Give us Our Daily Bread

Give us Our Daily Bread

March 03, 2024 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

St. Luke’s UMC

March 3, 2024

Lent 3

The Lord’s Prayer

“Give us Our Daily Bread”

Matthew 6:11; John 6:32-35  


Ernest Campbell, former pastor of Riverside Church in New York, told the story about a woman who bought a parrot at a pet shop. A few days later she returned and complained to the store owner that the parrot won’t talk. The owner asked, “Do you have a mirror in the cage?” The woman said no. The owner said try that. Sometimes parrots when they see themselves they think it’s another bird and start talking. So, she bought a mirror.

            The next day she returned and complained that the parrot still won’t talk. The owner said, “Well, do you have a ladder in the cage?” No. “Try that,” he said, “birds like to exercise and that often gets them talking. So, she bought a ladder. Next day, still no luck. The owner asked the woman, “Do you have a bell?” No. “Well, try that, sometimes the noise gets the birds making sounds and talking.” So, she took a bell home.

            The next day she returned and announced to the owner the bird was dead. The owner said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Did it ever say anything?” “Actually, yes,” said the woman, “right before it died it asked, ‘Do they sell any food at that store?”


In today’s portion of the Lord’s Prayer we’re talking about food,
“Give us this day our daily bread.” You may not have noticed but in today’s verse we make a shift in the prayer. We started the series with the address, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Then we looked at what are known as the three “thou-petitions,” because they refer to God: Hallowed be thy name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done. Considering what we’ve talked about so far with each verse, the Lord’s Prayer means something like this:

·      Our Loving Heavenly Father who cares for me and all people like the best parent ever;

·      Let your character be set apart in my life;

·      And, Carry out your way for this world through my living…


There’s a sequence to this order. The Lord’s Prayer begins with an emphasis on the love of God who wants to know us personally and intimately. Then it focuses on God’s character that is to be holy, set apart, and that happens in us. And next is God’s way for this world that happens through us.


Now, we come to the first of three “We-petitions.” These focus on things we ask God to do for us. The first is “Give us this day our daily bread.” Some of you may be saying, “Finally! Now we are getting to what we need God to do for us.” And if you’ve been with us for this series so far, you’re probably catching on that the words used are symbolic for other things. You may be jumping ahead and thinking, “Okay, I know bread probably stands for food, and I want God to keep me fed, but I imagine its bigger than that. Bread probably stands for all my daily needs, so I can ask God to help me make my mortgage payment, and save enough money for retirement, and provide for my children and grandchildren. You are right there with the reformer, Martin Luther, who said daily bread includes “food, drink, clothes, shoes, houses, farms, fields, money, property, a good marriage, good children…just government, favorable weather, health, good friends, loyal neighbors.” (Liturgy in the Wilderness,p104) That just about covers everything doesn’t it? This is the part of the prayer you’ve been waiting for!


With all respect to Martin Luther, there’s more to this prayer.


Two weeks ago I said that the phrase “hallowed be thy name?” may be the most confusing part of the Lord’s Prayer. Well, this week, our phrase may be the most misunderstood. There’s something about the phrase that doesn’t seem, right, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Amy Jill Levine says this sentence is like the expression “hot water heater.” If the water is already hot why does it need to be heated? If bread comes daily, why say ‘this day?”


So something about this sentence in the prayer seems off. What is it? It is the word “daily.” The Greek word translated daily is epiousion. This word appears in the Greek language for the first time in the Lord’s Prayer. No other literature of the time has it. It doesn’t appear anywhere else in the New Testament. It’s the combination of two words, the prefix epi which means “on, in, upon,” and the participle ousia which means “to be, or essence.” So the idea is that Jesus is talking about
bread that is essential for existence, but here is where the debate comes in. Is that physical bread? Is Jesus talking about what we need to survive. Some say yes.


Others say, no, this is a spiritual reference, like the conversation Jesus had with Mary and Martha. Martha was busy preparing food while Mary spent time in conversation with Jesus. When Martha complained, Jesus said, “Martha, only one thing is needed.” Obviously, Jesus wasn’t talking about lunch. So, they say, daily bread is a spiritual reference.


So, which is it?  When Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is he talking about earthly food or soul food? Is it physical or spiritual? The answer is Yes. It is both.


Jesus gave too much attention to people’s physical needs to ignore this understanding of daily bread. When he was teaching thousands of people one day he realized they were hungry and we need food so he multiplied fish and loaves. He allowed his disciples one day to pluck and eat heads of grain on the Sabbath which was a violation of Jewish law. He took notice of fisherman who caught nothing all night. Remember, this was the livelihood of these fisherman. Jesus cared about that. He told stories that showed his understanding of common, ordinary people like the woman who sows a patch on old clothing. Jesus used an illustration like that because he was familiar with ordinary folks. He knew how they lived and he cared about their needs.


