Give us this day our daily bread.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Give Us This Day
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be pleasing unto you, oh God.
Today’s message will primarily focus on the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I have also included the words of Isaiah 43, verses 18 and 19 which caution us not to dwell on the past and I have included Matthew 6, verses 33 and 34 which remind us not to worry about the future. The words of Scripture place a frame around our conversation with God, not to limit it in any way but to keep our focus and our concerns and our requests always in perspective.
Our primary text, Matthew 6, verse 11, embodies the essence of prayer, Jesus-style. The Lord’s Prayer, as we refer to it, includes the words Jesus taught the ancient people when they were attempting to speak to and be in connection with God, words that would eventually be spoken in Jesus’ absence. It is a prayer which has been spoken for centuries, in one form or another, in schools, religious institutions and other gatherings. It references a God known as Father who lives in a place named heaven; it instructs us how to be in relationship to God and with one another here on earth. Over the years it has come to be known to many as a beloved prayer and to others not so much.
Prayer was important to Jesus. In the verses leading up to this instruction on prayer he was calling out people who were praying just to hear the sound of their own voices, people who were praying just to be seen by people in their midst. The Scriptures actually tell us that he was asking them to prayer in private. I don’t really believe for one moment that Jesus expects us to go into a closet or into a private place and to be in conversation with our God. But I do believe that Jesus is asking us to not be distracted when we pray: to pause, to ask for silence and then to be in conversation with the one we know as God. In our worship service here at the First Congregational Church of Bellevue, we pray with words, we pray as we light candles, we pray through song and we even pray through our actions.
You may have noticed the title of a recent eCall: “Praying With My Feet.” These were the words spoken by Rev. Bianca Davis-Lovelace as she spoke about her experience of marching in the streets at a Black Lives Matter march and as she prepares for the Poor Peoples Campaign here in the state of Washington. For me, a prayer warrior, prayer forms the bond which connects our hearts to one another and to God. It is in this connection that we realize our non-aloneness. Perhaps these are a few of Jesus’ reasons for teaching followers like us how to pray.
Last week in her sermon, Lisa pointed out the ominous words that Jesus prayed on the eve of his crucifixion. He said, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” knowing full well what lay in store for him the next day. In the same way, I want you and I to be cognizant of our words when we pray these words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The first word in today’s Scripture is “give.” It is worth noting that when we ask anyone, a person or an entity in this case, to give us something we are admitting that we are lacking, that there is something we need, something we need to survive, to get us from point A to point B, something that reminds us that we need one another, we need to depend upon God.
I attended a fundraising event this week where a gentleman came to the front and identified himself as a person who had been chosen to conduct the “ask.” I watched carefully as the people around me grabbed the sheet of paper that had their auction number on it so that they could participate as he called out different numbers and ways that people could contribute to the organization. It was a bit like watching prayer in action. The asker would throw out a dollar figure and the participants would hold up their numbers to indicate their pledge. As he moved from one donation level to the next the people continued to raise their numbers. I felt a sense of excitement as I witnessed the delight on people’s faces while they contributed to a cause they felt was worthy. The more they responded, the more excited the asker became.
I can imagine God, you and me in these roles. Prayer is an ongoing conversation; it is a two-way street. Sometimes we lift our auction paddles with an ask, sometimes in response to one. God recognizes our number and God responds. But the onus is on us. We need to be humble enough to ask, to voice the word “give” and to be willing to respond with a pledge.
You will notice that the second word in today’s Scripture is the pronoun “us” and not “me.” Jesus is teaching his followers to pray as a community, to pray with and for one another and not only for ourselves. Prayer is a communal conversation. Although many complain about the phrase, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers,” there is a connectiveness which occurs when we pray as a community. In our weekly eCall and bulletin you will notice that each prayer request begins with the words, “We pray for.” I don’t believe God has a lottery system or takes count of the prayers received on a particular issue, but I do believe that when we pray as a community prayer helps us to unite with one another and to handle the outcome of any situation.
The next words in today’s Scripture are “this day.” The word “day” occurs throughout Scripture. The creation narrative contains seven “days.” The season of Lent, which we are currently in, is numbered by Jesus’ time in the wilderness: 40 days. Three days separate Jesus’ crucifixion from his resurrection. In modern times we often hear the words, “One day at a time.” This phrase invites us to live in the moment, to focus on the day that God is providing us: nothing more, nothing less, just today. Living just for today allows us to make necessary changes in the moment; it frees us up to learn from, but not dwell upon, our past. In so doing, it prepares us for a better future.
