March 15, 2010

The Providing God

                One of the readings for the fourth Sunday in Lent is drawn from Joshua, which chronicles the transition from wilderness to settlement in the land of promise.  The celebration of the Passover was made sweet as they ate what their new land had produced. “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year” (5:12). Clearly the writer stresses the new reality: no more manna!  Manna had been a staple of the lengthy sojourn in the desert on the way to the land God was giving them, and it enjoyed an ignominious reputation.  As you may recall, the word literally means: “what’s this?” [This sounds like a question at too many dinner tables in our land!]  As manna is introduced as provision from God in the Hebrew Bible, it did not yet have the exalted status of “spiritual nourishment” as the church later came to think of it.  It was a rather boring diet: manna meatloaf, manna al fresco, manna casserole, manna soup, manna frittata, ad nauseum (literally!) Yet, this provision had kept body and soul together over the forty years of tracking through the Sinai peninsula.

                Now the availability of grain rather than the lack of it reminds Israel of its further dependence on the Lord and the law. They had been brought through great trials—the sea, the hardship of travel, the hunger and thirst--to make their home in a land that belongs to others. Denied the opportunity for agrarian production while on the move, they had learned to depend upon the provision of God.  Later in Israel’s history, this epoch is idealized as that time when God and the people had traveled together most intimately as they learned radical dependence upon God. Provision and production are both dependent upon the power of God; the context determines how the two work together.

                Our friends at Myanmar Institute of Theology are building a five-story classroom and office building. They have waited over five years for permission to construct the building and finally received the “go ahead” on December 24, 2009.  In a circular letter from Principal Samuel Ngun Ling we hear of divine provision: “Our long dream to build a five-storied building has now come true in the timing of God. Since the building permit was granted unexpectedly, we are now rushing into taking necessary steps towards implementation of the construction works in a timely manner.” Production is underway, but “manna” from US friends will be necessary to complete this building. Ling writes: “I humbly request you, your family, your church and your organization to kindly give your hearts and needed financial support for our building.  The construction work of the building cannot and will not be completed without your participation, cooperation and support.”

                Central will be including in our capital campaign funds for MIT. We can offer part of the provision needed for this worthy pursuit.  If you are interested in pledging funds, please be in touch with John Gravley or me. We can make sure funds are properly disbursed there. The Baptists of Myanmar surely practice radical dependence upon God for provision, and they are greatly encouraged when Baptists around the world stand shoulder to shoulder with them. The permit authorizing the construction of the building requires them to have it completed by August 2011. Provision and great productivity are urgent necessities.

                Molly T. Marshall

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