We’re a couple weeks into a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer now, and this week our focus is the line: “give us this day our daily bread.”
We’ve talked about the fact that the prior lines direct our attention to God, and remind us that the same God that knows and loves each one of us intimately, that can be addressed as a loving parent, is also the Creator of the universe, holy and set apart, all powerful, all knowing, to be greatly respected and revered. It is God’s kingdom, God’s will we ask for, as we begin.
But in this next line of Jesus’ prayer, notice that he gives us permission to shift our attention from the One to whom we direct our prayers, to our own basic needs: “give us this day our daily bread.”
It’s important, as we said last week, that prayer isn’t always and only about “give me this” or “give me that.”
But Jesus clearly teaches us here that it is ok to ask God for what we truly need.
Bread was the most basic food there was in the Middle East in Jesus’ day, the essential sustenance folks needed to survive. And Jesus says go ahead and ask God to provide that for you.
That said, let’s be clear about what it really means to pray like this.
First, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we’re reminded that the food on our tables is only there because God has seen fit to give it to us. If we “say grace” before we eat, it is because all food is pure grace. We give thanks to the one who created the earth, watered the soil, allowed the wheat to grow, so that this bread would even exist.
All “human life depends upon daily gifts from the hand of God.” (Thomas G. Long, Matthew, p. 70) So first of all, we’re invited to remember the Giver of our daily bread, even in asking for the gift.
Jesus also reminds us that it is daily bread for which we pray. And biblical stories abound of those who lost sight of God providing for their basic needs and became greedy.
One is the story about God’s provision of manna for the people of Israel as they made their way through the wilderness from Egypt to the land of Canaan. So long as they were content to gather up each day just what they needed for that day, all was well. As soon as they got greedy and tried to gather and store up extra, the manna spoiled. (Exodus 16)
In other words, no hoarding, folks. Enough is enough. We are invited to ask for our daily bread.
Later on in the gospels, Jesus tells a memorable story of a rich man whose crops produced so abundantly that he didn’t have enough room to store all of his grain. So he said, “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and all my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry’ But God said to him ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12)
Again, no hoarding. Enough is enough. We are invited to ask for what we actually need.
In other words, “give us this day our daily bread” doesn’t exactly mean “God, fill my shopping cart to overflowing with luxurious treats. It means God, allow me to eat today…
The other thing that stands out to me from this line of the Lord’s Prayer – likely because last week we were also talking about pronouns – is the presence of the words “us” and “our.”
Last time we mentioned that it was important to remember that the words “thy” or “your” called our attention to God, in that it is God’s kingdom, God’s will, for which we pray.
So here in the words “Give us this day our daily bread,” I wonder if the first person plural is significant. I confess it’s not something I’ve thought a lot about, as I’ve prayed this prayer. Certainly I’ve said it a great many times in congregations like this one, surrounded by a community of fellow Christians. But have I thought enough about the fact that I am not praying simply for myself, but for us all?
As we said when talking about the opening “Our Father,” the ‘us’ in question isn’t just us here in this room, either. Think for just a moment about who else is praying Jesus’ words around the world right now.
Coptic Christians, being abducted and executed for their faith.
Christians living in desperate poverty in famine zones and Ebola zones in Africa.
“A woman in a little village in Honduras trudges up the mountain each day to gather and then carry down the mountain the sticks for her cooking fire. She then goes back up the mountain to fetch water for cooking the food. Then she grinds the corn that her husband has raised, cherishing every kernel, hoping that this season’s corn will last through the winter. The tortillas are made in the palm of her hand. She drops them in the pan, cooks them, and feeds them one-by-one to her children, the only food they will have that day to fill their aching stomachs. That woman undoubtedly prays ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ differently from the way we pray that petition.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, Lord Teach Us, p. 75)
Bono, of U2 fame, famously sings “where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die,” but sadly it seems to be the case sometimes, doesn’t it?
Many of us here this morning are among the safest, best-fed people in the world. We ask for daily bread each Sunday morning as we pray this prayer without – in most cases –being at all worried about where our food is actually coming from.
So what would it mean to pray this prayer with an awareness that “our” daily bread means the bread of every one of God’s children in our city and around the world? They, too, are “us,” are they not?
I expect I don’t need to remind anyone that our planet is quite capable of providing enough food for every person on earth. (Though the World Food Program of the UN has plenty of information on this, if you would like to learn more.)
This says to me that God’s holding up God’s end of the deal, and providing that daily bread for all. We’re just not doing a very good job of sharing it around.
If more of us here learned what it means to be content with enough, how many more of us around the world would be able to enjoy the provision of daily bread?
To be honest, the Lord’s Prayer can get a little uncomfortable about the time we realize that praying these words also requires living into these words.
But we know where to start. We know we can begin live into our prayer when we set aside coins and bills, or write checks, to support the Presbyterian Hunger Program through One Great Hour of Sharing, or when we give canned goods to the Ballard Food Bank, or when we serve a meal at Operation Nightwatch. And there are countless other opportunities to share too, of course. We need only remember that daily bread is something God intends to provide for everyone, not just for me. And sometimes a bit of redistribution is in order.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
If you are in a place of desperation today, or simply a place of need, hear in this prayer words of comfort: God hears you, God knows your need, and God can provide.
And if you are quite comfortable today, quite well off in terms of your material needs, hear the challenge inherent in these words: who might you help to find their daily bread, so they too might celebrate the surprising ways that God provides? Perhaps you could be the vehicle through which God intends to answer someone else’s prayer.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Remember the Giver.
Remember what it means to have daily bread – enough is enough. Don’t hoard.
Remember what it means to pray for “our” daily bread, and not only my own.
Above all, remember, that everything we have is a gift. Grace, pure and simple. Grace alone.