February 6, 2011

Matthew 6:9-11 & Exodus 16:1-21

“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

Today is the sixth of a ten-week sermon series exploring the rich and multifaceted Lord’s Prayer.

Listen to the podcast here:  110206 Sermon Podcast

Franklin Circle Christian Church

Rev. Allen V. Harris

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  This line, perhaps like no other, speaks to our hungering selves in so many ways, carrying in it everything from hunger pains gurgling from our breakfast-deprived bellies to the deeper longings for the “hopes and fears of all the years,” all seeking to be “met in Thee tonight.”  Bread has always been a symbol for more than flour and yeast and water.  Bread is everything which we need to survive as well as everything our hearts desire.  Truly, “bread” can extend from the sublime to the ridiculous.

“Give us…”  A line that has become all-too-familiar in our instant gratification world.  “Give us,” which is usually heard “Give me!”  “Gimme” the spoiled

"Mine!" Seagulls from "Finding Nemo"

toddler whines!  The seagulls in the brilliant animated movie, “Finding Nemo,” can only cry “Mine!,” “Mine!,” “Mine!” intent upon snatching the next fish to add to their already bloated gullets. It’s hard to pray for “us” and “our” needs when it is so easy to pray for “me” and “my” needs.

But am I praying only for my needs?  What is the difference between needs and wants?  What do we truly need and what is it that we only want?  Is one person’s needs another person’s wants?  Or, vice versa, is one person’s wants another person’s needs? James Oppenheim’s haunting labor rights poem, set to music and sung by the likes of Judy Collins and John Denver, reminds us that an easy distinction between needs and wants is not always easy nor fair.  “Hearts starve as well as bodies;” the poem implores, “give us bread, but give us roses!”

My struggle with this is deep, personal, and too often painful.  Yes, I need food that is healthy, water that is clean, clothes that are warm, a home that is secure, and employment that is sufficient.  But I am not a simple creature, for God has placed within me hungers which are not familiar to other species on this planet.  I long for beauty.  I yearn for music.  I crave affection.  I ache for touch.  I even hunger for meaning and purpose.  Princeton, the lead character in the Broadway musical show “Avenue Q,” spends most of the crazy storyline searching for his purpose.  “Purpose, it’s that little flame that lights a fire under your (Bleep).  Purpose, it keeps you going strong, like a car with a full tank of gas.” (2)

But ultimately, whether we are talking about our needs, our wants, or some very human fusion of both, we have to ask ourselves the question: “How much is enough.”  Whether it is truly bread for the belly or song for the soul, there is a wide range of fulfillment possible, from not enough, to just enough, to enough, to more than enough, to too much.  How much is enough is, perhaps, one of the most critical questions of the entire human race, and I mean to use the double entendre.  The human race, and the human race.

Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread.  He didn’t say, “give us every day,” but “this day. He didn’t say “bread for the rest of our lives, or even enough bread to get through the week.”  He said, “give us this day our daily bread.”  He was hearkening back to the Israelites in the wilderness, living between the regular and predictable – though meager – sustenance of slavery and the hoped-for, attractive, but as-yet-unrealized promise of abundance in a “land flowing with milk and honey.”  Here, in the in-between, anxieties magnify, tensions build, and anger sets in.  Demanding that Moses, the one God called to lead this motley crew from one reality to another, make better provisions for them.  Moses turns to the one who led them this far, and God

From: http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,584827,00.html

Nepalese woman harvesting, from Spiegel Online

responded.  Manna from heaven, bread enough for the day, came each morning and quails, meat enough for the day, came at night.  Every day was sufficient unto itself.  Hoarding resulted in worms and decay.  The only day one could take more than a day’s worth was before the Sabbath, so that the people could rest on the Sabbath.  In the wilderness, between slavery and the promised land, God taught the people how to have enough.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

No theologian, in my humble estimation, has done a better job of evaluating “enoughness” than Walter Brueggemann.  In his article, “Enough Is Enough,” (3) he gives a brilliant and sweeping look at the biblical mandate, no – invitation –  to live with enough, which becomes a stinging critique of our human institutions, tendencies, and ideologies towards hoarding, grasping, stealing, and self-preservation.  Brueggemann writes,

