowledge there is no crack. So God has been good to us.

My point is that if you want God to set a table you have to be willing to enter the wilderness and trust Him. And how we do that will look different for each of us. Maybe the Lord is leading some to change careers or to go back to school. Maybe some are being called to trust God with their finances and need to start tithing, which is giving God 10% off the top. Some may be facing health issues and need to truly place their lives in His hands so that free from fear and anxiety they make wise choices. The testimony that we have from the Israelites is that God does not call us out of Egypt just to let us die in the wilderness. He saw them through to the Promised Land. The same will be true for us. He has not set us free from our sins and called us to follow Him just to abandon us when we need Him the most. God has provided, God is providing and God will provide because He was, He is and He is to come. I love that saying that you don’t have to be afraid of the future because God is already there.

To be reassured of the truth of that statement we need to understand WHY God will set a table for us in the wilderness. That knowledge we gain from our lesson from Romans. “No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

There is a YouTube clip that has become a sensation that most likely you have seen. It tells a story of a couple of guys in London who bought a baby lion at the store Harrods, named it Christian and then tried to raise it. Once it became too large to handle they returned it to Africa to be reintroduced to the wild. Christian was successfully reintroduced and became the head of his own pride. After awhile the guys went to Africa to see if they could find Christian but they were told that not only would Christian not recognize them but that he would be dangerous. The YouTube clip shows this wild lion running at the men and them jumping on them and literally giving them hugs without any semblance of danger. He even brought one of his wives as if to introduce her to them. It’s one of those Youtubes that you have to see alone because you are going to cry like a baby.

The point of the clip is how often we underestimate the power of love. And if it is true that we underestimate the power of love between a human and an animal, or even a human and another human, then imagine how sorely we must underestimate the power of God’s love towards us. He isn’t just fond of us like some dotty old uncle; He is loves us enough the He sacrificed His only Son so that we could be adopted into His family. If He paid the price of His Son to get us, He is hardly going to forget about us or overlook us. That is why the Psalmist said it is easier for a nursing mother to forget her own child than for the Lord to forget about us. An unfailing love for us is why God will set a table for us and since nothing can separate us from His love.

We have asked WHEN and WHY God sets a table for us, so we should take it one step further and ask HOW. How do we receive the Lord’s provision?

To get this point we have to think of God’s provision as being more than just in material things. He certainly does that too but that is secondary. I have been in parts of the world where the average salary is $2 per day and worshipped with Christians who overflowed with joy. When they worshipped they were grateful for their daily bread but they were even more grateful for the Bread of Heaven.

The five loaves in the Gospel miracle are foreshadow of this Bread of Heaven that we receive at the Mass. He is God’s ultimate provision. Beyond giving us things, God is giving us Himself…. “This is My Body.” Does that mean that we should not look to God to provide our material needs and that we should spiritualize this verse from the Psalms about setting a table in the wilderness? Of course not but it does mean that we need to be sure that the main thing is the main thing. In Morning Prayer we end with the prayer called the General Thanksgiving where we thank God “ for all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.” God provides all things but since His ultimate provision is the gift of His Son that is where our thanksgiving begins and ends.

There is something about the music that came out of the horrors of slavery that cuts to the chase and says it like it should be said. One African spiritual is called “Give me Jesus” and its words are as simple as they are profound.

In the morning when I rise
In the morning when I rise
In the morning when I rise
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You may have the world
Give me Jesus

Dark midnight was my cry
Dark midnight was my cry
Dark midnight was my cry
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You may have the world
Give me Jesus

O when I come to die
O when I come to die
O when I come to die
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You may have the world
Give me Jesus

They say that there are two ways to become wealthy. One is to make more money and the other is to be content with what you already have. It is this perspective “you may have the world, give me Jesus” that puts us in the track for being wealthy by the second and better way. The New Living Translation of Psalm 23 begins, “The LORD is my shepherd, I have all that I need.” That is an enriching perspective on life.

My neighbor is a really nice guy and a hard working family man so I hope only the best for him. I have invited him to church and he has been a number of times but I cannot honestly say that I know much about his faith. I’m sure that over the years he thought that he would be safe working for an international firm like Nissan. But he and indeed all of us have to learn that there is only one place that we are truly safe, and that is sitting at a table that the Lord has set. Can God set a table for us in the wilderness? Dinner’s ready, y’all come. Amen.

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