When Jesus taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” that no doubt includes our everyday needs and the things that weigh on our minds. This is where the reference to bread harkens back to the story of the manna in the wilderness. Under Moses the Israelites complained about the need for food, so God gave them a bread-like substance that fell from heaven every morning. The people didn’t recognize it. They asked, “What is it?” That’s why it’s called manna. We could translate the Hebrew word for manna as “watchyacallit.” Every day they would go out and gather some watchyacallit.


Now they got tired of it. Manna wasn’t their first choice of answered prayer, but it gave them what they needed. And that’s the point. Everyday God took care of them. That’s why they couldn’t gather more than what they needed for the day. Manna can’t be hoarded, because they had to learn to trust that everyday God will provide.


That’s why we can pray, “Lord, give us tomorrow’s bread today.” It doesn’t mean we can get God’s provisions in advance. It means when we go to bed at night we don’t have to toss and turn wondering about tomorrow. As scholar Eduard Schweizer says in his commentary, this petition means “grant that we may lie down to sleep not with a sense of abundance or surety against hard times, but simply without despair, knowing that the coming day has been provided for” (The Good News According to Matthew, p154)


But notice like we did in the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, that we don’t pray this prayer personally. We don’t say “give me this day my daily bread.” We pray in awareness of others. The God who cares about feeding us cares about the hunger of all people. When we pray for daily bread we are invited to think about the hunger and daily needs of others.


Stats on hunger…


When we pray “our daily bread” we realize God cares about the needs of the hungry. Years ago, at the church I served, a woman come to see me one day. It was wintertime and we were encouraging people to be spend time with God in prayer every day. She wanted to let me know what had been coming to her in her prayers. She was burdened about people who might not have access to food, especially hot, cooked food. The next day a different woman came to me and shared the same concern.


I did what any sensible pastor would do in that situation. I put the two of them together and got out of the way. Within months we were running a daily soup kitchen staffed fully by volunteers, preparing not only food to eat, but providing space for people who were lonely. They could come and eat a nutritious meal in a place of fellowship and community.


Here at St. Luke’s several years ago we started the Crooked Creek Food Pantry. Maria Blake was the first director, getting the food pantry off the ground. Then, Steve Claffey followed her. He retired as a lawyer and became a full time volunteer at the food pantry helping to expand the numbers of people being served. Steve passed away last year. His last day in church was a Thanksgiving Sunday when we collect food for Crooked Creek. Many of you volunteer there each week, not only supplying food to people, but getting to know clients and caring for them.


This is what happens when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our trust grows, and we help others grow their trust in God as well.


But there is also a spiritual emphasis in this prayer, and that, too, is in keeping with many of the things Jesus said. One time the disciples encouraged Jesus to eat some food because they were concerned about him. Jesus said, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” (John 4:32) I’ve already mentioned his words to Martha about what is needful versus preparing a meal. And then, after performing the miracle of feeding the 5,000, some of the people fed followed Jesus the next day looking for another miracle. Jesus talked to them about the bread of heaven. They said, “Where can we get this bread?”  “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)


Jesus recognized throughout his ministry that we exist on two levels, the physical AND the spiritual. One is not greater than the other. We need spiritual nourishment as much as we do physical nourishment.


Right before giving the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus recommended that when we pray we should go to the closet of our home where we can be alone with God. Most homes of common people of that time were single room houses. The only closet would have been the pantry where the food was kept. So Jesus suggests we pray surrounded by the resources our physical needs and realize we are just as dependent on spiritual resources.


As the old saying goes, “We are not human beings have spiritual experiences. We are essentially spiritual beings having human experiences.”


In her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton tells about Gary Haugen, a former trial attorney with the US Department of Justice, who founded International Justice Mission. He saw so much human rights abuse in the world and wanted to start a faith-based organization to rescue victims and correct abuses. The IJM took off rapidly. On a sabbatical he felt God warning him about prayer-less striving, doing their work on their own strength. Their work was so demanding and emotionally challenging they couldn’t do it without God. So, he began a rhythm with all their staff of spending 15 minutes in prayer every day. He felt convicted that God wanted them to depend completely on God for their work. Later the 15 minutes became a full 30 minutes of each day. He said this produced three important things: Humility, Widsom and Peace. He said, “The kinds of urgent, painful things we deal with on a daily basis can make us anxious and frustrated, but the practice of being quiet in God’s presence brings us back to a place of trust in God’s presence.” (p132)


Notice he says the heaviness and challenge of their work is on a daily basis. No wonder Jesus taught us to pray for daily bread. God stands ready to meet us. God is present and offers his help to us.


So when Jesus was about to depart from the disciples, and he knew they would no longer be able to see him, talk to him physically, have their faith on him confirmed by the miracles they saw him perform, he knew it would be easy for them to turn to their own strength. So he gave them something to remember he present with them. And what did he give them? Bread. Bread and cup. He said this is a symbol of my lasting presence with you. In this I offer you forgiveness and new life. I will refresh you and pour into you.


Let me offer this way of praying this part of the Lord’s Prayer: Lord I trust you to give me what I need every day, and use me to meet the needs of others. Maybe the next time you get wrought with worry and fear about your needs, try focusing on other people and their needs and how you might be an answer to their prayers.


Let us pray…