We have making our way through the Lord’s Prayer in this season of Lent. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that Jesus taught his followers, a prayer that he teaches us – not as magic words to say, but as a model for praying.
We begin with Our Father, who art in heaven. Not my father, not an individual God, but God of all of us. We don’t own God, God doesn’t belong to us, and we pray not only for ourselves but for the wider community and indeed for all of God’s creation.
And we pray to our Father – one to whom we are intimately related, not a distant deity but a God who provides and protects and has compassion for us.
Hallowed be thy name – we pray for God’s name to be treated reverently, respectfully, for God to be taken seriously, not just used as a mascot for our own causes.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray that the structures of this world and the rhythm of daily living might be what God wants and intends – that justice and righteousness would rule not just in a dream of a world to come, but here and now.
OK, finally, we are through with the preliminaries, we can get on to the good stuff. We’ve been talking about God – God’s name, God’s kingdom, God’s will. Now the prayer focuses on us. And it’s about time. We can hardly get through the first part, just chomping at the bit to get to the part where we ask for stuff. We’ve got things to pray for. We’ve got a lot on our minds. We’ve got more than a few needs we want to bring up.
We get to the part of this prayer where we finally bring our petitions to God, and we pray – for our daily bread?
Our daily bread? Are you kidding me? If we are going to ask, why not ask big?
Bread? Why not great jobs and cool cars and fame and fortune?
Bread? Why not an easy life, endless good hair days and bucketfulls of happiness?
Up until now, this prayer has been somewhat surprising – it’s an almost revolutionary prayer. And it continues to be surprising. Tom Long points out that, “The three phrases that were directed to aspects of God’s character (‘your name. . .your kingdom. . .your will’) are now matched by three phrases that ask for God’s help (‘give us bread. . .forgive us. . . rescue us’).
Jesus’ model for prayer is one that holds together both the worship and love of God on the one hand and the recognition of human need on the other. Both are to be parts of our prayer life. They are not to be separated. They are connected.
As we pray for human need, we start with, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Many centuries ago, Gregory of Nyssa, an early church father, noted with wonder that given all the things we need, we are only to pray for our daily bread – not herds, not silken robes, not a prominent position, not monuments or statues. Just bread.
And we are not just praying for the bread that we personally need. It’s not my bread, it is our daily bread. Not just bread for me and mine, but bread for everyone.
Patrick Willson told the story of an aging infantryman who recalled an incident at the end of the Second World War. American soldiers trudged through a little German village that had been ravaged by artillery shelling. In the streets and alleys, there were children, with no homes to go to. They were dazed and shellshocked. They were afraid. The soldiers felt heartsick at the cost of war and their helplessness at repairing the pain and chaos they had been a part of creating.
This GI reasoned that half a chocolate bar was plenty for him, so he broke it in half, and he gave the other half to a frightened little boy. The child did not, as the GI expected, immediately snarf down the chocolate. Instead the boy backed away. Other children appeared and gathered around him. The GI watched as this child broke the chocolate bar into smaller and smaller bits, so that each child might have a taste of the chocolate.
On a street filled with the ruins of homes broken by war a quarter inch piece of chocolate in a child’s mouth tastes like hope, it tastes like home, it tastes like heaven. This little boy broke the chocolate into tiny pieces so that each child might taste the sweetness, and everyone might share in hope.
The bread we pray for is our bread, shared bread. We can’t really pray for our daily bread without thinking of those who do not have enough to eat.
And enough is a key word here. It is interesting that we don’t pray for a steady supply of good food. We don’t pray to have a banquet set before us every night. We don’t pray for our freezers to be full and our pantries to be well-stocked. We pray for this day, for food sufficient for the day. We pray that we may have what we need, and that all may have enough.
On Saturday mornings, Susan and I - and Zoe if she is in town – generally go out for breakfast. Often I get a bagel at Panera – bread is a big part of the equation. And then we will often stop at the grocery, and bread is usually not on the list. When you buy bread, what do you need to look for? - The expiration date, of course. Bread won’t last forever. If it sits around for a couple of days, it will get stale. Wait a couple more days, and it’s moldy.
Bread is a great image for food sufficient for the day because it won’t last. Oh, you can freeze a loaf it you want, but it loses some of its flavor. Bread is best when it’s fresh. It really doesn’t work to stockpile bread.
After Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery, they had no sooner been given the gift of freedom than they started to grumble and complain, and wish they were back in Egypt. “We’re hungry!” they cried to Moses. “Why did you bring us out here to die?” Even though they were ungrateful brats, God fed them with bread from heaven. They got up one morning, and the ground was covered with white stuff. “What is it?” they asked. “Exactly,” said Moses. It was manna, which means “What is it?” Moses said to the people, “This is the bread the Lord has provided for you.” Each morning they were to gather as much as they needed for that day, but for that day only. There was no point in trying to secure the future by gathering a bunch of it, because it would spoil.
God provided them with bread in the desert – their daily bread. Enough for each day. Not for tomorrow or the next week, but for that day.
Manna symbolizes God’s gift of life. Life itself is not meant to be hoarded, but shared. We are to be value the gift of life we have today. We can miss the possibilities and opportunities and challenges that are before us today because we have our eye on what might happen next week or next month or next year.
God gives us the gift of today. Today, we’re able to open our eyes, and get up, and experience life. We hope to do that tomorrow as well, but there are no guarantees. God feeds and sustains us today, body and soul. And each day we pray that God will feed us and sustain us right now – today. This is the attitude that Jesus encourages us to have – to see each day as a gift, and to understand that the food and drink that sustain us and the air we breathe and the shelter we have and the friends and family with whom we share this life - all of these we need, these things sufficient for each day – are gifts from God.
Like Israel in the wilderness receiving manna each day, Jesus’ followers are to trust God for each day’s provision. Now, most of us don’t have to worry about enough bread for today. We live in the richest country in the world and use far more than our share of the world’s resources. Our problem is not too little bread, it’s more likely too much bread. And we can’t pray these words with integrity, we cannot pray these words honestly, and at the same time turn our backs on the needs of the hungry in this world.
“Give us this day our daily bread” connects us to God but it also connects us to one another. We think of sisters and brothers around the world, and their hunger becomes our hunger. When we understand this connection, then our hands and feet and resources become the tools through which God provides daily bread for others.
Last month, on communion Sunday, I shared about the homeless shelter and food pantry at the Morgan-Scott Project in Tennessee, where we sent a group on a mission trip last spring break, almost a year ago now. The director of the shelter and pantry was murdered several months ago and one of the results of losing this faithful person who poured his life into caring for the needy there is that the shelter missed a couple of grant deadlines and are in a tough place right now financially. We received an offering to help provide daily bread for people in that place, and we sent a check there this past week. We can’t really pray this prayer without thinking of people both near and far who don’t have enough to eat.
“Daily bread” represents all of those things that we have to have to live. It represents our needs. Part of the difficulty, I suppose, is figuring out which are our needs and which are our wants. But our needs, our daily bread, goes far beyond actual bread.
Roberta Bondi, in her book of reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, says,
... this ‘daily bread’ I ask for is that for which my heart longs, that without which I can hardly imagine my life. Such prayer is extravagant, a truthful expression to God of what I really feel without much consideration of whether what I pray for is for the best. I pray this way because if I don’t I will cut myself off from God or I will burst.As another writer says,
Every day God comes to us. Every day God waits for us to pray in gratitude and trust, asking for what we and what others need. Some days we ask for courage, some days for healing, some days for the ability to love, some days for food and clothing, some days for strength to get through a challenge we’d prefer not to face. And God who hears our honest prayers responds.Our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah is a wonderful expression of God’s generosity and grace – God wants to provide us with our daily bread, with the things we truly need. God spoke through the prophet:
Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food ... For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.We pray for our daily bread, and Jesus, in a sense, not only teaches us this prayer but is himself the answer to our prayer.
When we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are open to receive the One who said “I am the bread of life.” And we come to find that getting Jesus means getting enough.
We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper in a few minutes. You know, different churches do communion differently. In some churches everyone comes to the front to receive the elements. I kind of like that, and we do that on occasion. But our more common practice here is for everyone to remain seated, and we serve each other. The deacons bring the trays of bread and juice around, and as we pass the elements down the pew we serve one another. The trays are brought back to the front of the church and the pastor and worship leader serve the deacons. And then deacons serve the pastor and worship leader. In other words, we all serve each other.
We do this most every month but rarely think about the mechanics of it, much less the theology behind it. But part of what we are demonstrating is that the bread that God provides is bread that we share. The bread that God provides – whether the bread we eat and enjoy, or the bread of life we find in Jesus, is bread to share, bread for all. It is bread for everyone and it is bread for the world.
As we share in communion today, I encourage you to be mindful of this as we serve one another – as we share the bread of life. This is a reminder of the source of our sustenance, both physical and spiritual, and a reminder of our responsibility to share this bread with those who are hungry.
Give us this day, our daily bread. Amen.