Immanuel Lutheran Church
                     of Almelund, Minnesota


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The Good Old Days?

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

October 8, 2017

Exodus 16:1-18


Grandpa Meyer was Skyping with his grandsons Tyler and Nick who live out on the West Coast. Amazing technology, that Skype! They could see one another over the computer                       on a live video camera as they spoke in real time. And without paying for long distance! It was almost as good as being there. They were telling him what life was like as a high school freshman and junior in Seattle. They told him all about their classes and sports and other activities. Nick has a new girlfriend, named Emily, who he has been dating for the last month. She’s really cute and fun. Then they mentioned that a group of their classmates had been caught sending text messages with inappropriate photos attached and had gotten in trouble for that. Two days earlier their school had gone through a lock down drill to simulate what would happen if a shooter appeared on campus. And saddest of all, a kid in their school had recently committed suicide because he had been bullied and humiliated on Facebook.


Grandpa Meyer interrupted the boys by saying, “You guys have it tough! It sure makes me long for the good old days.”


“But Grandpa,” Tyler replied, “Didn’t you have duck and cover drills because of the threat of nuclear war?”


“Yah,” added Nick, “And you had segregation and the fight for civil rights. There was the Vietnam War and the anti-war protests.”


Then Tyler said, “You didn’t have computers and you certainly couldn’t Skype with your grandparents like we do with you and Grandma.”


After a few moments of silence, Grandpa Meyer said, “Well, I guess you two are right. The good old days weren’t really that good after all. We had our own set of problems.”


As we look around our world today, there is a real temptation to long for the “good old days.” People were more polite back then. Kids didn’t sass off to their parents. There was none of the rude talk you hear on TV, especially not coming from our leaders. You could trust your neighbors. People didn’t lock their doors. Everything was closed on Sunday, so people automatically came to church – it’s just what you did. The church pews were full. Families spent Sundays together. There were no sports tournaments scheduled on Sundays, and Wednesday evenings were set aside as Church Night. Oh, for the “good old days.”


Like it was for Grandpa Meyer, it is easy for us to romanticize the good old days and to forget about the challenges. We forget about the race riots and the assassinations that rocked our country. It’s easy to forget that women’s opportunities were limited. A woman could be a homemaker, nurse, teacher, or secretary. That was about the range of options open to most women. Back when my grandmother was a young woman she served as a teacher for a 2-room school. But she only did that for 4 years because when she got married she was forced to resign her teaching position. That’s how they did it in the good old days. Black people were openly discriminated against. In the South there were separate drinking fountains, and black people had to sit at the back of the bus. Free love! LSD. Hippies. Demonstrations. The Kent State shooting. Aahhh, for the good old days!


When we start longing for the good old days, it’s easy to wax nostalgic and forget about some of the harsh realities. That’s where we find the Israelites in our text this morning saying, "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" (Exodus 16:3).


Oh, yes, the good old days, when they were slaves in Egypt. The good old when they made bricks with no straw. The good old days as they were whipped and beaten by Pharaoh’s slave masters. The good old days when all the decisions were made for them and they had no control over their own lives. The good old days when they were ruled by Pharaoh, a leader who despised them and wanted them only for their free labor.  Those were the days!


When you’re wandering in the wilderness, not sure where you’re going; when you’re on a journey that is filled with new challenges, with new dangers around every corner; it is natural to think back to what was familiar. Life may have had challenges back in Egypt, but at least they knew how to survive there. Out in this wilderness, they weren’t so sure.


But it was God who called them out of Egypt. It is God who freed them from slavery. It was God who pushed them forward, providing strength for the journey. It is God who was with them every step of the way leading them to the Promised Land.


God realized they needed to be reminded each day that he is present with them. God realized they needed to experience the faithful ways he provides for them. God realized they needed to get into a routine of worshipping him. So, God answered their complaints by sending food each day. Every morning he sent manna from heaven, flakey bread that appeared on the ground. They were to gather just enough for that day. Manna didn’t keep; it spoiled if you kept it overnight. But there was one exception. On the day before the Sabbath they were to gather two day’s supply of manna. On that day of the week only, the manna would keep for an extra day. On the Sabbath they were to rest from their labors. They were to use it as a day set aside for rest and worship of God. God built a rhythm of rest and worship into their lives. God created Sabbath as a time for the Israelites to refresh themselves body and soul each week.


