Tuesday, July 25, 2006

our daily bread: a reflection on the lord's prayer

In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray these words: Give us this day, our daily bread. These words, these very simple words are so simple a child could say them and remember them. They can teach us some profound lessons about life.

We learn in this simple prayer first that we are receivers before we are givers. We are dependent before we are independent. Life is a gift. We are born into a world that we did not create, where we are dependent on our parents for life and shelter and nourishment. Life is a gift.

We grow up in a world where the gifts of others enrich our lives---I think this morning of 111 people heading to Garden City for a youth retreat---and I am grateful for those adults who share the gift of a week of their lives with our kids. I think of the people who support this church with their money. I don’t say this often enough, but I am grateful that I can spend my time doing the work that I do, and that is possible because of the generosity of the people of our church. Life is a gift.

And then, at the end of life, we are also dependent on the care of others, who attend to us, who comfort us, who prepare us for the next stage of the journey. Life is a gift.

Give us, we pray. Give us this day.

In these words we are reminded to focus not on yesterday, not on tomorrow, but on this day. Give us this day. I was having lunch with the most powerful man in the small community where we lived. He owned a significant portion of it. He was a good and faithful man. Since he was extremely wealthy, naturally we ate at the most inexpensive restaurant in town. I can still hear him say, “Ken, the special is really good, it’s a good value”.

He and his wife had always worked hard, got the kids launched, saved for retirement, and they had planned to travel. There was so much of the world they wanted to see. Then she had a massive stroke. He visited her every day at her retirement community. This was a good twenty years ago. I would do it different, if I had it to do over again”, he said that day. I wouldn’t spend so much time waiting for tomorrow. Some things I wouldn’t put off. I would appreciate today”.

“Give us this day”.

When Jesus began to teach us how to pray, he said, use these words: Give us this day our daily bread. We are tempted to live in yesterday, or in tomorrow.

Jesus teaches us to live in, to pray about this day.

God gives you, God gives us, this day. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. This day.

I love the translation of today’s scripture in The Message:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now,

and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.

Life is a gift.

God gives us this day.

We discover another truth as we pray these words. We discover that God provides. In the Old Testament we remember Israel's journey from slavery to freedom.

q Do you remember how God gave Israel manna in the wilderness, enough food for each day?

q Do you remember that they tried to hoard more than they needed, and the excess went bad?

q Do you remember that God's people were told not to harvest manna on the Sabbath, but they tried to anyway, and that too went bad?

q Do you remember that on the day before the Sabbath God provided enough food for that day and the next. The experience of Israel was as simple as the text to the hymn: Trust and Obey.

I was driving through the country a few years ago when a sign in front of a small, white-framed church caught my eye. It read:

When you realize that God is all you have,

God is all you need.

This prayer can help us, the most medicated and prosperous, the most anxious and well-off group of people in human history, in our journey from slavery to freedom. This prayer can remind us that God provides. When you realize that God is all you have, God is all you need.

In the Lord's Prayer we are taught to say these words: Give us this day our daily bread. In the New Testament we read in 2 Corinthians: My grace is sufficient for you. God gives us all that we need. God provides. Saint Augustine said, in the fourth century, “however rich a person is in this world, we are still beggars before God”. God provides.

This is echoed in a prayer of Thomas Merton:

In prayer we discover what we already have… Everything has been given to us in Christ. All we need to experience is what we already possess.

God provides: that is our belief.

Trust and obey: that is our response.

This prayer teaches us to pray for those who are hungry. It may be a stretch for us to identify with those who are hungry. We live in a prosperous area of the community, most of us. We live in a prosperous part of the world, all of us. On my first mission to the beautiful and tragic country of Bolivia, next to Haiti the poorest country in the western hemisphere, we landed at the airport in Cochabamba, which seemed like a small rural elementary school. A van picked us up and we began driving. Looking out at the surroundings, one team member said, “this reminds me of when I was in Vietnam”. There was silence. We drove a little farther. More silence.

Then a woman spoke up. I wish I had a diet coke”, she said. More silence. Then we realized that there are no diet cokes in Bolivia. There is no market for diet cokes in Bolivia. No tourists come to Bolivia. No one is on a diet in Bolivia.

What does it mean to pray these words, Give us this day our daily bread, when it is literally a life and death petition, every day, to God? What does it mean when the person praying those words, Give us this day our daily bread, is as faithful to Christ as we are, as committed to the Lord as we are, and dependent that day on some response, as a life and death matter?

It means, I think, that we should remember the hungry when we pray these words. For some of our brothers and sisters in the world, this prayer, these words, today, are words about life and death. Give us this day our daily bread.

This prayer also teaches us to live in communion with Jesus, who is the bread of life. We need to remember that the presence of Jesus sustains us, each day. The Christian life is not about an experience of Jesus somewhere in the past: I had this relationship with Jesus. I walked down the aisle of a church, somewhere in the past. That’s like saying, I had this great meal, ten years ago, or, I had the most amazing bread when I was a child.

Each day we eat.

Each day we need daily bread.

Each day we need to receive Jesus.

Many of the interpreters of the prayer focus on the spiritual meaning. In John 6, Jesus, referring to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, says

I am the bread of life, that comes down from heaven.

Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.

In this phrase, we can learn a great deal about life. Some of us have gotten too caught up in being productive, and we have forgotten a simple truth: Life is a gift.

Some of us have been deferring life. Jesus teaches us to live in this day. Don’t worry about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.

Some of us are enslaved about how we are going to make it. We just don’t see the resources. Jesus teaches us to trust and obey. God provides.

Some of us are beginning to hear the voices of the hungry. Mostly they are voices of women and children. A number of them live in the United States. Mostly they live in other parts of the world. Jesus says to us, as he said to the boy on a hillside in Galilee, you give them something to eat.

Some of us are spiritually malnourished. We have been on a spiritual diet, or we have been going without the bread of life for so long that our spiritual life is weak, and we are hungry for something. Something that we need each day.

Give us this day our daily bread, Jesus teaches us to pray. Next week as we look at the Lord’s Prayer, we will go even deeper. What does it mean to pray the words: Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. I invite you to think about your own life history in relation to forgiveness, and I invite you to listen and pray about what is going on in the very Galilee where Jesus taught this prayer of forgiveness. Is forgiveness possible for Israelis and Palestinians? Is forgiveness possible for us?

But today it is enough to remember a few simple truths:

Life is a gift.

Live one day at a time.

Remember that God provides.

Find a way to feed the hungry.

Receive Jesus, the bread of life and you will live forever.

Give us, this day, our daily bread!


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