Summary: What does it mean to do the works of God? It’s not works, it’s one work... to believe in Christ. The Good News is that even belief is a gift from God!
Anne and I live in one of those lucky households in America that is blessed with the presence of both cat and dog. Two cats to be exact. I say blessed because we get to witness two very different approaches to the world from each of these animals. None of our animals is Lutheran (although our cats hate change, so they may be the closest). I think our Dog worships us, and our cats, well, they each worship themselves. That’s the old saying anyways, the Dog analyzes the world around him and says, “this person feeds me, loves me, shelters me, he must be a god!” The cats say, “he feeds me, loves me, shelters me, I must be a god.” They take the same evidence, the same information, but they come to two very different conclusions.
In our OT and Gospel readings today, there are people who take some very important messages and come to the wrong conclusions. The Lord is trying to speak to them with some very clear demonstrations of his love, and might, and grace. But the people focus on the wrong things. If I may go back to my cats and dog for a second: When I cook, there is a fury of activity in the kitchen. So much so, that something usually ends up on the floor. At this point I usually call out and our Dog and one cat come running into the kitchen. Here’s the rub though. I will point at the floor where the food has fallen and inevitably, one animal will look where I am pointing and see the treat, and the other will stare at the end of my finger. One get’s the main point and gets a delicious snack. The other doesn’t.
My prayer for us this morning as we venture through God’s Word together, is that God would help us to “get the main point” of the signs of his grace and love for us, and that we would continually look to where HE is pointing us, to his miracle of mercy that he bought for us on the cross. I know this seems a little basic, or maybe a little obvious, but I tell you – God’s people have a long tradition of getting this wrong, and looking in the wrong direction.
Let’s go back a few thousand years, and look at our reading from Exodus. What we find here is the whole camp of the Israelites exactly one month after they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. The Lord sent Moses, and then the 10 plagues, and then brought the whole of God’s people right through the middle of the Red Sea on dry land by parting the waters. All of these were amazing signs of God’s grace and love for his people. But now, just a few weeks later, the people are already complaining about how awful life is.
“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
But God is merciful, even in the midst of this lack of faith and gratitude for concerning God’s provision. God doesn’t turn his back on his people, but provides for them with a true miracle: “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you!” What a wild deal! Bread is going to fall from heaven, and you will be able to eat from it and be satisfied. So here’s the question: What is the main point of this miracle for the people, what are they to focus on the most?” You can say it any number of ways, but the main point and the focal point is the love and mercy that God has for his people. He gives them a life-giving gift that they in no way deserve.
That’s the right answer, but the other question is, “what is it really that the people end up focusing on?” That one’s pretty simple; they end up simply focusing on the bread, on the physical thing right in front of them, on filling their bellies. How do we know this? Well, God lays out some ground rules for them concerning the Manna (what is this stuff?): “and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”