(This sermon was offered as a celebration of the conclusion of our Vacation Garden School, a one-week program for children. About a dozen children who had participated were seated on the floor in the front of the church, and the sermon, although delivered to the whole congregation, focused on the children.)
This week at Vacation Garden School we sang, we dug, we made artwork, we heard stories, and we ate. We ate a lot of great food! What are some of the things we ate this week? Campers answer: watermelon, snap peas, hard-boiled eggs, mac-n-cheese, tacos….
During this week, did you ever look at what someone was offering to you at snack time or lunch and say, “What is it?” Campers answer: dirt pie, mint from Syria, nasturtiums, fig cookies, sunflower seeds.
We also planted and watered some food this week. What did we plant that people eat? Campers answer: tomatoes, basil, sage, squash, Armenian cucumbers, Brussels sprouts.
During this week, did you ever look at a vegetable or herb we were growing and say, “What is it?” Campers answer….
In Hebrew, “What is it?” sounds like this: man hu. We’ve turned this into a word: manna. Our first reading today is about manna, and even though the story is about things that happened over a thousand years ago, it has a lot to do with VGS and with all of our lives.
In this reading, the Hebrew people are on a long journey. They have left Egypt, where they were slaves, and they are in the wilderness on their way to their new home in Canaan. They are tired, they aren’t sure where they are, and they are very hungry. They are so hungry that they start to regret leaving Egypt. At least there was food there!
They are grumpy, and they complain to their leaders about it. But before their leaders even have time to talk about what to do, God solves the problem. God sends them food. It’s not food they are used to. It doesn’t come the way food normally comes. God sends quail in the evening. And in the morning, God sends a flaky white substance that smells like coriander. They have no idea what it is, and they as “man hu”?
This week, all of you went on a journey. It wasn’t as dramatic as the Exodus from Egypt, but it was a big journey. You left your homes and families, where you know what to expect, and came to a camp where the people, the schedule, the sounds, and the food would be different.
For some of you, especially our four year olds, it was your first camp ever! And you learned to trust your buddy to keep you safe.
For the junior counselors, you tried on new leadership roles and took risks, like interviewing farmers at the Belmont Farmers Market.
For the counselors, you were pioneers of a whole new element of our program! And on three afternoons you extended your journey, going out to serve people you’d never met before in places you’d never been.
It would have been easy for you to be grumpy on your journey this week (especially given the heat!). But I didn’t hear much grumbling. You were courageous, joyful, and patient – all signs that the Holy Spirit was working in you and through you. You found that what you needed was here. Just as God was faithful to the Hebrew people long ago, God was faithful to you this week.
Each of you will go on other journeys. Life is full of them. Some will be great adventures and some will be hard slogs through hard places. God will be with you in those places, too, hearing your requests before you make them. God will send you what you need, but it may not look like what you asked for. Just as God sent flaky white stuff to the Hebrew people, and dirt pie and nasturtiums to you this week, God’s gifts may take a while to see. You may as, “What is it?”
And here’s the last bit, the bit that’s really beautiful: There will be so many times when you are the gift God sends to others. God can use you to be the answer to others’ prayers. You can be the manna, not to be eaten up like a snap pea, but to serve others with your gardening skills, your joyful songs, a listening ear, speaking up for what’s right, praying.
In another reading today, we heard Jesus say, “I am the bread of life.” That means a lot of things, but one really important thing it means is that through Jesus, God invites all of us to feed this world. Every Sunday, we remember that by sharing bread here at this table. I thank God for all that you are, and I know that what we need is here.