OUR DAILY BREAD
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At one of our church Bible studies recently, a newcomer was enjoying the dinner and study asked if every dinner we had was that good. The meals at our get-togethers are generally pretty good. Someone said, “Oh yes we like to make sure that the whole person is looked after.” The spiritual and the material. It’s a holistic approach. We were kind of joking but a profound truth was coming out. It’s a truth that is reflected in this morning’s line of the Lord’s Prayer. The first three petitions are focused on God – hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We’re involved in these petitions of course, and we said last week that they seem to get more and more personal as we get to “your will be done.”
Now it’s become even more personal, as the gaze of the prayer shifts from the vertical to the horizontal. It doesn’t mean that God is not involved, as we’ll see, any more than we were not involved in the first three questions. We’re all mixed up in this together, you see. The focus though becomes prayer for ourselves – for what we need daily, for forgiveness, for strength, for deliverance.
Part of God’s deliverance involves bread. Let’s pray Jesus’ prayer together friends…
Depending on who you are, it might seem a rather mundane thing to be asking for. Our daily bread. It’s not so mundane for everyone, and we’ll speak more about this later, but it’s a pretty ordinary, everyday thing. Bread. Jesus praying this prayer means that bread is no longer just something mundane. Bread had always symbolized all human food in the Bible. Jesus takes it beyond a symbol, though. It’s a necessity. It’s important to God. It’s important enough for God to include it in the prayer that Jesus taught. There is no necessity which is too mundane to bring to God. We’ve been talking about pretty high-level ideas – God’s holiness, the coming of God’s Kingdom, God’s big will for the world, God’s will for our lives, the purpose of our existence.
Now we’re talking about bread. While it’s true that one does not live by bread alone, one needs bread. God cares about our daily necessities. Jesus showed this when he was born in a stable. Listen to how Helmut Thielecke describes the one who holds the universe in his arms and cares for our daily needs - “…he whose eye encompasses in its boundless reach the first day of creation and the last hour of judgement, reflecting all the eternities; he whose outstretched arm enfolds the oceans, islands and continents, because all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, he occupies himself with the trivialities of human-kind, with the grief of a mother who has lost her son (Luke 7:11), the predicament of a paralytic (Mark 2:1), the weariness of his disciples (to whom he says, Come, rest a while! Mark 6:31), and he does not fail to notice that the people who followed him into the wilderness are hungry. He is even concerned about the wine at a wedding (John 2:1).”
For God, all matter matters. We can find God in the exegesis of a Biblical text and we can find God in the mopping of a church floor. We can pray to God for the coming of his Kingdom and for blessings as we gather together to proclaim him on Sunday, and we can pray to God for our concerns about whatever it is that we need through the week – from transportation; work; something warm to wear; the ability to walk around; patience with a trying co-worker. There are no little or big things in life. I say this about joys. We might think of joyous occasions which call for parties and so on when we think of being joyful. In Christ, I believe we’re called to find joy in waking up in the morning. In hearing a particular song we love (for me anyway) or having an ice cream cone or being greeted by a dog or cat or wherever it is that we find joy. I don’t think that there are big and small joys – there is simply joy. There are no big and small things for God – all of them are encompassed by this prayer.
Why bread? As I said bread had always been a symbol of food that we need. It is a reminder that the deliverance that is our through Christ is one for all of life. To this day there are many steps and processes that bread goes through before it gets to our table – from the farmer who plants the seed, to God bringing the rain and the growth, to the people who mill it, to the people who bake it, to the distribution points at which we buy it. It’s a reminder that the daily provisions of life provide a web of connectedness to something much bigger than ourselves. It’s why we say “our daily bread” and not “my daily bread.” It’s a recognition that much has gone into the making of it, and that it is God’s will that everyone within the supply chain flourishes. It means that God is involved in all matters of life, and wants to bring life to them.
