Sep21MonA sermon on being hangry and Exodus 16 September 21, 2020
One of the most popular and successful marketing campaigns of the last decade was made to promote the chocolate candy bar Snickers.
Part of a major overhaul of their brand,
the motto for the new advertisements were:
“You are not you when you’re hungry.”
The first ad was shown at the Super Bowl in 2010,
and featured a group of younger men playing football with
famous actress Betty White
(88 years old at the time)
At first it seems a little odd, but then she even gets tackled to the ground.
A teammate complains saying:
Mike, you’re playing like Betty White out there!
After a sarcastic reply,
Betty eats a Snickers bar and then changes back into Mike,
a 30-year-old man.
The implication was that since Mike was hungry,
he was playing football like a frail but feisty old lady,
and all he needed was a sugary snack to turn him (back) into a competent football player.
The commercial’s humourous take on the human condition of not being yourself when you’re hungry, struck a chord and the commercial quickly went viral, and it won many industry awards.
Since 2010 Snickers has been showcased with dozens of different commercials with the same theme, most featuring famous actors all with the tagline; “You are not you when you’re hungry.”
Whenever I’ve seen these commercials, I really enjoyed them and thought they were quite funny because they were so true.
I know of myself when I’m hungry, I get cranky, and more distractibler.
I get hangry = I’m so hungry I’m angry.
I’m not the normal, relatively balanced me when I’m hungry.
Recently, I’ve however become more aware of the inherent toxic masculinity of the Snickers brand, and so I’m a little less fond of them now, but that’s a topic for another day.
This commercial series by Snickers came to mind when I was thinking about our first Reading today from the Book of Exodus, which tells of the Israelites in the wilderness, who are complaining about being hungry.
They make some rash accusations that Moses wanted to starve them to death, and that they would have been better off as slaves.
They aren’t thinking straight, and they
“Aren’t themselves because they’re hungry”
So how did those Israelites get to the point of being hungry in the desert?
Well, a month previously, in Egypt,
they had survived the 10 Plagues and the Passover,
They had been released by the Pharao from their forced labour and slavery,
and escaped the Egyptian Army at the Red Sea,
with a miracle of deliverance from impending doom.
But little did they know that this first challenge of escaping the army would not be their last.
Soon after they reached the desert and then after 3 days they ran out of water,
so they complained of thirst.
And God provided a second miracle for them: clean drinking water.
So after the threat of being killed by the soldiers
and then dying of thirst,
they faced their third challenge: hunger.
And so they complained a third time.
Now, the word complain often has a negative connotation to it,
like whining, as if the problem you’re raising shouldn’t be a problem,
and you should just be quiet and “take it like a man” or quote Snickers ads:
“grow some nuts”.
But complaining can sometimes be important and constructive.
And when it comes to hunger, we all sometimes behave irrationally,
or fly off the handle,
Hunger can do that to you.
If you’re ravenous, you can’t think of anything else,
except getting some food into your stomach…
and that’s an important animal survival instinct.
Without food, we perish, because our cells need energy to function.
So complaining about needing food when you’re in the desert isn’t necessarily a bad thing…it’s important if you want to survive.
But the Israelites maybe went a little overboard because they were hangry.
They cried out:
(V3) If we only had died (by the hand of God) in the Land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, the sumptuous banquets, and ate our fill of bread!
You, Moses and Aaron, brought us into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
The people are hangry and they bring forward a strong accusation:
Moses is accused of wanting to starve to death a whole group.
Certainly that wasn’t the case:
Moses’ intent was to free them from slavery with God’s help,
but the fact remains that the Sinai peninsula wilderness is a pretty extreme and forbidding place to be going for a hike.
There’s not much vegetation, just lots of rocks and jagged mountains.
But the Israelites are so famished they aren’t thinking straight. They forget about the terrible conditions of the forced labour in Egypt, and how they cried out in lament at their condition.
Was slavery really that great? No, but when you’re hungry, any kind of food, no matter the condition, will be appealing.
(In another parallel passage in the book of Numbers (Ch11)
The people tell Moses how they “remember the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic.”
As they recall the tasty vegetables they used to eat and are nowhere to be found in the desert, no doubt their mouths are starting to water.)
So the people are legitimately complaining about being starving, maybe a little over the top, but God relents and promises food, with a third miracle: Manna.
“The morning dew lifted, and on the ground lay fine flaky substance,
like coriander seed, with the color of gum resin”.
“What is it?” The people ask.
“It is the bread that the Lord has given to eat,” is the answer.
Now you may be wondering as well, what this Manna could possibly be.
Supposedly the “Tamarisk tree in the Sinai peninsula produces [exudes] drops of a sweet substance which is gathered and eaten by the local people, who still call the substance “man””.
