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And When You Pray: The Gift of Daily Bread

09 Jul

(a sermon for July 9, 2017, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost; fourth in a series, based on  Deuteronomy 8:7-18, John 6:32-34 and Matthew 6:9-13)

So now here we are, roughly halfway through this “prayer of our Savior,” having appropriately prayed for things that relate directly to God and God’s kingdom –“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – after all of this, now things get personal. And for the first time, our prayerfulness turns to the practical realities of life; asking God for the things that are necessary for our physical lives, yours and mine:  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

You might remember that last Sunday I spoke about how there are “three levels of prayer,” and how that first level of prayer is basically our asking God to provide for us any and all of the blessings that we ask for; which isn’t necessarily as bad as that sounds!  However, I must confess that the whole time I was working on that sermon and into this week as well, I had this one particular tune running through my head:

“O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”
– “Mercedes Benz,” written by Janis Joplin, Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth

Hey, I am a child of the 60’s after all!  What’s funny is that I can remember as clear as day hearing that song from Janis Joplin on the radio for the first time at about the age of 12 or 13, and thinking to my Sunday School educated self, “Well, that’s no kind of prayer, is it?”  Granted, Joplin intended for this song to be a bit of satire regarding the rampant level of materialism that still exists in our culture (and in spades!), but even back then, I remember thinking that this doesn’t jibe at all with praying that God “give us this day our daily bread!”

And I was right about that… God’s not meant to be the supernatural giver of luxury cars (or as the second verse of that song suggests, color TV’s!); yet, as I would discover throughout all the years that have followed, there’s much more included in that particular petition of the almighty than simply a loaf of bread!

Of course, make no mistake; there’s great significance in the fact that Jesus specifically speaks of “daily bread” in this prayer he’s giving us.  First and foremost, it’s a powerful image that would have strongly resonated in the hearts of the people of his time; in many ways bread was symbolic of the totality of God’s providential care!  T was reminiscent of the “manna” that fell from heaven and which kept Israel from going hungry during their time of wilderness wandering; it speaks of God’s on-going covenant of care with his people, from the time of Abraham to Jacob to Moses and beyond. Moreover, biblically speaking, bread is symbol of hospitality, of charity and generosity, and even of reconciliation:  “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat.” (Proverbs 25:21)  And anyone within the sound of Jesus’ voice would know that food begins with… bread.  It’s simply the stuff of basic sustenance!

Now, glutens notwithstanding, bread might still be for us “the staff of life,” but I would suspect that most of us would think of our basic sustenance as something much broader.  For us, “daily bread” might well exist in the form of a good job and a regular paycheck, the means to have food on the table but also a roof over our heads, or for that matter, a solid pension or a good 401K plan for our retirement years!  Actually to take this a step further, hear the words of Martin Luther from some 500 years ago: he said “that daily bread doesn’t just refer to food… it stands for all the physical things we need for life; everything that nourishes life;” things like “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” (Whew… maybe that Mercedes Benz wasn’t so far off the mark, after all!)

The point here is that “daily bread” we seek represents all of that which provides for you and me a good, and full, and dare I say it: even a prosperous life.  But do you see what every one of those things I listed off have in common?  It’s that no matter how hard we work to attain it, hang on to it, cling to it or protect it, it could nonetheless all slip away from us… just like that.  Not that it will – I don’t want to inspire panic here (!) – but the fact remains it can!  In a prior church, I had a parishioner who was the CEO of a multi-million dollar, international corporation that had done quite well; and one day, in the midst of a conversation about faith and stewardship, actually, he said to me that today he could honestly say that he was worth an amount of X million plus dollars.  But tomorrow, he went on to say, I could well have nothing at all.  I asked him if that had ever happened to him, and he answered, “Oh, yes, any number of times…”  And then he smiled and added, “I just don’t really have any control over that.”

You and I are not likely at that rung of the corporate ladder, but the fact remains is that all of the sources of our wealth and security; all of the things that we work for and consider to be sustenance is temporary at best.  And I’m here to tell you this morning that this is less an economic truth than it is a spiritual one:  for ultimately, you see, the source of all good things is eternal; and the place where we receive the gift of daily bread is from God!

I would suggest to you that when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it is not as much a request for all the good things of life (though I would agree with Luther that it is part of it!), as much as it is the true acknowledgment that all good gifts do come from God!  This is a truth that comes through strongly in our reading this morning from Deuteronomy, which is a celebration of God’s many blessings unto his people (a reading, not coincidentally, that we often read around Thanksgiving!): “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land… [and] when you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied… do not say to yourself, ‘My power and my might of my own hand have  gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”

Not that we people ever completely learn this; that’s why I also included this morning those verses from John’s gospel, in which some of those amongst the 5,000 who’d just been fed the loaves and fishes were still wanting to ascribe miracles to someone like Moses, who brought forth that manna in the wilderness.  But Jesus was quick to remind them that it wasn’t Moses, but “my Father who gave you the true bread from heaven,” the bread “that gives life to the world.”

In many ways, at least for most of us today in the kind of world we live in, it doesn’t seem like all that much, does it?  It’s such a simple request for us to bow our heads say to God, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but in fact, it’s everything.  Like I said at the beginning, here’s the point of the Lord’s Prayer when things get personal; for when we pray this prayer, we are affirming God as the sole source of our lives, our health, our food… every bit of what we consider to be our sustenance.  We are placing our whole trust, our whole selves in the hand of the one who cares for his people day by day by day; and in doing so, we discover that while the truth has always been that we don’t have the control over these things that we like to think we do, all will be well, and we will always know the gift of daily bread.

I think it important to add here that “daily bread” does suggest a simplicity of life; our focus is not meant to be on the so-called luxuries of life.  To quote one preacher by the name of Mickey Anders, “We are not to ask for cake or pie but for bread – the necessity of life.”  (I’m not sure I really like that quote, but there you are!)  Moreover, it should be said that just as throughout scripture bread is seen as the first means to share with others, to reach out to the poor or to reconcile with one’s enemies, our prayers for “daily bread” must also include our intentions for what which God is blessing us.  In so many ways, as we often like to say around here, we are blessed to be a blessing; and, I might add, we are people of a promise.

The renowned theologian R.C. Sproul tells a story of the days following the Korean Conflict, when there was left a large number of children who had been orphaned by the war.  There were, of course, a number of relief agencies who tried to deal with that situation and care for these children, many of whom quite literally starving to death.  But “even though the children had three meals a day provided for them, they were restless and anxious at night and had difficulty sleeping.  To help resolve this problem, the relief workers in one particular orphanage decided that each night when the children were put to bed, the nurses there would place a single piece of bread in each child’s hand,” not to be eaten, but to be held by those children as they went to sleep, a reminder that there would be food for tomorrow and “that there would be provision for their daily needs.”  And sure enough, the bread calmed their anxieties and those children slept soundly from then on.

Some would argue that there’s no real need for us to pray this prayer; for such is the grace of God that “daily bread” will come to us whether we pray for it or not.  But I would say that’s missing the point entirely; for just as those children found their comfort in holding a piece of bread for the next day, this prayer of humble dependence upon God gives you and me the assurance that no matter what other sources of sustenance run dry in this life, we will always have the presence of this ever graceful, infinitely loving Lord who provides for our needs on this and every day of our lives.

And whereas we can’t claim luxury vehicles and color TV’s as part of that providence, there is nonetheless spread for us a table of the bread that comes down from heaven, and which gives us life… and life for the world.

And for this day, our daily bread, thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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