Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lord's Prayer, Sermon 3

Bread for Today

Matthew 6: 9-13

Feb 6, 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL

Christina Berry

Matthew 6: 9-13

"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

Give us this day our daily bread.

As we continue our series on the Lord’s Prayer, we come to this seemingly simple phrase:

give us this day our daily bread. So many of us have said those words so many times! It is difficult to imagine what might be said about our daily bread that has not already been said.

Every culture has bread of some kind: tortillas, chapati, rice cakes, pita, baguettes, and bolillos. Almost everyone loves the smell of bread baking, and the taste of fresh-baked bread.

Bread is a staple, the staff of life. A various times and places, bread has served as payment for labor, and the basic sustenance for the poorest of the poor. Today, as we gather at table for the Lord’s supper, we receive the bread of life, as we enact and remember the sacrificial love of our Savior.

Also today, we celebrate Souper Bowl of Caring – and what goes better with soup than bread? So we’ve chosen three bread scriptures to look at today – one from the Torah, the book of Deuteronomy, one from the prophets, the prophet Isaiah; and one from the Gospels – the Lord’s Prayer.

The scripture from Deuteronomy reminds the people of Israel of the source of their daily bread, and all their basic sustenance, the daily provision God made for them in the wilderness. It is a reminder to them that God is bringing them to a place where they will eat their fill every day, a place without scarcity, filled with abundance. God provided manna in the wilderness, enough only for each day; God will now provide bread in abundance, more than enough. But do not forget, the scripture warns, do not forget the source of this abundance, the Holy One of Israel, who brought you up out of slavery, who fed you with manna in the wilderness, who provides for you in this land of milk and honey. Do not fall into the arrogance of believing that this abundance is the result of your work or your cleverness or your goodness. Remember who it is that provides this bread.

Undoubtedly, Jesus knew the story of the Exodus, how God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. Although it had taken place hundreds of years before, the flight from Egypt was a story that was central to the lives of Jewish people in Jesus’ time, celebrated and remembered in the Passover feast, even as it is now.

The Rabbis teach that this story should be repeated to our children, again and again, so that every child may say, “This is the story of how God delivered me from slavery.” Jesus even quotes from this scripture, during his temptation in the wilderness, telling the evil one “that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Similarly, the prophet Isaiah celebrates God’s provision, albeit less as remonstrance and more as poetry. Who can resist this ebullient joy in these words?

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus quotes from Isaiah, so we know that the words of the prophet were also familiar to him. So it would be only natural that Jesus would make reference to daily bread in the prayer he gave us. This recurring theme of bread, obviously, refers not only to sandwich bread, but to a spiritual sustenance that God provides, even in the wilderness, every day. This sustenance, Isaiah remind us, is bread that is beyond our comprehension: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways.

Think about how high the heavens above the earth, and that’s how much higher God’s thoughts are than ours. Think of the cycle of rain and snow, how they give seed to the sower and bread to the eater - that’s how purposeful and productive God’s ways are.

God provides for us in ways we cannot even imagine, and in ways we could never predict.

It makes sense, then, that Jesus would tell us to pray, saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Just enough for this day, O God, just bread for the day. We who live in a society of such wealth and comfort, surrounded by plenty and overwhelmed with choices, do not speak these words naturally. I would be willing to bet that in most of our households, there is sufficient food – including bread – to last for more than just one day. I’d be willing to bet that very few of us only own what we really, really need, whether it be food or clothing, or television sets on which to watch some football game!

Sadly, in the way of the world and its imbalances, there are some people who do not have bread for today, or soup, for that matter. The Lord’s prayer calls our attention to this reality, in this line, “Give us today our daily bread.”

Note, if you will, that this prayer Jesus gave us does not say, “Give me today my daily bread.” Throughout the prayer, Jesus uses the plural – we, us. Give US this day OUR daily bread. An Upper Room devotional says: “There is enough food on the planet to feed everyone; there is enough energy to keep all of us warm; there is enough wealth to supply everyone's basic needs - if we share our abundance. In these words about daily needs we can hear Jesus again calling us to a new way of living. What comes to us can be the answer to others' prayers – if we are willing to open our hearts, our wallets, and our hands. As we allow God's love to flow through us, the needs of God's children can be met.”

That may seem like a lot of freight to load onto one simple line in a prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread. But Jesus rarely taught without layers of meaning, and we know from his teaching method of parables and stories that he certainly expected that we would listen on more than one level.

Today as we receive communion, we are going to remain seated, and serve each other. This choice of method is not random, any more than the words of Jesus are random. The bread that God provides – whether the bread we eat and enjoy, or the bread of life in Jesus Christ, is bread to share. It is bread for everyone, of any age: not just adults, not just for members of the church not just First Presbyterian Sterling, or even Presbyterians.

This bread we share is bread for the world, a reminder of the source of our physical and spiritual sustenance, and of our responsibility to feed those who are hungry in body, mind and spirit.

In a moment I will ask the servers to come forward and take the trays of bread, to bring to you in the pews. And I ask that as you receive the tray, that you allow yourself to be served, and then serve the person next to you. It is tempting, I know, to take the tray, to take the bread, to do it for yourself.

But that is not how it works in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, Jesus GIVES the bread, to us, and we receive it, knowing that we, in our pride, might want to say “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this.”

As you serve and are served, say to one another, “The bread of life. Give us this day our daily bread.” And when you receive the cup, also, let yourselves be served, and serve, so that you may enact and remember the sacrificial love of Jesus, who poured his life out as an offering and who calls us to love and serve the world in his name.

Let us pray:

Holy God, we lift up our hearts to you in thanks and praise, for in your love you created the world, and in your grace you made covenant with your people. By your mighty hand you delivered your people from slavery, and provided for them in the wilderness, giving them bread for the day. In your tender mercy you gathered your people to you again and again, even when we turned away. And in the fullness of time you sent your only son, who walked among us teaching and healing and loving all people. Even then we would not listen, and we crucified him, But you have the power even over death, and raised him up on the third day, even as you raise us to new life in him. As we take this bread and drink this cup, O God, pour out your Spirit upon us, that we may daily acknowledge your generous provision for us, and daily offer ourselves and our gifts in sacrificial love to the world, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked and ministering to all who hunger and thirst for you. Make this a feast for us, O God, a foretaste of that banquet in your kingdom in which all shall be fed. And may all God’s people say,

Amen.

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