The prayer takes on different meanings for different people, of course. It can be a difficult thing to pray. The things that it makes us examine can be difficult. For some of us, daily food is a struggle. For others not so much. For some of us on low-carb or no sugar diets, bread isn’t even a thing. For others, bread is the staff of life itself, and it’s a struggle to find it. Listen to this poem by Leonardo Boff:
Early in the morning, as they do every day,
The young men are contesting with the dogs
Over rights to the garbage can.
They mix and remix,
They take out what is edible from the garbage.
And they share this rotten refuse with the dogs.
In a dog eat dog world,
Where there is no pity,
This is how God is left to answer
The prayer of the hungry ones:
Give us today our daily bread!
Today – no all week –
The bread on our table has not been the same,
It was bitter bread,
Full of the curses of the poor
Who had been begging God for it.
It regained its taste and goodness
Only when it was shared by those starving creatures
The boys and the dogs.
The prayer is not for “My daily bread” but rather “Our daily bread”. It reminds us that eating is communal. That in the Kingdom of God, it is not God’s will that people should have to go through garbage to find food to eat. It makes us question ourselves in terms of a theology of enough. In a world in which we’re told that the good life involves showing up the neighbours by “saving” thousands on a new vehicle, were told we should want that. In a world where BOGO sales tell us “The more you spend the more you save” (and this is a paradox which even I can’t quite get my mind around, and trust me I’m not immune to this kind of messaging). In such a world, the petition “Give us this day our daily bread” challenges us to ask “What is enough?” What is the difference between my wants and my needs? One writer puts it like this – “God wants us to be concerned not only with his affairs, his kingdom, his will, his name but also with human affairs, human needs, human hunger, the desperate need for protection and salvation. Human beings are not here on earth just for God, but also for themselves. God wants it that way. To pray to God means to include everything and offer it to the Father – both God’s affairs and humanity’s affairs.”
To pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is to ask to come to know what it means to help ensure that everyone flourishes. A story is told of a missionary who was traveling by bus at night in Tanzania. They had an accident and the bus overturned. When the sun came up the passengers began to share what food they had with one another. A woman gave her last piece of bread to the missionary, who said: “Mama, save that for yourself and your little girl.” The woman smiled and replied, “Sister, we have some bread now, and we all share that. If we have nothing to eat later, we will share the hunger.”
One way to translate Jesus’ phrase here is “give us our bread for today.” Another way is “give us our bread for tomorrow” or “tomorrow’s bread.” Like everything else in this prayer, this line looks back and it looks ahead. We’ve said that we can’t live on bread alone, we need bread to live. That’s not all we need to live, though. We need the living bread. The living Word of God. We’re reminded of this every time we gather around this table. We acknowledge our need for God every time we gather around this table. This bread points forward to the day in which we’ll gather around that table at the wedding feast and share bread with our Saviour. We talked about being concerned with material needs and spiritual needs. Jesus meets material needs and he expects us to do the same. He meets spiritual needs too. He chided a group of people who followed him only for the material gain – “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
This is the food that is given to us by Jesus. His body, broken for us. Our every need fulfilled. Our wills subsumed in His will. His Kingdom and its coming our desire. His name our ground. Asking for this bread daily is our acknowledgment that it is in Christ – the Bread of Life- that life is found. And so we pray, “Give us this life daily.”
And we pray it daily. We need God daily. We need Christ daily. We need the Spirit daily. Along with being called the Bread of Life, Christ is called the Word. The Psalmist sang “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Facing the unknown is part of our human condition. I don’t need to illustrate it or explain the anxiety that this creates. To pray “Give us this day, our daily bread” is to acknowledge that it is enough to step ahead into the dark unknown with our hand in God’s hand. A lamp isn’t like halogen high beams that light up the road ahead. It maybe goes a meter or so all around us. Someone has said “We can entrust this present day to the Lord because the future and the last day belong to him. We can entrust the little things of our life to him because he is not too big to concern himself only with what we… consider big… Because he has given you the greatest thing, you can come to him with the smallest things.”
This is the God who loves us, friends. This is the God we serve. This is the Christ we follow. This is the Spirit that unites us as one loaf. May we continue to love and trust him, cast our cares upon him, and look forward to the day when we will eat bread together in his Kingdom.