Our Daily Bread

The Greatest Prayer – Our Daily Bread

March 13, 2013 – Lenten Sermon 4 of 6
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us our daily bread today,” he must not have known about the Mediterranean diet that has been in the news lately.

Eating like a Spaniard or a Greek can cut your risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease by 30 percent without cutting calories or sacrificing taste.  The researchers followed 7,500 people between the ages of 55 and 80 who were at high risk of cardiovascular disease due to such factors as diabetes and being overweight.  For five years, participants ate either a Mediterranean diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and beans — or a low-fat diet.  Those on the Mediterranean diet ate very little red meat, sweets, or refined white flour, but drank at least seven glasses of wine per week.  They also consumed four tablespoons of olive oil, an ounce of walnuts, almonds – rich in omega -3 fatty acids.

Maybe if Jesus would have known, he would have said, “Give us this day our daily fish and olive oil.”

But Jesus was not giving dieting advice in this prayer.  He was giving us a vision for how the world should be and our collaborative role with God to transform this world.

(You can read all about the Mediterranean diet when you go home.  Just “Google it.”)

But praying for daily bread is something much more expansive and transformational.  It sounds simple, daily bread, and in a way, it is simple.  At a very basic level, it is about daily sustenance.  Bread, the world over is a symbol of life.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus came to be known as the “Bread of Life.”

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  Let’s take a moment to review what we have learned in the prayer thus far.  The first three petitions are about God.  About God’s name and keeping that good name hallowed.  About God’s Kingdom come.  What would the world look like if God were on the throne and making the decisions rather than other rulers.  What kind of budget and taxation system do you think would God put together in Washington?

And God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.  Or, a more literal reading of the Greek, As in heaven so on earth.

When talking about God’s will we talked a lot about justice.  And remember this was not primarily retributive justice (punishing someone), but rather distributive justice.  The simple definition of distributive justice was that everyone had enough.  Enough of the basics to make a life.

God had appointed kings to make sure that justice was lived out – “justice for all” we might say.   No one gets left out!  Everyone has a seat at the table.

When kings took on this sacred role and responsibility, God was pleased and filled with delight.  When kings forgot to ensure that justice was executed in the land, the kings displeased God.  This was especially so when the kings did not look out for the orphan, the widow and the resident alien – the weak and economically vulnerable; what I like to call the least and the last of any society.

The prophets of old spoke harsh and condemning words to those that did not value God’s justice and rather allowed injustice to prevail.  The prophets spoke God’s judgment by saying the world is a mess because of injustice and then spoke of the behaviors that caused this and actions the Israelites could take to, once again, ensure God’s justice.

They did this to ensure that God’s kingdom looked like God’s kingdom and not like the kingdoms we might make for ourselves.  The prophets spoke to ensure that God’s will be manifest in our actions so that earth would look more like heaven.

Remember that line we need to keep coming back to?  “Heaven is fine – Earth is where the problems are.”

When we look out on the world and think, “What a mess!” Jesus would agree.  But then he calls us to action.  He has us look at the reasons why the world is mess and then he calls upon us to do something about it.

Where does Jesus begin?  He begins with everyone having enough to eat each day.  I take a lot of the bible metaphorically, but “daily bread” I think should be taken rather literally.

As we begin the second half of this prayer what do these three petitions deal with?   Daily bread, forgiving debts and temptation.  They deal with our role and responsibility to do nothing less than make earth look like heaven, and for our desires and actions to reflect God’s will.

So tonight we begin where Jesus began – with bread.  Of course, if we are to talk of bread we must remember the first bread story of the Bible – The manna in the wilderness.  In teaching this prayer, Jesus was talking to and teaching his fellow Jews.  And you can’t speak of bread without thinking about the manna in the wilderness story.

I’ll give you the abbreviated story.  The Israelites are in the wilderness and they are hungry and they are grumbling about being hungry.  (I sympathize with them; I too can grumble when I’m hungry – just ask Chris.)  God says, that he will provide Manna, a bread like substance, on a daily basis.  Since they cannot provide for themselves in the wilderness, God will provide.  In the morning they are to go out and collect enough to eat for the day. No more.  If they get greedy and collect more than a day’s worth it will rot.  To prepare for the Sabbath they can collect enough for two days, so they don’t have to work on the Sabbath.

