Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
May 20 2018 Matthew 6
I want to begin with a quotation today. You’ll have to listen closely. Ready?
“We respectfully petition, request and entreat that due and adequate provision be made this day and the day hereafter subscribed for the satisfying of these petitioners’s nutritional requirements and for the organizing of such methods of allocation and distribution as may be deemed necessary and proper to insure the reception by and for said petitioner’s, of such qualities of baked cereal products as shall in the judgment of the aforesaid petitioner’s constitute a sufficient supply thereof.” That’s an attempt on the part of a bureaucrat to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We’ve started out in March looking at the Lord’s prayer. We took a break for Palm Sunday, Easter and Mother’s Day. Now we’re resuming.
Give us this day our daily bread. The Greek word for “daily bread” is very tough to render into English. Literally, it means “bread for tomorrow.” In the ancient world the term referred to daily rations a soldier received while on duty. Traveling light, the soldier would only be given enough bread for that day. Following this thought, one commentator suggests that these words for a Christian mean, “Give us enough to see us through the next step of the way, no further.”
A child learning the Lord’s Prayer got her words mixed up and said, “Forgive us this day our daily dread.” Daily dread–anxiety about today…..about what may happen tomorrow. All of us are afflicted by that. Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, and then says, “Which of you by worrying ever added one hour to your life?” Nevertheless, we do worry. Marcel Pagnol, writing about human happiness, caught my eye with this pungent observation: “The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future finer than it will be.”
This prayer seems to set the mood of taking the present as it comes, and trusting God for whatever may follow. In an ancient commentary on this particular petition, old Gregory of Nyssa says, “The God who gives you the day will give you also the things necessary for the day.” Or, if we could somehow write a screen play for this petition and put in on public television, we might say, “The day that is to follow is made possible by a grant from the living God.”
“Give us this day our daily bread.’ The first meaning of this prayer is the obvious meaning, the literal meaning. It means: “Give us enough bread to keep us alive, enough bread for our daily needs. Man does not live by bread alone, but does not live long without it. To Jesus’ listeners, whose life was lived from meal to meal, the meaning was obvious: “God, give us enough to eat. Gandhi was once heard to say, “God would not dare to appear to the starving masses in India except in the form of food.”
So the first meaning of this petition has to do with the material side of life. Sometimes when you are reading your New Testament, underscore how many times Jesus deals with the material side of existence. He fed the five-thousand. He appointed Judas as the treasurer of the disciples–their purchasing agent to make sure they always had food and shelter. He healed disease when he could. He plucked ears of corn on the Sabbath, breaking a hallowed Jesus law about working on the Sabbath, simply because he and his disciples were hungry.
Jesus was no dreamy idealist, for he grew up in the school of poverty. All his life he had seen the haunted look in the eyes of hungry people. He was surrounded by hungry people all his life….and as he looked out to the horizon, he saw them stretching out to the endless sea. Mothers clasping their puny children to their shriveled breasts; fathers tearing open their ragged shirts to show the bones beneath their skin….while all around…like a moan of the sea there went up the cry, “Bread, bread! For God’s sake give us bread.”
Back in my early years of my Christian life I was what you might call a fundamentalist Christian. And I heard another fundamentalist Christian speak one night at a Bible college. He converted me permanently to the conviction that the Christian faith is concerned with the material side of life. This young man had recently graduated from seminary and was deployed by the Christian Missionary and Alliance Church to serve an Indian Village in the Amazon jungle. His assignment–to preach, to teach, and to establish a church. But when he got there he was assaulted by the filth, the illiteracy, the disease, the malnutrition. So he wrote back to his church headquarters, ticking off his needs: “I need one doctor, two nurses, one agriculturalist, three teachers, and one nutritionist.” It took a long time but finally his request was granted. They built a medical clinic, then a school. The missionary said it was three years before they won their first convert to Christ. Through the laboratory of human experience, this young missionary learned that people are often unable to deal with the spiritual side of life when their material needs are so overwhelming.
And so this is a prayer for our material needs. God does care about our material well-being. But it is more than that. For Jesus knew there is a kind of emptiness that a Big Mac, a large order of fries, and a chocolate shake can never fill.