As they gathered manna each morning they found that they could depend on God to send it each day. Every morning, like clockwork, manna appeared.  Every evening, like clockwork, quail arrived. Every day God fed his people.


As they experienced this faithful provision of God, they came to realize they could depend on God. God didn’t let them down. God was with them on this wilderness journey. Maybe it wasn’t comfortable or familiar, but God was with them, caring for their needs. They could trust God.


Does it feel like we’re on a wilderness journey? Does it feel like the life we’ve known is gone and we’re not sure how to navigate this new reality?


We may feel uncertain in our own lives as we deal with so many challenges. Health issues. Family issues. Financial issues. Employment issues.


As we look around the world and hear threats going back and forth between our president and the president of North Korea, we wonder if one of these days we will face nuclear war.


As we see weather patterns intensifying, each hurricane worse than the last, and as we face flooding, drought, and weird growing seasons, we wonder about the health of our planet and what that means for our future.


As we see computers taking on increasing roles in daily life, we may be grateful for some of the benefits they provide, but they can be confusing and expensive. They can distract people from face-to-face relationships. And what about the dangers? Things like that data breach at Equifax, opening us all up to identity theft. “Is it worth it?” we wonder.


As we see decreasing participation in worship and the church we wonder about our future. We celebrated our 130th anniversary this year, but will Immanuel still be here to celebrate its 150th anniversary? At times like this we may be tempted to long for the good old days, when we plowed the fields and harvested the crops, and didn’t have to worry about all these other things.


But our God doesn’t live in the past. God is eternal – God pf past, present and future! Our God is always making things new. Our God is welcoming us into a future filled with hope. Our God is walking with us each step of our wilderness journey, providing for our needs, as we learn to trust in him.


Sometimes we may not recognize the ways he provides for us. The word manna means “What is it?” When the Israelites saw this white flaky stuff on the ground they were puzzled by it. At first, they didn’t recognize it as bread from heaven. So too, we may not recognize the ways God is providing for us. But I guarantee you that he is. God loves us. God promises to be with us and bless us.


Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” God answers our prayer. God provides all that we need from day to day – not just food and clothing, but also family, friends, employment, and good government. God provides for all of our needs as God answers our prayer for daily bread.


As we see declining participation in worship, not just here but in churches throughout our country, we wonder “How God can be at work in that?” We long for the days when people just automatically came to church because “That’s just what you do.” How might God be at work now?


Could it be that he is prompting people to make a deeper commitment to him? As we are given many choices how to spend our Sunday mornings, it takes a stronger sense of commitment to God to choose to spend your Sunday in worship. Might God be working to build deeper faith in his people?


Is it better if everyone comes to church because that is what is expected, or is it better if the people who come to church are more deeply committed to their faith? I don’t have the answer to that, but I think it is a question worth asking.


The Millennial generation is not so inclined to attend worship, but they have a great heart for service. Might God be prompting the church to better live into his command to love and serve the neighbor in need? Might he be challenging us to be more relevant to daily life? Might he be challenging us to actually talk about our faith and share it with the next generation? Might he be reforming the church and preparing if for his next mission in the world?


In just a few weeks we’ll be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – that great time when God reformed the church. Martin Luther and other reformers noticed that the church wasn’t living up to its potential. There was corruption. The church was selling forgiveness for a fee and not allowing people to read the Bible. God worked through Luther and others to reform the church.


Can you imagine what it felt like to be a member of one of those congregations back then? It must have been a very frightening time indeed. The church was literally being pulled apart. War broke out all around. What a frightening time! People must have wondered if God had abandoned them and what the future holds.


But God loves his church. God cares about his church more than anyone else possibly could. God works in his church to renew it and strengthen it for his mission. As he did for the Israelites wandering through the wilderness, and the Christians 500 years ago at the time of the Reformation, God is with his church now. We can trust that he will guide us in the ways he wants us to go, living into the good future he has prepared for us. It is our job to trust God and follow his lead.


There is an old, beloved hymn that speaks to this – “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer.” It is written as a prayer asking for God’s guidance, leading us through the wilderness. It reminds us that although we are weak, God is strong. God provides for us each step along the way – giving us that daily bread, providing for all our needs. It is a prayer that each of us can pray as we seek God’s guidance on our wilderness journeys.


I invite you to open your hymnal to hymn number 618. Let’s sing the first verse as a prayer for God’s guidance – for each of us individually, for us as a congregation, and for all God’s people in this confusing and frightening world we live in today.