We live in a world where the gap between scarcity and abundance grows wider every day.  Whether at the level of nations or neighborhoods, this widening gap is polarizing people, making each camp more and more suspicious and antagonistic toward the other.  But the peculiar thing, at least from a biblical perspective, is that the rich – the ones with the abundance – rely on an ideology of scarcity, while the poor – the ones suffering from scarcity – rely on an ideology of abundance.  How can that be?  The issue involves whether there is enough to go around – enough food, water, shelter, space.  An ideology of scarcity says no, there’s not enough, so hold onto what you have.  In fact, don’t just hold onto it, hoard it.  Put aside more than you need, so that if you do need it, it will be there, even if others must do without.  An affirmation of abundance says just the opposite: Appearances notwithstanding, there is enough to go around, so long as each of us takes only what we need.  In fact, if we are willing to have but not hoard, there will even be more than enough left over.  The Bible is about abundance.

Walter Brueggemann

Brueggemann then offers biblical passage after biblical passage where God calls us to withstand the temptations of a fear-based model of scarcity and live into a hope-filled promise of abundance.  From Genesis 1 where “God’s generosity and fidelity reach their climax,” to Exodus 16 where “the gift of bread transforms the wilderness.”  From Jesus taking five or seven loaves of bread and a few fish and feeding thousands upon thousands, to Jesus tirelessly working to help his disciples to watch him and learn as he “went around to people suffering from scarcity – of health, of acceptance, of power, of understanding – and replaced it with the gift of abundance,” in order to empower those disciples to go and do likewise.

Brueggemann applies this to our present time when he writes,

Today, the fundamental human condition continues to be anxiety, fueled by a market ideology that keeps pounding on us to take more, to not think about our neighbor, to be fearful, shortsighted, grudging.

He focuses on one of the first great acts of counter-culture rebellion God instituted in the very first days of creation: The Sabbath.  And I am quite painfully aware that what he says, and what God is calling us to in living into the Sabbath, is as much a conviction of my own personal calendar and my leadership at Franklin Circle Christian Church as it is an analysis of the culture around us.  Admitting that, I still share with you his assessment:

Honoring the Sabbath is a form of witness.  It tells the world that “there is enough.”  Too often, the church has understood God’s unconditional grace as solely a theological phenomenon, instead of recognizing that it has to do with the reordering of the economy of the world.  We cannot separate the two.  When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he replied with a trick answer: “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  You can’t have just one; you need to have both.  And the link that unites them is God’s limitless generosity, acknowledged and enacted.  When we gather as church each Sunday, we should ponder the stories that declare scarcity to be false: an impromptu hillside meal with as much in left-overs as when it began, a barren desert blossoming with manna, an earth fully equipped to meet everyone’s needs.  And a question should be burning in our hearts: “What if it is true? What if one of the links between the Creator’s generosity and the neighbor’s needs is us, this community?”  If that is not true, then scarcity rules and we are in sorry shape.  But if it is, and if we believe it is, we can begin life anew as stewards of God’s abundance.

As we contemplate Jesus’ simple prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” let us become ever more mindful of what are our needs and wants, and what is sufficient for us to survive and thrive this very day.  It will most likely mean ignoring the world’s pounding rhetoric that “there’s not enough to go around” and heeding God’s calm but persistent invitation to Sabbath rest.  As we contemplate Jesus’ profound prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” let us hear in it how we can transform the world’s messages about scarcity into a personal and congregational commitment to the generous abundance to which God has not only called us, but with which God has already equipped us to accomplish.  And, ultimately, may we not simply contemplate this call, but live it out today, this day.  May it be so!


(1) The slogan “Bread and Roses” originated in a poem of that name by James Oppenheim, published in The American Magazine in December 1911, which attributed it to “the women in the West.” It is commonly associated with a textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts during January-March 1912, now often known as the “Bread and Roses strike”.  The slogan appeals for both fair wages and dignified conditions. Found online at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_and_Roses

(2) Lyrics found at: http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/avenueq/purpose.htm.  Official site: http://www.avenueq.com/ [Note: adult language and swear words are used abundantly in this play!]

(3) Walter Brueggemann, The Other Side Online, © 2001 The Other Side, November-December 2001, Vol. 37, No. 5.  Copies available from the pastor upon request.  Found online at: http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/1181.htm