Thursday, June 24, 2004

Rivers, Deserts, Identity

desert scene with stars
Rivers, Deserts, Identity and...Freedom!


A while ago I had lunch at Olive Garden and spent part of one of my stored value gift cards. Since I think theologically something resembling 24/7/12/365, of course I began thinking about the theological implications of stored value and how such an idea could play out in our everyday lives, away from restaurants, malls and all those other shopping scenes where gift cards are easily spendable, and I started connecting stored value and stored values to the constitutive events in our lives as Christians and as a Church. This time I'll briefly explore water and manna, opening with some wet realities, and because the scriptures I'm referencing are so wonderful, I'll quote them instead of linking to them. Here's my first list of images...set your imagination free!

  • Creation's primeval waters
  • Jacob by the riverside
  • Moses and the waters of Meribah
  • Water from the rock!
  • Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan
  • Riverside Church!...a.k.a. the Church by the Riverside: that's supposed to be us!
  • Our baptism
  • Baptism contains *stored values* of death and resurrection, the "value," "worth" or worthy-ness of new life in Jesus Christ, and those *stored values* make possible our living and serving with freedom in Christ Jesus' name.

from Genesis 32 - Jacob *becomes* Israel; this is an Elohist text:

22 And he [Jacob] arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of [River] Jabbok. 23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.
26 And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks."
But Jacob said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!"
27 So God said to him, "What is your name?"
He said, "Jacob."

28 And God said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel [Prince with God]; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed."
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell me Your name, I pray."
And God said, "Why is it that you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [Face of God]: "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." 31 Just as Jacob crossed over Penuel [Face of God] the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. NKJV

from Genesis 35:

from the Elohist:

1 Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother."

2 And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone." 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.

9 Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name." So He called his name Israel. 11 Also God said to him: "I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. 12 The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land." 13 Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.


14 So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it.


15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel. NKJV

Exodus 15 - the slaves of Egypt *become* liberated Israel!
...into the Desert of Shur... to the waters of Marah... then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
When the people left the geographic, phenomenological Egypt, one of their first stops in the desert was Elim, with its 12 springs of fresh water and 70 palm trees that provided shade and shelter, and which is a *type* of the deliverance we find in the plethora of gracious gifts we receive in the gospeled Reign of God in Jesus Christ. The name of the gateway to Elim's sanctuary, safety and protection was Marah, "bitter waters."

Exodus 15:26 contains critical cautions and tremendous promise, 'If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you'" In other words, if you are obedient...

Theologian Martin Buber, in The Prophetic Faith, says, " is only at this point, at the exodus from Egypt, not in Egypt itself, that the people comes into actual existence, and only at this point is the name "Israel" perfectly manifest as 'the visible programme of God's sovereignty.'" (page 44) During those many years of being manna-fed, Israel lived and thrived with the experience of heavenly gifts and divine justice with the ensuing freedom that meant a Shalom'ed enough for everyone and too much for no one; under Moses' leadership and Yahweh's Lordship, the wilderness sojourners lived in daily com-pan-ionship. Again from Buber's The Prophetic Faith, page 44: "Our path in the history of faith is not a path from one kind of deity to another, but in fact a path from the 'God Who hides Himself' (Isaiah 4:15) to the One that reveals Himself." The God who Self-reveals in gifts of mercy and gifts of justice! Here's a second image list:

  • Israel and desert manna
  • People of God's passion and supply...
  • ...try making it on their own and idolize unreal gods
  • Manna contains *stored value* enabling our living precariously to minister in the world
  • More stored value for further food?
  • Or more *stored value* in trusting for the future and its needs?
  • More for our daily rather than the stored-up valuable bread
  • Like baptism, the Lord's Supper contains *stored value* enabling our living and ministering in the world
  • Beginning with baptismal sacramental ordinance and continuing with a Eucharistic one (sacrament, Lord's Supper, Holy Communion)

Exodus 16, out of Egypt!

1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Zin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.

4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days." ...

11 The LORD said to Moses, 12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'"

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, "It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'"

17 The Israelites did as they were told...he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed...

23 He said to them, "This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'"...

25 "Eat it today," Moses said, "because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any."

31 The people of Israel called the bread manna...

33 So Moses said to Aaron, "Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come."
34 As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.

Brief Remarks - stored value!:

Yahweh's people Israel called the manna "Bread of Heaven," and for forty years it supplied all their nourishment in the desert. In chapter 6, John the evangelist calls Jesus, the one born in the Little Town of House of Bread, Bread of Heaven, and today, the day of salvation, of shalom because we live in and with Christ Jesus, our Risen Lord, we have the benefit of living manna blessed and broken, given to and shared with everyone who wants it (everyone is welcome!), living within our community and within us to supply all our needs! Like the Israelites in the process of becoming free, as long as we remain faithful by obediently listening and obeying by doing justice and righteousness, that reality of the eucharistic manna's *stored value* will keep working for us and in us, for the world and in the world!

Like the Eucharistic Supper of the Lamb, that wilderness measure of Manna represents Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Word of Life; via John (6:48-58), Jesus called himself the real manna from Heaven, and promised anyone who ate that manna, that Heavenly Bread of Life, never would be hungry, would live forever and never die! Talk about stored value! In revelation about the Logos, the chapter 1 "Prologue" to John's gospel identifies Jesus as the Word, the verb, God's action! Jesus is the Word, Jesus is the Bread of Life, Jesus is our manna and the entire world's manna, and Jesus is our provider through the Word in the world and the Word indwelling our hearts: along with the Deuteronomic historian and Jeremiah, Paul insists, "the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so you can do it." (Deuteronomy 30:11; Romans 10:4) Values of worth and worthiness stored in our communities and in our inmost beings to give for the life of the world, to give towards the world’s shalom!

I'll end with words by Antonio Machado from his poem, "Cantares"—poetry that expresses what Jacob/Israel and the *people* named after him were learning, in the same way we're still learning and walking by the Spirit's leading:

Caminante, no hay camino; se hace camino al andar.

Traveler, there is no road; the way is made by walking.

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