This is a beautiful symbol of God’s benevolent nature and our dependence of God for the stuff of life itself.  God will provide and we take just what we need for the day.  Everybody has enough – that’s distributive justice – everybody having enough.

Take this manna message to Jesus’ day.  Everybody didn’t have enough.  From what we know Jesus was from the peasant class.  Jesus knew poverty and maybe even hunger.  We won’t go into the detailed reasons of why poverty existed.  Let’s just say it was a combination of factors from living under the Roman rule of taxation, to the harsh realities of subsistence day-to-day living, to systems of greed and wealth inequality.

When Jesus teaches his disciples to make your neighborhood like heaven, he starts with making sure that everyone has food enough to survive.  And he places that responsibility onto each of us.

Remember that when Jesus teaches us about the nature of God we discovered that God chooses to work with us, to give us the honor of manifesting God’s will.  To gain some insight on this I want to walk you through one of the best known teachings of Jesus.

It’s the feeding of the five thousand.  The importance of this story is seen in that all four gospels record it.  Let’s remember the essential details of the story.

Jesus is teaching all day to the crowds that have gathered.  The day is growing long and the sun in beginning to set.  As Jesus finishes up his teaching, the problem of the people’s hunger is brought to Jesus’ attention.  What do you do with five thousand people who are hungry?

There are two solutions given for this problem – the disciple’s solution and Jesus’ solution.  Whose solution do you think is the correct solution?  It’s the answer to every children’s message, Jesus.

So here is the disciple’s solution, and I warn you, there is some logic to it and you may even like it.  The disciples come to Jesus with all the reasons why the hungry people need to be sent away and find their own food.

The text says, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.”

I can see Jesus’ face taking in their solution before he offers his own.  His face says, “So that’s your solution?  Well here’s mine.”  Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

The disciple’s solution is, “Send them away.”  Jesus’ solution is, “You give them something to eat.”

The gospel writer of Mark assumes something about Jesus – that Jesus has the power to do anything he wants.  So it’s important to see what Jesus does and does not do.  Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

As the story goes, Jesus multiples the food already there, already present, and already available … and there are leftovers.

Jesus places the disciples between God’s abundance and the need of the people, and tells the disciples that adequate distribution of food is your role and responsibility.

Folks, we are the disciples in this story.  This is our story today.  If we are to transform the world into looking more like heaven, then we begin with daily bread … with everyone having enough to eat each day.

If we pray for daily bread, we are praying, not only for enough bread that all might have enough to eat, but we are also praying that we will be the ones to make sure that there is a fair distribution of that bread.

Did you know that one in six of your fellow Americans go hungry each day, or deal with food insecurities.  There are seven billion people on earth; three billion people try their best to survive on one or two or three dollars a day.  The very sad and bad news, is that there are millions, up to a billion people, each day that do not get their daily bread.

The good news is that God has provided enough food for the seven billion people to get their daily bread each day.  Leading crop and food experts say that there is, right now, enough food for everyone to have their daily bread.  We do not have a shortage of food, we have a distribution problem.

The $5 per month per family that we ask of you is money that goes to care for those here and around the world to get their daily bread.  “You give them something to eat.”

The Hunger Team Ministry here at NRLC is all about raising, not only awareness, but resources to make sure that our neighbors have their daily bread.  “You give them something to eat.”

The food that you bring in and place in the yellow cart goes to provide daily bread … for our neighbors in need.  “You give them something to eat.”

When we prepare a meal for those that gather at Project Blessing we are fulfilling this petition of the prayer as we distribute enough food, for that day, for those present.  “You give them something to eat.”

This Lenten season many of you have been baking bread and we have been taking it down to St. Vincent DePaul to very literally provide a day’s worth of bread for those that might not otherwise have bread for the day.  “You give them something to eat.”

We are working collaboratively with God to transform the world and Jesus has us begin with daily bread.  As we work with God to make sure that everyone has enough we are practicing what delights God and doing nothing less than transforming the world into the vision that Jesus lays out in this prayer.

God has blessed this world with a bountiful creation allowing enough food for all to eat.  Now we must find a way to fairly distribute that bounty in a way that fulfills God will for God’s kingdom.  If we do so, and as we follow the one we proclaim to the be the very Bread of Life, we will bring life to all the world.

The Mediterranean diet does not include much bread at all, but the feast that God has in store for the world is a feast where everyone has a place at the table and there is enough for all.

Let’s continue to set the table and give everyone a place … with at least a portion of daily bread!