So this is a prayer for spiritual growth, for our spiritual well-being. And in the United States, with such unbelievable affluence, the reverse of Gandhi’s statement applies: “If God is to appear to Americans, he will have to come in the form of spiritual bread.” For we are satiated with the material, but starving spiritually. You may argue that we are a rich nation, but you cannot argue that we are a happy nation. America the beautiful is also America the violent. But even out there in what seems to be the happy mainstream of society are millions of people who are emotionally and spiritually malnourished–victims of low self-esteem, battered by broken homes and broken marriages, consuming too many pills and quaffing too much booze, and burning the candle at both ends in a frantic pursuit for a happy life.
Not long ago I heard a black brother give a ringing testimony of what God had done for him. Even growing up in affluent America he discovered that he had everything that he needed except the most important thing. He said, “God gave me soul-to-soul resuscitation. I had a heart, but could not love. I had a spirit, but could not worship. I had arms, but could not cling. I was dead, and now I am alive.”
I always look for a story to conclude my sermons. Jesus told stories because stories reach us at a deeper level than statements or principles. I believe what Jesus wants us to know in these words, “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” is beautifully and mysteriously contained in the little story, “The Wishing Well.” You will have to listen closely, and if you do, you will see what I mean.
Read the Wishing Well by Eugene B. Coco…..
“There was an old man who lived by a wishing well. Each morning he would go to the well to wish for something to eat, and before his eyes a basket filled with honey, oats, and milk would appear. The old man would thank the wish well and be on his way.
“In the winter when the snow came, the old man would go to his well and wish for a place to keep safe and warm. Then from the snow a cabin would rise, and the old man would thank the wishing well and stay in the cabin until the spring.
“In the summer when the sun grew hot and the earth dry, the old man would ask the well for rain. Clouds would come, the sky would open up, and the old man would quench his thirst in the downpour.
“And when he needed a new pair of shoes or a coat for the cool autumn nights, he would go to the wishing well and that which he wished for would be given to him.
“No one but the old man knew of the wishing well until one morning when a young boy happened upon him as he wished at his well. The young boy watched in silence as a basket of honey, oats, and milk appeared before the old man. He waited eagerly until the old man left, then he rushed to the well.
“Foolish old man,” thought the young boy. “He wishes for honey and oats when he could wish for anything in the world! Do for me as you do for the old man!” the young boy shouted into the well. “I wish to be the richest man on earth.
“From the sky gold coins began to fall.
“As he filled his pockets, the young boy soon realized that there was too much gold for him to carry. He returned to the well to ask for help.
“A giant wheelbarrow appeared before him. Though he tried his best the boy found the filled wheelbarrow too heavy to move. In a panic he shouted into the well, “I wish to be big enough, so that all the gold coins, the wheelbarrow, and everything around me can fit in the palm of my hand!
“The young boy began to grow–bigger than the trees, bigger than the mountains, bigger than the clouds–bigger and bigger still, until the gold coins, the wheelbarrow, and all that he knew were far out of sight.
“The boy grew until he passed the moon and the stars, when suddenly a comet flew by setting his hair ablaze in a ball of fiery red flames.
“Stop this! Please stop all of this! I wish to stop growing! I wish none of this had ever happened,” he cried.
“And so it was.
“A day passed and it was morning again when the old man came to the wishing well to wish for something to eat. It was then that he noticed the young boy weeping beside the well.
“The old man’s knowing smile angered the young boy who shouted, “Go on and laugh, old man! Laugh at my glowing red hair. What does it matter? What do you know anyway? You know of oats and honey but nothing else. You have no dreams, no hopes! You have nothing! You know nothing of what this wishing well can do!”
“Is that so?” replied the old man, as he removed his hat. In the rays of the morning sun, his hair glowed redder than a thousand comets.
“He put his hat back on and walked over to the wising well. Before his eyes a basket fulled with honey, oats, and milk appeared. He thanked the wishing well, took the basket, and went on his way.”
Let us pray: We thank you, dear God, that you give us just enough resources for the day. No more, no less. We thank you that you have met all our needs all our lives. Forgive us for wanting more. Help us to be content with what we have, and thankful in all things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.