However, the amounts that the tree produces are small, so likely the “story goes far beyond the natural fact”, if Manna is in fact somehow related to the Tamarisk tree.
The second miracle is a flock of quails which “came up” and land outside the camp in the evening, which the Israelites are able to hunt down to eat. This also has a bit of a natural explanation as it is known the quails “migrate across the Red Sea to Europe in the Spring, landing for rest at night”.
However I won’t dwell on the precise possible explanation of these two miracles, but focus on a simple statement:
It’s hard, but God provides.
First of all: it’s hard.
The Normal in Egypt was hard enough, but now it’s even harder.
It wasn’t exactly easy back then, but now, oh my goodness,
it definitely is more challenging!
I think this statement resonates with us now in these pandemic times.
Back before COVID, life wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
There were the everyday stresses of life and work, worries about money, health, and relationships.
There was loss and death, cancer and diabetes and discrimination.
We can understand the Israelites looking back at Egypt as we look back at the time before March, and say:
it was hard enough then, but it’s even harder now.
Because on top of the normal stresses of life, which haven’t ended, on top of the Normal issues,
we get a pandemic which makes everything more extreme,
and puts limits on everything,
everything takes so much longer and is so much more difficult.
The COVID Pivot they call it:
people and businesses needing to turn around, to pivot, within short amounts of time to completely reimagine how they do things,
Shutting down offices and working from home,
Installing all kinds of barriers, signage,
getting PPE, learning new software,
Combined with the stress of doing new things nobody signed up for,
with the expectations and realities of a constantly changing workforce, and regulations and gathering limits that are modified every week sometimes.
I pity the poor teachers, principals and Education Boards who have to change plans daily and weekly this back-to-school season.
I feel for vulnerable seniors who had enough health issues before,
but are now afraid of the additional new risks of this contagious nightmare.
We had it tough back then, but it sure is tougher now,
we can echo this sentiment with the Israelites from our story…
Oh, how we wish for the easy days of living back in February,
where all we could complain about was the cold weather.
Everything was so much easier back then
(only it wasn’t, it’s just gotten harder.)
And with the Israelites from our story, we long for Egypt,
We long for the Normal, which we knew so well, whether it was good or bad.
Because at least we knew the Normal,
and understood its rules, more or less,
But we don’t understand the new rules of COVID-life,
The new rules of the wilderness,
because they’re always changing.
We cry out “How Long, O Lord?”
How long until I can order this product which isn’t in stock any-where?
How long until we can gather in the church building for worship?
How long until we can do the things we took for granted
only a few months ago?
How long until the vaccine?
We may not know the answers, and we may not get the answers,
But one thing is for sure.
The Lord listens!
And God provides!
(V4) The Lord listens! (he brought about the whole Exodus, the deliverance of the Israelite slaves as response to their lament,
their crying out in agony).
He rained down bread from heaven,
so that they had enough to eat for that day.
And he did it so that they would know God brought them out of the land of Egypt, that he heard their complaint and they would see the glory of the Lord.
God listened and provided a miracle supplying enoughfood for the day for the Israelites.
And God listens to us and provides for our needs for the day as well.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray:
“Give us this day our daily bread”
Bread just enough for today.
And we believe that God does provide our daily bread,
Just enough to feed us, just like the Israelites who got just enough Manna for each day.
God provides just enough for our needs.
For sure, we always want more,
and in a way we can complain that we never have enough,
But by and large, most of us with an attitude of gratitude will say,
Yes, the Lord provides sufficiently.
I shall not be in want.
And when we realize that God listens to our cry, our complaint,
and God provides,
Then we realize that there is nothing we need to fear.
No need to worry,
We can rest assured that God will be there for us.
God was there for us in the difficult times of the Normal we once knew,
and is there for us in this new unknown wilderness as well.
And so we know that we can draw near to the Lord,
Whether we are hangry or just angry,
Afraid, content or sad,
And bring our burdens, our worries, our complaints to Him in prayer.
We may not get a miracle, we may not get a vision,
a glimpse of God’s glory like the Israelites,
But if we look closely and are attentive,
we can see God’s signs even amidst this pandemic.
In times of distress like these,
We have the opportunity to know God more deeply,
because it is in human nature to turn to God in times of trouble.
And God will hear and listen.
And will let us know Him more.
To know more deeply that God is the Great I AM,
that God is the Lord our God.
And we are God’s people.
As we lament “How long o God?” during this global crisis with billions of others in this same mess,
Sometimes feeling lost, alone, or afraid,
Far away from the normal we once knew,
We can be confident that God hears and listens and provides.
Our God will lead us home.