"Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread"
W. Gregory Pope, preaching
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Series: The Lord’s Prayer
Mark 6:34-44; John 6:48-51
We continue to give thought to what it means to pray The Lord’s Prayer each week in worship and perhaps daily in our lives. Today the petition GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.
“Give.” A petition of request. Request is a valid part of prayer.
This petition calls us to acknowledge our dependence upon something, Someone, beyond ourselves for our daily sustenance.
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD. A prayer for the very basic necessities of life. It’s the only thing this prayer permits us to pray for. Not a new Rolls Royce, not a mansion, not even financial success. Just enough bread for the day.
And while this petition calls us to acknowledge our dependence upon God for daily necessities, this petition also calls us to work with God in answer to this prayer.
The second Sunday in October has been designated as World Hunger Day. Later next month our children will be leading us in worship on Children’s Sabbath. They will be asking you to prepare for that day by saving coins and dollars to help feed to the hungry of the world. You will be invited in that service to bring your money forward. So you will want to begin saving now.
We have to be intentional when making this petition because honestly, we don’t think much about daily bread. For most of us, daily bread is not a problem. We have next week’s food already in the freezer. Most of us are in danger of perishing from too much bread rather than too little.
And so, What meaning does this petition of the Lord’s Prayer really have for us?
This prayer reminds us that all we have is a gift from God. We are ultimately dependant upon God for bread. We can plant and grow food, but it was God who created a fertile land. And should the sun cease to shine or the rain cease to fall or the seed cease to germinate, all our know-how would be useless. Just like the Hebrews in the wilderness who would have starved had God not sent the gift of manna, so we would perish were it not for the daily, essential gifts of God.
This prayer reminds us that the affluence we enjoy and take for granted is precarious. At every harvest time the whole world is only weeks from famine. Bread can easily become scarce.
Our degradation of the land may very well have serious consequences for the food supply of future generations. We say we cannot afford environmental cleanup. Again, our present greed may destroy the food of tomorrow.
There’s an Native American proverb that reads: “Only when the last tree has been cut down; only when the last river has been poisoned; only when the last fish has been caught; only then will we find that money cannot be eaten.”
We are here to tend the Garden called Earth. And there really is no such thing as a person of “independent means.” Even if our stocks and bonds and savings accounts were 100 percent safe, which we have now been convinced they never are, the failure of sun and rain would leave us with only the paper in the safe deposit box to eat. The act of asking for bread is for us a daily reminder that our lives, like our bread, are gifts from God.
We are dependent upon God, land, farmers, weather, and a host of other elements in order to live.
We cannot pray this prayer and cling to our self-sufficient image. Before God, our dependency and need are exposed like open sores. We can stand only as beggars with hands outstretched. Everything is a gift. We can claim nothing as our own. To pray, “GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD,” is to recognize the grace, goodness and generosity of God working in and through our lives.
But then, the question arises: If God is our provider, what is God doing about those who go to bed starving every night, and those who don’t wake up because they have literally starved to death?
At this very moment almost one third of the world’s population struggle in their need of daily rice and bread. Is God refusing to answer their request for bread? Surely the God that Jesus revealed is not a God who gives some people food and withholds from others. What about the masses of hungry people in our world?
This prayer forces us never to forget those who are without bread every day. We cannot forget about the woman in present-day Honduras who trudges up the mountain each day to gather the sticks for her cooking fire and then carries them back down. She then goes back up the mountain to fetch water for cooking the food. Then she grinds the corn 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.1 And we cannot forget about her when we pray this prayer.
Two of the most essential words in this petition are the plural pronouns: “us” and “our.” GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD. This is a community prayer, not just a personal prayer. When we think of God’s provision we have a tendency to personalize everything. But Jesus did not teach us to pray, “Give me this day my daily bread,” but GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD. In this prayer we are joining in the cry and need of the human family to which we belong; we are praying not only for ourselves but for all the people on earth.
But we don’t just pray. We act. In our gospel story this morning, the disciples were ready to say the benediction and send everyone to Morrison’s for lunch.
“Jesus, we need to send these people away so they can get some food.” But Jesus said, “No, you give them something to eat.” Notice Jesus did not say, “Sit them down and I will feed them.” Distribution of food is our responsibility.
We live in a vast Givenness. We are hopeless debtors to the generosity of God. We must not take bread for granted. We must eat with grateful hearts.
Because we live in a vast Givenness, out of gratitude and responsibility to God, we are called to make sure that God’s provisions are distributed properly - that all have their daily bread.
When we see starving babies on television, it is not to heaven that we should look to place blame, but to earth. God has given the world plenty of food. God has not left anyone to die of hunger. God doesn’t have some great reason for allowing millions of people to starve to death.
The original command in Genesis to take care of creation means that we are partners with God in feeding the world. God has given us the garden to tend. We have been put in charge of meeting the needs of each other. It is our job to see that the world is fed.
Some of the harshest preaching found among the biblical prophets concerns the issue of feeding the hungry and taking care of the poor.
When we pray GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD, we are acknowledging that bread is a gift to be shared fairly and justly with all our human brothers and sisters. We are praying that all people may have enough to eat. And we obligate ourselves to do something about the shameful problem of world hunger in our time.
If you were adrift in a lifeboat with only one loaf of bread left, there is not one of you who would not insist that every passenger in the boat get a share. Isn’t it incredible that we can feast and sleep comfortably while so many of our fellow passengers on Lifeboat Earth live on the edge of starvation and many starve to death every day?
Those who have studied the problem of world hunger tell us that the basic cause is not lack of technical know-how or the inability of the planet to provide for its population. The basic cause is the lack of a political will to do what we already know how to do.
