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And When You Pray: The Threefold Benediction

(a sermon for August 27, 2017, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost; last in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 and Matthew 6:9-13)

And so now, after all these weeks, finally we come to the final petition of our Lord’s Prayer, and what a word it is:  “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever… Amen.”

Amen, indeed! I mean, from a literary standpoint alone, this is the grand finale of a remarkable work, is it not; it’s the pinnacle of everything that’s been said and prayed up until this point, each phrase and petition having built upon the one before so that now there’s nothing left for us to offer up except this ultimate expression of our praise and thanksgiving unto God: to proclaim with whole hearts and loud voices that thine is the kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever and ever, Amen!

You know what I’m saying; it’s there in just about every musical setting you’ve ever heard of this prayer, most especially in the beautiful version by Albert Mallotte that we’ve heard sung and played here on a couple of occasions this summer; and I don’t know about you, but even on those numerous occasions that we speak this Lord’s Prayer together in worship, there’s nonetheless this same crescendo that peaks the moment we come to the final verse!  It’s a true benediction and powerful way to end this prayer of our Savior, and not only am I grateful, as we’ve said so often through this sermon series, that this is the prayer that Jesus himself gave to his disciples and to us, but also that Jesus – Jesus himself (!) – also chose to conclude this prayer he gave us in just this way!

Except…

…that maybe he didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve probably noticed by now that this particular part of the Lord’s Prayer is not included in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching of it.  Luke doesn’t refer to it at all, and Matthew’s gospel relegates it to a mere footnote, claiming that “other ancient authorities, in some form” included these words about the kingdom, the power and the glory; but frankly, most biblical scholars argue that that’s not even the case!  The likely truth is that this final petition to the Lord’s Prayer was something added on by the early Christian Church (probably sometime around the fourth or fifth century) as a way of making it more liturgical in form; that is, to “complete” the Lord’s Prayer as an all-encompassing affirmation of faith by adding what is referred to in “church language” as a doxology, which in the Greek literally means to give a “word of glory and honor.”  Obviously, the addition caught on because we’ve been saying the Lord’s Prayer that way ever since; although if you’ve ever repeated this prayer with a group of Roman Catholic worshippers, you’ll know that they end their unison prayer at “deliver us from evil,” owing to the fact that addition or no addition, as far as we know from the gospels Jesus most likely did not say those particular words in teaching his disciples how to pray!

Now, does this mean that the Lord’s Prayer, or at least the way we’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer, has somehow become nullified by our mistaken translation?  Absolutely not!   To begin with, adding those words about “the kingdom, power and glory” at the end of Jesus’ prayer does bring an appropriate (and dare I say, triumphant) conclusion to these series of petitions that, one after the other,  speak not only of the presence and power of the divine but also to our relationship, yours and mine, with the divine.  Moreover, there’s a symmetry to how that last verse relates to everything before:  we start out the Lord’s Prayer by praying that God’s, our Father’s, name be hallowed and requesting that his kingdom come, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven; and we finish with the unequivocal affirmation that “thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.”  It’s a true doxology, a threefold benediction that serves to remind us, even as we pray, that everything we are and have and can ever hope to be is solely by virtue of the power and glory of God!

So it does seem a fitting addition to our prayer; and besides… though Jesus might not have spoken the words in that specific context, he most certainly knew them to be true; in fact, as a teacher himself, Jesus likely spoke of that moment we read about in our Old Testament reading this morning, in which King David, toward the end of his life and about to pass on the task of building the temple to his son Solomon, gathers the people and prays unto God, “Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom O LORD, and you are exalted as head over all… and now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.”  That those words are familiar to our ears is by no accident at all; to quote one commentator, “It is fitting… that a portion of David’s kingdom prayer should be attached to the Son of David’s kingdom prayer.”

You see, at the end of the day (or the end of the prayer, as it were), what we pray in this amazing series of petitions that Jesus gave to us is that it’s God’s kingdom, God’s power, and God’s glory that prevails over everything… everything in our lives, now and eternally.  Our God is the Creator of heaven and earth, who has breathed the very breath of life into each one of us; whose presence and power is felt in every passing moment of our lives, whose very strength is felt in each and every joy and sorrow and challenge that we face.  Our God is the one who nourishes us with daily bread, who offers us forgiveness of sin along with the grace that we might forgive others in kind, who leads us along the surest of pathways that deliver us from evil. Our God is the one who decries all kinds of evil in the world by proclaiming a gospel of love and justice and peace, sending forth his own Son as the example and expiation, and then calling you and I to proclaim that same Word by our very lives.  Our God is the one who intends for his truth to be made real in and through every one of us here; so that truth – God’s truth, the truth of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ – might finally begin to penetrate the walls of division and hatred that are the ongoing construct of a sad and misguided culture.  Our God is the God who wishes that in all things – whether that applies to the ways we approach one another around the breakfast table or how we stand on the streets of Charlottesville or Boston –  that in all things we might live as true reflections of God’s kingdom, his power, his glory and yes, most especially, his love.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”

Perhaps Jesus didn’t speak those words in exactly the context we like to think he did; but we do know that it’s exactly what he meant, and what he means for you and for me as we are sent out into this world to walk the walk of discipleship in these days of sad, confused and conflicting situations.

As you might imagine, and perhaps like a lot of you, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks reflecting on the faith implications of everything that’s been happening in the world and in our own country; specifically, how we as the church ought to be responding to the kind of destructive hate that’s been so much on display as of late.  I mean, I think it’s obvious that we in the church need to be loud and clear in naming “the evils we deplore,” denouncing all manner of racism, violence and bigotry as being not only un-Christian, but un-American as well.  Moreover, though I must confess that I was more than a little skeptical as to what good it could do, I stand in great admiration of my brothers and sisters of faith (especially my clergy colleagues) who linked arms in Charlottesville and Boston and stared down the Neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists, witnessing to love and justice quite literally there on the front lines of conflict.

But that said, what I’ve been wondering about is the rest of us?  How do we respond?  How about those of us who sit in these pews every Sunday morning and who need to spend the week ahead at our jobs, or running errands, going to doctor’s appointments, running kids (or grandkids!) to school on time and all the rest of the “stuff” of life: what are we to do about those who would so easily and deliberately dismiss the law of loving one’s neighbor as themselves.  Honestly, friends, these days, all it’s taken is ten minutes watching the news to make one feel helpless about the state of the world!

But then in my reading over vacation I came across a piece from the Christian Century, actually written a couple of years ago by Samuel Wells, regarding the great 20th century theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, as you may recall, was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis; the result of speaking out against the Third Reich and having been implicated in a plot to kill Hitler.  Ultimately though, writes Wells, it was not Bonhoeffer’s politics that got him put in jail; it was Jesus!  It was Bonhoeffer’s confession that Jesus was over and above any and all of the powers and principalities of this world; that it was and is God’s incarnation in Christ that makes us the Church and what moves us surely and steadily toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Wells writes that “Bonhoeffer knew that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing to say.”  It’s truly the difference between death and resurrection; and it’s what not only renews the Church in every generation, it’s what empowers us to stare down the face of every new evil that arises in this world… for thine is the Kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever!

You’ve heard me say it before from this pulpit: that the first and best thing you and I can do in these times is for us to truly be the Church of Jesus Christ; and that begins, I believe, with making God in Christ the centerpiece of everything in life.  And no, it’s not always, if ever, an easy thing to have one’s faith take priority over that which is safer, or more expedient, or more profitable in a worldly sense.  In fact, it’s almost certainly going to involve some risk; but it is, truly, the way, the truth and the life that Jesus spoke about, and not only will it change us for the better, it will change the world as well.

So, friends… “and when you pray,” how will you pray?  Will you let the words of Jesus simply roll off your tongue in the same manner as you have countless times before?  Or will you let the phrases and petitions that we’ve been given be the means by which let our Lord have leadership of your life?

What’s interesting is that beyond the King James Version of the Bible, this final part of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t included in most modern translations of scripture for the reasons we mentioned earlier.  It does, however, appear in The Message (which, given that it’s technically a paraphrase of scripture rather than a translation, gives it a little leeway in interpretation).  But this is one “rendition” of the Lord’s Prayer that, while decidedly untraditional, kind of says it all from beginning to end, and seems as good a way to conclude this sermon series as any I can think of:

“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

And so, beloved, may it truly be, “Yes, Yes, Yes,” forever and ever…

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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And When You Pray: The Times of Temptation

(a sermon for August 6, 2017, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost; sixth in a series, based on 1 Corinthians 10:1-17 and Matthew 6:9-13)

Well, not counting my time away, now we’re six weeks into this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, and I have to tell you: speaking both as a preacher and as a hearer of God’s Word, I have been amazed by just how many big questions we’ve had to address as we’ve gone along!