Next we come to the word, “daily.” The word “daily” is translated from a Greek word, “Epiousios,” which means “enough for the daily.” In the word “enough” we locate the boundaries of our needs: we discover where our needs end and where another person’s needs begin, even how they coexist. In this way we once again see the importance of community as we learn about ourselves and we relate to one another. In its English translation the word “daily” reminds us to depend upon God in each and every situation, no matter how great or small. It is so tempting to take matters into our own hands, to wink at God and say, “Don’t worry about that one; I’ve got it.” But we are invited to remember the importance of amplification in the worship service. We are invited to remember the words of Philippians 4:6, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
And finally we come to the final phrase, “Our daily bread.” Bread held great metaphorical meaning for Jesus. He often referred to himself as the bread of life. For people of antiquity and for ourselves today, bread is of the utmost importance. It is so important that it comes in all forms: wheat, multigrain, rye, cinnamon, sourdough, loaded with gluten and even gluten free. Bread brought the Israelites out of exile. Bread crumbs on the path led Hansel and Gretel back home. Bread is how we remember Jesus. But when we ask God for our daily bread, what are we asking for? What is the significance of bread as it relates to the development of our spiritual lives, for our connection to one another and ultimately to God? What meaning do these words hold for us as we create the dough, as we knead it, as we roll it out, as we bake it and smell it and butter it, slice and eat the bread we are asking God to provide? This, people of God, is the process to which Jesus is calling us: to be bread makers, not only those who deliver the good news by righting past wrongs and current wrongs but to be bread makers. In creating we follow a recipe which has been tested for centuries, a recipe of love brought to us by Jesus’ teaching, his example and life. Through the kneading of the dough the kinks and knots of discrimination, oppression and segregation are being worked out, they are being flattened and rolled out into faith communities and beyond where more and more people are receiving the good news and are being welcomed at God’s table. We bake the bread at different temperatures and for different amounts of time, depending upon our preference, but whatever our preference the bread inside the loaf is always protected for it is God’s essence. The best part comes as we remove the loaf from the oven, when we smell the sweet aroma of justice, righteousness, truth, light and love. And yet, is the process finished? I have a loaf, do you? It is buttered, it has been broken and it has been blessed.
But wait; is there enough to go around? Now remember, as you answer this question, the importance of community, the “we,” and while there are many forms of hunger and insecurity today, I could not find a Scripture about bread where there were no leftovers. There was always enough. So we give thanks to God and our neighbor for the creation of bread and we ask for more. And because Jesus was so smart to give us the language of “this day” as he had learned from the prophet Isaiah, we focus on the loaf which is baking in the oven, trusting that God will focus our attention where it is required, on this day, for God is doing a new thing. It is ours for the perception, for the co-creation and sharing.
We live in uncertain times. Fear permeated our souls this past week as two of our children’s’ schools were placed on lockdown. People are in and out of our office each day of the week seeking shelter, food. I even heard a guy one day just say, “I just want a bus pass.” It is difficult for us to let go of anxiety in times like these. It is difficult to trust one another; it is difficult to trust that God has our backs and the backs of our children.
So how do we use these words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” when filled with this anxiety? Hear this story about what a slice of bread meant to a group of Korean orphans:
After the war, many of these children were separated from their families and as a result they were placed in orphanages. Over time their caregivers began to notice that the children were restless at the end of the night and they had difficulty sleeping. It was discovered that they were uncertain as to their provisions for the next day. So the caregivers placed a slice of bread in each of these children’s hand when they put them down for bed at night. It wasn’t intended to be eaten; it was intended as a security blanket to remind them that their needs would be met on the next day. And surely enough, the children were able to sleep. Imagine, a slice of bread brought hope and instilled security for another day to these children.
I wonder, how will you and I respond to the anxieties in our community today? I can think of no better response to today’s concerns than being as we are in community with one another as we listen and respond to the voice of our still speaking God. I can think of no better response than to remember that no concern, how great or small or impossible to figure out, is welcomed from our God. I can think of no better response than for us to conduct the “ask,” to give thanks with our words and through our actions and for this day my ask is that each of you be that slice of bread and to pray with your feet as we respond to God’s call. Amen.
Our Scripture today, “Give us this day our daily bread,” reminds us that we always ask as a community. In the New Testament accounts of the feeding of the five thousand Jesus insists that the community stay together and not be returned to town for resources. He tells the disciples they need not go away, you feed them. With these words Jesus is insisting that people be kept together, that we be fed as a community, perhaps as companions on a journey. Jesus wanted people to know that when he was no longer among them in a physical sense they would be surrounded by community, by companions. The word “companion” is a conflation of two Latin words: “com”, the conjoining of two things and “panis” which means bread. Together they form the word “companion,” someone you eat with.
The night Jesus was betrayed he took bread and giving thanks for it broke it and gave it to those who were gathered at table saying, “Take and eat. This is my body broken for you. As often as you eat of it do so in remembrance of me.” He took the cup and giving thanks for it gave it to them saying, “Take and drink. This is the cup of the new covenant sealed in my blood. As often as you drink of it do so in remembrance of me.”
So however you come to this table today, come in response to Jesus’ invitation of remembrance, whether broken, whole or mending, come as believer, seeker or wherever you are on life’s journey. Come as one who eats with and cares for one another. Come as companion.
Ministering to you in the name and presence of Jesus Christ, we offer you this bread and this cup.
Creator God, we thank you for these elements. We thank you for what they mean to us in our own lives and as a faith community. Be with us as we receive them, as they serve us and as they serve you. In Jesus name I ask these things. Amen.
At the conclusion of each worship service I often reflect upon the words we have sung, upon the words that have been prayed and the words that have been thrown at you in a sermon. In today’s sermon likely you felt like a lot was thrown at you, a lot was asked of you, and it was. So as we prepare to leave the worship service I want to give you a gentle reminder that we are the beloved children of a loving God, a God who walks with us, who depends upon us, but who supports us, who cares about us. Each and every day, walk with that assurance. In the name of Jesus, our sustainer and our redeemer I send you out as slices of bread. Amen.
© Copyright. Patty Ebner. 2018. All rights reserved.