It is sheer hypocrisy for affluent people to pray this prayer and to remain uninvolved in helping feed the world. God must weep when those of us who have enough offer thanks to God before every meal, but do nothing to extend the blessing.
St. Basil the Great preached that nothing that belongs to us is ours alone, particularly our excesses. He said: “The bread that is spoiling in your house belongs to our sisters and brothers. The shoes that are mildewing under your bed belong to those who have none. The clothes stored away in your trunk belong to those who are naked. The money that sits in your treasury belongs to the poor.”
The blessings of God are meant to be shared. And we share because we are all dependant upon one another, especially for food.
A group of students were spending a week at a Trappist monastery. At the evening meal, enjoying in silence the wonderful, delicious bread, one of the students blurted out, “Hey, did we make this bread or did somebody give it to us?” One of the monks answered, “Yes.”
Every time we ask God for bread, we are acknowledging not only our dependence upon God but also our dependence on other people. No bread comes to our table without the work, the sacrifice, and the gifts of strangers whom we do not know and cannot thank.
How many people, in how many lands, whose names you will never know, worked so that the food you will eat today at lunch made it from the earth to the supermarket to your table? In no way is it “my” bread. It is “our” bread.
Bread is communal. The farmers in Iowa, the bakers in New York, the delivery truck drivers in our hometown all make bread a community endeavor. None of us eats or lives alone.
And because bread is communal we must not eat more than our share. This is a prayer for daily bread, daily necessities. Jesus is teaching us to pray for daily provision, not to stock up on wealth and property, but to ask only for what is necessary and sufficient for the day.
The biblical writers were aware of the danger and precariousness of material provisions. On the one hand, there is the bitter danger of not having enough; but on the other hand, there is the dangerous temptation of excess and extravagance.
We hear it in the devout prayer from Proverbs: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.”
We who live in a culture of over-consumption are called to pray, “Give us the grace to know when enough is enough.” Perhaps in praying this prayer, we will learn to get back to basics and learn to desire what we really need rather than all we want.
GIVE US THIS DAY THE BREAD THAT WE NEED. Our concerns are to be for the needs of the day. Bread is not only a reference to food, but to the necessities for daily living - the basic necessities of life - nutritious food and clean water, clothing, housing, jobs, and healthcare.
God is concerned with our pressing daily needs, whatever those needs may be. Your need today may not be for bread, but it could be just as critical and life threatening. This part of the Lord’s Prayer is about more than bread; it is whatever our daily need may be. Jesus is letting us know our daily needs are of great concern to God.
When we pray for “our daily bread,” we know that God is not only concerned that we have enough food on our tables, but also whether there is medicine for the sick child, whether there is money to pay the bills, whether the children are failing in school, whether Mom has lost her job.
All of this is the substance of our prayer, “GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.” To pray for daily bread and our daily needs is to take one day at a time.
Jesus as The Bread of Life
Feeding the world with literal, physical bread and working to make sure everyone has the daily necessities of life is at the heart of this petition in The Lord’s Prayer. But to speak of bread in the biblical sense we cannot ignore the spiritual meaning of bread and the limitations of physical bread.
Life requires more than physical bread. While being tempted in the wilderness to turn stones into bread to feed all the hungry people and therefore gain a huge following, Jesus said, “One cannot live by bread alone.” Jesus knew that beyond bread and other essential physical needs that there are deeper hungers that must be fed.
We need more than a sufficient amount of nutritious food in order to live. People can die even though their table is overflowing. Some people die because their table overflows. Others die because they need something more than bread to meet the deeper needs of their lives.
In John’s Gospel, after Jesus fed the 5000 he gained quite a following. But he pointed out to them that they were following him only because their bellies were full, and that there was a deeper hunger that he could fill so that they would never be hungry again. For he is the Bread of Life. He is the living bread come down from heaven. “And whoever comes to me,” Jesus said, “shall never hunger; whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
This is the deeper hunger that we sometimes try to fill with excess food, alcohol, sex, possessions.
Christ is our bread. In him all our unsatisfied longings, all of our insatiable desires of the heart are fulfilled. In Christ, the restless soul is at rest, the hunger is sated, the thirst of life is quenched. Christ is the one who has compassion on hungry people. He is the Savior who despises hunger. He is the host who feeds us, and the teacher who commands us, “You give them something to eat.”
It’s been said that the difference between heaven and hell is that in hell arms are frozen outward and people try to feed themselves but cannot; and in heaven arms are frozen outward but the people have learned to feed each other.
Hell received a foretaste of heaven in a Dachau concentration camp. Catholic prisoners got one meal per day which consisted of a chunk of bread the size of a dinner roll and a cup of watered-down soup. But each day, one Catholic prisoner would voluntarily sacrifice his or her meager bread ration for the celebration of the Eucharist. That chunk of bread would be consecrated by a priest and then secretly passed around as communion for the prisoners.
That daily Eucharist was never reduced to a pious, sentimental devotion. It was quite literally about dying to one’s hunger so that others could be fed. It was about giving so that others could receive. As Albert Haase writes: To receive the Bread of Life is to make a commitment to become the Bread of Life - for whomever needs it.2
Our youth are participating in today’s Louisville Hunger Walk. Our goal as a congregation is to raise $1000. I extend a challenge to you to match my gift of $20 to support Jason Crosby, Nate Creech, and other youth from our church as they walk today.
As we enter into the silence, will you pray about what you can and will do to help alleviate the problem of hunger in our city and our world?
1. William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us to Pray, Abingdon, 1996, 75
2. Albert Haase, Living the Lord’s Prayer, InterVarsity Press, 2009, 149-151