I mean, from the very existence and nature of God (“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”) and his unending grace and providence (“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”), to the gift of both sustenance (“…our daily bread”) and forgiveness (“…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”),  this seemingly little prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples not only touches upon many of the central issues of our Christian theology but also encompasses just about everything we hold dear about our faith; and friends, that’s a lot!  In fact, it can all be a bit overwhelming; and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that even in preparing these messages I’d find that for every one of these big questions I’d hoped I was answering for the sermon and for myself, I’d discover that there was another question to take its place (and trust me, that’s not something you want to happen late on a Saturday night!).

Honestly, sometimes it’s enough to make your head swim (!); but then, that’s sort of the nature of a life of faith.  What’s the expression about the unexamined life not being worth living?  Well, I’d suggest to you this morning that the unexamined faith is, well… impossible!  We reach out our hearts to God, knowing that God’s Spirit will intercede for us “with sighs too deep for words;” (Romans 8:26) but then we are left to prayerfully discern what the nature of that intercession and its meaning for our lives might be!   We seek to live, as the old confessional puts it, “a godly, righteous and sober life to the glory of God’s Holy name,” but then we have to wrestle with what that actually means in today’s world.  And we know that ought to be in accordance with biblical truth, however that happens to apply and based on what we’ve come to understand about scripture, and absolutely it needs to adhere to the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ.  But then in trying to do that we make a very interesting discovery: that it’s not so much what we don’t understand about scripture or about Jesus that raises up the bigger questions for us; it’s what we do understand about our Christian faith that gives us pause, leaves us confused, and sometimes, absolutely scares us!

You see what I mean?  Big questions, one right after another…

I tell you all this today because now we’ve come to the next to last petition of this “Prayer of Our Savior” that arguably raises as many questions for us as it answers:  “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Now, on the face of it, this is pretty straightforward language that represents a necessary shift in this prayer to a tone of stark realism.  Mickey Anders writes that this has to happen in the Lord’s Prayer, because ultimately “life is about more than lofty language about God’s kingdom, God’s will, daily bread and even forgiveness.  There is [also] the reality of temptation and evil, call it what you will… [and] we face the temptation to evil every day.”

Now, I love that quote; but I still have to ask, what does all this mean?  I mean, ordinarily when we talk about temptation we’re apt to be speaking about the need to avoid those worldly enticements that are bad for us and which keep us apart from God; ranging from the temptation toward eating too many sweets to being unfaithful in one’s relationships.  It’s all about ethics and morality, self-care and righteousness before the Lord; and while that’s most certainly a part of it, this prayer to God to “lead us not into temptation” really does seem to go much deeper than this.

And while we’re on the subject, are we really praying that God not “lead” us into temptation?  Why would the Lord who loves us beyond limit and who wishes us to be in a relationship with him ever be leading us into temptation to begin with?  If God is good, then why would God ever deign to tempt us to do evil, especially as we’re praying that he deliver us from said evil?   And here’s another question:  is it even possible to forever be led away from temptation?  That’s a question that’s at the heart of our reading this morning from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul – lifting up the example of generations of the faithful who had come before – says to these new Christians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” or to quote one very apt paraphrase, “If you think you are beyond the reach of temptation, be careful,” because nothing that comes your way is any different than what others have had to face!  Bottom line is that none of us are totally beyond the reach of temptation; quoting Mark Adams here, “All of us are tempted. The monk who lives behind cloistered walls wrestles with it just as much as the salesman out on the road.”

So… if temptation is an inevitable reality that all of us have to deal with; and if we understand that God’s would never be responsible for leading us into that place and probably cannot completely remove us from it; then what are we asking when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation?”

Questions…. Oy veh, the questions!

