Give Us Today Our Daily Bread
We are in the midst of a special Sermon Series in which all of the clergy have been asked to preach on one of the intercessions from Luke's version of the so-called "Lord's Prayer"—the one that Jesus taught his followers to use as a model for their own spiritual devotions. This Sunday we come to what I think is the very heart of the matter: GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD.
Like all of the teachings of Jesus, I need to say right at the beginning that there's much more here than meets the eye. Within these six words there is a whole universe of concepts and meanings. While there's not time this morning to consider all of the richness of insight these words contain, there are several primary aspects of what Jesus is offering here to his followers in the First Century and to those of us who live in the Twenty-first Century as well that I want to examine with you.
What I'm going to do is to pose three questions and then try to give you some ideas by way of response to those same questions. Here are my three questions:
- What is this "bread" that Jesus wants us to ask for?
- If bread is so important to us, why beg for it instead of going out and earning it for ourselves?
- How come the bread delivery apparently comes only once a day?
If we can open up those three questions and shed even a little light on some possible answers, we will have spent this Sunday's sermon time very productively.
So, what is this "bread?" Well, you can be sure that it's not just some baked mixture of flour, water and yeast. Jesus isn't telling us that we should go begging to avoid physical starvation—unless you understand starvation as a separation from God. Jesus tells us in the so-called "Sermon on the Mount" that God knows we need food and clothing; we don't have to concern ourselves with telling God about that. God already provides enough to physically sustain every single person in the world.
"But", we might well ask, "What about the impoverished of the world—those pitiful children with the huge desperate eyes and distended stomachs that we see on TV and in the newspapers?" I'm perfectly aware that world hunger is a real and legitimate problem, but let's not put that off on God. World hunger is a disaster of our own creation, not God's. God's bounty creates food enough and more. The problem is us. Are we willing to share and to distribute? Don't blame God for scarcity, living here—as we do—on a planet of abundance!
The food we're asking for in this prayer is much more basic and necessary. It's the food without which it's unlikely we would even care about trying to solve the challenge of feeding those who are physically starving. Throughout Holy Scriptures, the presence of God is identified as the bread that gives life to the soul. Jesus identifies himself as "the bread that comes down from heaven." In short, the bread we're asking for is the presence of God that enters, feeds and sustains us with life itself.
Having God at our center is the Leaven that will raise our hardened hearts so that we will do everything in our power to make sure that everyone has enough to eat. As we say, "Give us today our daily bread," what we're asking is that God would enter each day into our very being, giving us the Spirit of peace and power, without which there is no life worth living.
Now, on to our second question: If this bread is so important, why do we have to beg for it like street people? Why don't we get up and go earn it for ourselves? Notice that the intercession begins with the word "give." Jesus is telling us how important it is to recognize that the only source of the bread that truly nourishes us is God. We need to hear that teaching importantly.
Our national heritage, our cultural sacred cow, if you will, is "rugged individualism"—the notion that we can be self-made men, able to stand on our own two feet. As noble as those ideas may seem, let's face it, they're the stuff of cocktail party talk. I'm sure you've heard them, as I have, over and over: "I've earned every dime I ever got. Nobody ever gave me anything." No more false words have ever been spoken.
We're right in the middle of a Stewardship Campaign here at Calvary Church where the primary message is this: Everything we are and everything we have is a gift from God. How we use it is our way of saying thanks. That's the same message that Jesus is weaving into this prayer that he urges us to offer to God on a regular basis. We need these words to remind us, as often as possible, that God is the only source of EVERYTHING.
Without connection to the One who is the source of life itself—the true and living Bread—we human beings wither and die. All of our posturing about being self-made and self-reliant is so much drivel. The truth is that we are utterly dependent on God for every breath we take. None of us has the power to add one breath to his or her life.
Do you remember "Invictus," that highly-praised poem of self-reliance which used to be a required memorization-piece for every American elementary schoolchild? In it the poet maintained that he was the "master of his fate, the Captain of his soul." Did you know that William Ernest Henley, the much-admired author of "Invictus" wound up a solitary, pitiful person who ultimately committed suicide?
Unless God gives and sustains our whole being we are lost. None of us, no matter how hard-working or devout, can earn or deserve the unmerited gift of life. That is God's alone to give or withhold.
Now, let's consider my third question: If this Bread is so necessary and God is the only source, why ask for only a day's supply? If some is good, wouldn't more be better? "Today" and "Daily" may, perhaps, seem curious words in this intercession. We've just said that the Bread we're asking for is God's life-giving presence and we've said that this Bread is an absolute, permanent, ongoing necessity. Then why does Jesus tell us to ask for it only one day at a time? Why not place a standing order or indicate that what we'd really like is a whole warehouse full of the stuff that we could feel secure about, knowing that we could get some whenever we needed it?
Even to ask the question that crassly is to know the answer: Life is all about the present. We only get life in daily increments. There's no guarantee that tomorrow will arrive for anybody. My wife, Dale, is fond of reminding me that "If there's something you really want to do or somebody you really want to talk with, you'd better do it and say it today!" That's not a morbid, fearful observation on her part. She's simply being realistic. It's an acknowledgement of the genuine fragility of life and the precious quality of every moment given to us.
The Bread of Life, without which none of us can continue on—and of which God is the only source—is measured out one day at a time, ours to use or misuse in any way that we decide. We can try to keep and hoard it in a miserly narrow existence, or we can let it flow into and through us to touch and enrich the lives of others. It is a gift that intended for us to unwrap and discover with joy and wonder each and every morning, something to excite us with the ever-changing potential it brings for living generously and victoriously. That's the opportunity we're asking God to give us each time we offer this prayer that Jesus taught us.
Give us today our daily bread…six words that can change your life completely if you understand what it is that you are asking of God. To put it into the sharpest terms possible, Jesus is saying that you need to turn to God regularly, asking
First: that we be given the insight and faith to recognize that without God we have no life at all.
Second: that we have the honesty and humility to acknowledge that God has a legitimate claim on every one of us, expecting that we will seek to use God's gifts for God's purposes.
Third: that we will begin right now—today—each one of us, to live each moment fully and victoriously in ways that are worthy of our being entrusted with such a precious gift.
Give us today our daily bread…six words that can change your life
completely. Why not give them a try?
Copyright ©2002 Robert Hansel. This series was first presented at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN.