Manna for Future Generations

According to my New Oxford Annotated Bible, the word manna is derived from the Hebrew man hu. “Man hu?” was the question that the Hebrew people asked when they saw flaky white stuff laying around them, all over the ground. “What is it?” they asked. I believe the answer was man na. “It is what it is.”

This question and answer reminds me of the dialog between Moses and God when Moses asks God what he should say when the people ask for the name of the God who reportedly is going to save them. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:13)

In both of these situation, the answer is a restatement of the question. What is it? It is what it is. Who are you? I am who I am.

Later, after God has been provided water and food for the people in the wilderness, we learn that God has commanded that an omer of manna be saved in a jar. (An omer is about eight cups or a half gallon.)

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” (Exodus 16:32)

The manna is being stored so future generations will trust in this God who has recently rescued and provided for them. Like a good leader, Moses does what he’s told; he tells Aaron to do what God asks. And Aaron, like a good priest, does what he’s told. He puts the manna in a jar and puts the jar in a sacred place.

And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept through out your generations.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. (Exodus 16:33-34)

Then the story fast forwards. The Bible tells us that the Israelites made it, by living on manna, to the Promised Land.

The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Exodus 16:35)

As contemporary people who are attempting to follow this God, a God whose primary occupation is to rescue the oppressed, this story provides us with sustenance for our journey. It suggests that God knows we can’t just believe what we’re told. We’re too fickle for that. We need evidence for ourselves.

At first, I thought that stories of early Friends was today’s manna. Our knowledge of their words and actions help us to know what it is like when God enters into history. The documents that they left behind demonstrate that God is not only an eternal presence but also lives and acts in time, through the lives of the faithful.

But, like the Israelites who learned about God through their ancestors’ stories, we need to have evidence for ourselves. The stories of early Friends are not enough. We need to see and feel manna. We need to personally experience God’s rescue and on-going guidance.

We don’t have physical jars of manna, but we have this story. This story urges us to enter into the tabernacle and stand in the power of the covenant, believing that God means for us to be God’s special people. Via our hearts, we will plunge a hand into that jar full of manna and physically experience God’s mercy and power. Later, when we leave the tent (although we will probably need to return many times), we will see God’s provision all around… manna as far as our eyes can see.

Who is this God? This God Is. This God is Being Yearning For Us, a God who comes to rescue us from non-Being and non-Yearning, from non-Fullness-of-Life. May we embrace the yoke that Jesus holds out to us. By joining in Christ’s on-going redemption of the world, we join God where God is and participate in God’s action in time.

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This post is fifth in a series. This series explores how we might leave Egypt –the American Empire and travel to the Promised Land—the Beloved Community of All Peoples where peace and plenty prevail. (The previous posts include Becoming a Wilderness People, The God of our Fathers, Water in the Wilderness, and Wafers made with Honey.)

Wafers Made with Honey

Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will rule over all. (Gospel of Thomas 2:1-4, SV)

This post is the fourth in a series. This series explores how we might leave Egypt –the American Empire and travel to the Promised Land—the Beloved Community of All Peoples where peace and plenty prevail. (To read the full series, start with Becoming a Wilderness People.)

Once we cross the river beyond worldly life and those temptations that would bring us back, we must learn to trust in that which compelled us to leave. But we cannot see God, so how can we, who have learned to orient via our senses and intellect, find our way forward?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” (Exodus 16: 4 NRSV)

During this time of traveling in the wilderness, we inch forward, learning to live by that which God provides daily, trusting that the little we get is sufficient.

…Those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. (Exodus 16:18b-20a)

When we gather too much, wanting to believe that we can provide for ourselves, believing that now we have found the way, we will realize that we’re lost—our manna moldy and full of worms. This is our discipline, to live by daily bread. To believe that what God provides each day is enough. Through this practice alone we are shaped into instruments for the Divine.

Paul, like the Israelites, left behind a way of life to spread the Word of God. He turned his back on the Roman Empire and his prior understanding of God. Through an encounter with Christ, he was able to see beyond the reality created by the Roman Empire and the religious practices of his day. After some time in the wilderness, he became fully open to and trusted in God’s provision. He, like the story of the Exodus, persuades us to trust God fully so that we might live a truly meaningful life. Paul says,

“Don’t allow the seductive power of corruption to reign over your earthly life inducing you to submit to worldly desires. Don’t put any part of your body at the disposal of that power as an instrument for doing wrong, but put yourselves at God’s disposal as people who have been brought to life from the dead and present your bodies to God as instruments for doing right.” (Romans 6:12-13, SV)

and…

So, I appeal to you, friends, as recipients of the wondrous mercy of God, to dedicate every fiber of your being to a life that is consecrated and pleasing to God, which is what enlightened worship ought to be. Don’t accept the life of this age as your model, but let yourselves be remodeled by the recovery of your true mind, so that you can discern what is consistent with God’s purposes –what is good, worthwhile, and completely genuine. (Romans 12:1-2, SV)

While the way toward the Promised Land is dark, every morning God provides fresh bread.

And the family of Israel called the name of it manna; which was like coriander seed, but white, and the taste of it like wafers with honey. (Exodus 16:31, QB)

Let us gather and share it. Through the transformation of our hearts and minds, we will come to trust the God of Israel who frees the captives. May we come to receive the grace we need to become a Church filled with lives empowered and sustained by manna.

God’s Love

Baklava.
Surrounding us,
Shining like morning dew.

But don’t get fat.
Take only what you need;
Trusting that One is All.

Join us.
Just beyond the river;
Lilies swaying in a field.

Water in the Wilderness

This post is part of a series. The first post is Becoming a Wilderness People. The second is The God of Our Fathers.

I believe God is calling Friends to name the spiritual condition of the world. This is not new. This is our mandate. For centuries, Friends have been called to and have named the spiritual condition of the world. The challenge for us is to rediscover how to do that in this day and time.

We live in the American Empire, a country which has more completely centralized wealth and power than any other. As a superpower, we have come to believe that we can ‘take what we want’ from every other country in the world. We have and we do, via coercive or violent means.

Ostensibly, Christianity is the religion of this Empire. But Jesus showed us what everlasting, even cosmic, influence looks like: friendship with the least of these. Therefore, to live with integrity in this Empire, we need to more fully come to be like Jesus. Our spiritual wholeness, our salvation, is bound together with the wholeness of those who have been taken from.

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