Actually, part of the problem here has to do with translation.  The Greek word that’s used here for “temptation” is “peirasmus,” and this is a word that just as appropriately can be translated as “enticement or temptation,” or (and listen to this!) “a test or trial.”  That’s how in a number of biblical translations, including our own NRSV, this verse in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer can be read, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   This might seem like a subtle change, but for me it brings this prayer from seeking refuge from a place of hopeless repetition of inevitable mistakes to… a way of enduring and triumphing over the trials and tribulations of life; in particular the life of faith. For me, you see, what we’re praying for is a way to confront the struggle we all have with this thing we refer to as temptation, but which is in fact the effort that it takes to face up to the reality of evil and live that “godly, righteous and sober life” in a fallen world: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” (we’ll get to that second part in just a minute…)

So… here’s yet another question: what is the nature of temptation; what is the time of trial we you and I will so often have to face?  Actually, to answer this I always come back to a verse from Romans – and by the way, friends, if there’s any verse in Holy Scripture that seems tailor made to make one’s head spin, this is it – “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (14:23)

Let me just repeat that just one more time so it can sink in:  “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Now, understand that Paul is saying this in the context of admonishing the Roman Christians to not be a stumbling black to those whose practice of the faith might differ from their own (specifically, what is permissible to eat under the canon of law).  In other words, this is a stern message not to let one’s faith become a means of arrogance because if your actions and attitudes aren’t wholly attuned to your faith then it’s no longer faith but sin.

Opens up a whole bunch more questions, doesn’t it?  What that means is that even our most well-intentioned behaviors, as good and even  as “religious” as they might well be, end up not proceeding from faith at all if they are not rooted in our “own conviction before God.” (v. 22) Worship, outreach, mission, stewardship, the things we do for the church, the things we do for the world, the things we do for each other, to say nothing of our own personal piety; the applications to such a truth as this are literally endless!  I remember back in seminary, when we had to “exegete” this particular passage in our systematic theology class, our heads pretty much exploded (!); and if that’s your reaction when you go home today and start thinking about all this, I’m truly sorry; although, if it ends up in some spiritual self-evaluation, then so much the better!

But I also have to tell you that this very difficult assertion from Paul ends up connection with this every Sunday prayer I pray that my God “lead[s] me not into temptation.”  If, in fact, there is so much that apart from my faith is sinful behavior, then I need God, in Jesus Christ, to save me from it; to lead me beyond the barren and empty temptations of the world so that everything that God has given me and has empowered me to do and to be in this life can work to deepen the relationship I have with God, and to strengthen me to be more fully a disciple of Jesus Christ in my walk through these days of, to say the very least, confused situations.  I need my Lord to save me from this time of trial; understanding I can avoid it, but I can triumph over it.  It won’t be easy, for the evil in this world is real and relentless, but I won’t be alone in the effort either.

That’s where the second half of this petition comes in:  “…but deliver us from evil,” or, as our gospel reading puts it, “…rescue us from the evil one.”  Now whether one takes the view that the “evil one” depicted here is quite literally the figure of Satan, or rather a representation of the whole curse of a sinful humanity from back in the time of Genesis (now there’s a big question for another day!), the meaning is nonetheless the same: there is ever and always going to be the temptation before us to succumb to the evils of this world.  And lest we forget the story of Adam and Eve, evil can come in very attractive and enticing packages; even sometimes in what looks all the world like goodness and light.  We need to be delivered from that kind of evil; and that only comes in walking arm and arm, heart in heart with God himself!

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  A hard prayer this is; but a necessary one.  And, might I add, nothing new for any of God’s people past or present.  Remember that passage from 1 Corinthians?  “Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock tha followed them, and the rock was Christ.”  And it was not always easy; the way was very often filled with temptation, and very often they failed in the midst of trial, to the point, Paul says, “that God was not pleased with most of them.”

But they persisted on the journey, seeking to live unto their faith in the Lrod their God… generation after generation, from age to age, through countless challenges and in the midst of a thousand or more big questions;  and today they are part of a communion of saints of which you and I are part and which we celebrate at this table set before us; indeed, “there is one bread, [and] we who are many are one body.”

Let us today allow this holy meal, and those with whom we share it, be our inspiration as we walk the walk of faithful discipleship in Christ’s name, having been lead beyond the times of temptation… and delivered from all evil.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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And When You Pray: The Gift of Daily Bread

(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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