Our Daily Bread - February 7, 2021
Matthew 6: 11
Sermon: “Our Daily Bread”
So here we have what is likely the most famous, most known, most repeated prayer in human history; certainly among Christians. And within that prayer, we have one of the more quoted lines, one of the more meaningful lines for a lot of people: “give us this day our daily bread.” It’s powerful, it’s meaningful to so many, and for so many reasons.
Of course, that phrase “our daily bread,” or “give us this day our daily bread,” has taken on a life of its own, and a meaning all to its own. But Jesus of course would’ve been speaking to a group of people, a lot of people, roughly around 5000 probably were gathered on the side of a hill just off the sea of Galilee, on a mount, for the Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus is preaching to them. He says that “When you pray, pray this way,” and included within that prayer is this request of God that God would give to them their daily bread.
Among those within that crowd were a lot of people in a lot of different situations. But for a lot of them, for the poor of that day, that phrase was a very literal phrase. Meat was a specialty, it was a commodity, you didn’t just kill an animal just to kill an animal. Rather, you used the animal to produce something, milk or eggs or something like that. So meat wasn’t really a thing they ate that often, it was a special occasions type deal. What they ate was grain, and particularly wheat, as it is one of the things that grows the best there in Israel. And so it was not uncommon to have bread, and what fruits you could get on that land. So that was the meal right. And for a lot of people in that time you had one meal per day, usually sometime in the late afternoon or the early evening, and the main part of that meal would be bread, and it would be wine if you could get it. And then the rest of the day you have minor fruits and water. That was the daily meal. And for the poorest of the poor, they weren’t necessarily sure where that next day’s meal was going to come from. They have to go out into the city square and hope that someone hired them and paid them the full day’s wages so they could go get the meal for the family for the next day. So this prayer is literal: give us this day, today, oh Lord, our daily bread. Let us eat. Gift to us that which we need.
Throughout the centuries, particularly as we get into the more affluent areas of the Roman Empire and then western culture and particularly in the United States where we aren’t necessarily wondering where tomorrow’s meal (or meals) are going to come from, this passage has tended to take on a mindset of “Jesus is really saying ‘give us this day, oh God, what we need.’” Grant what we need. And for us, that might be food, it might be shelter, it might be clothing, it might be water. Those are the base needs. Or it might be something more: we might need security, we might need love, we might need acceptance, or joy, or whatever it is. And we’re praying that the Lord give us this day that which we need.
But as we pray this prayer, as I see this prayer trying to be lived out in our world, I see two main problems that come up. The first main problem that comes up is when we pray “Lord, give me what I need,” and then the Lord gives us what we need, but we think we need more than that. We start to get greedy. We start to want that little bit extra. And furthermore we start to feel like we need that little bit extra. In the hierarchy of needs, everything short of food, water, clothing, and shelter is not a need in this context, it is mostly a want, and yet we declare them as needs and then we pray “Lord, give us what we need,” and then we get angry when God doesn’t give us what we want.
We’ve seen this play out this past week, not in terms of God but an example of this kind of greed playing out this past week in the stock market. So you’ve probably heard at least somewhat of the reddit buying of stock in GameStop, which showed an example of this greed to me. In the stock market, of course, if you buy stock in the way it supposed to work, you buy stock in the hopes that the company that you invested in will do well and the price of that stock will go up so that later you can sell that stock for a more money than you bought it for, and you can earn money in the in between. That’s how the stock market is supposed to work. In terms of stocks, that is what the stock “needs” is to grow. And some get what they need, and some are starving, they shrink. They’re not getting their needs, or their daily bread in our metaphor.
But because some stocks don’t go up, the stock market is not an ever increasing commodity, there came people who began to go in and figure out “OK, who is failing? Who is struggling? Who is down on their luck?” And what they do is they bet on them to fail. So they would take stock, and actually they borrowed the stock from someone who didn’t want to sell it, and they borrow that stock, they sell the stock, and they announce that in hopes that the price would fall. And then later they would buy the stock back up at a lower price and give it back to the person they borrowed it from, and they are able to keep the profit. So that they could gain while the company was losing.
And keep in mind, this is an already struggling company most times. And when they announce they’re selling, that drives and already struggling stock down. And there’s real lives and real people on the other side of that. In order to do this, the people who are borrowing and selling stock are exploiting other, real people. In order to get more, they are exploiting the not too well-off, the struggling business, for their own personal gain. Because it wasn’t enough to have what they need. It wasn’t enough to just buy stock in good companies and watch them grow. They wanted to get a little bit more. And what happens when we think we need a little bit more than what we actually need is that typically in order to do that we have to exploit somebody else. And we’ve seen that in our world, in our history, in this nation and in previous nations from all throughout human history: when people begin to want more than their needs, they’re willing to exploit people to get it. That’s what happens when we begin to pray for our daily bread, but mean our daily three-course meal.
That’s the first problem that I see with this prayer being just routinely said without too much thought. But the second problem is just as important to recognize and guard against as the first, and that is it sometimes (I’ll speak for myself here), sometimes I don’t want what I need. Sometimes I don’t want what I need.
I have a 10 pound dog, a Yorkshire Terrier. She’s a wonderful dog, but she’s very opinionated and she does not enjoy getting wet. Not in any way, shape, or form. And she particularly does not enjoy bath time. So, what we have to do is we have to trick her. We will get a treat, and get her up on our lap, and then will grab her and take her into the bathroom and shut all the doors. And then she’ll usually acquiesce and she’ll get in the bathtub and let us bathe her. But if we are unable to catch her, and she knows that we’re getting ready to give her a bath, she’ll hide, and she’ll get under the bed where we can’t quite get her. She does not want that bath.
But the reality is that if she does not get a bath at least sometimes, her hair will start to matte and start to stick together. And things will get caught up in it, and there could be disease and bugs and things like that. So to prevent that matted hair, she needs to have a bath. It’s a need to prevent some of these horrible horrible things that can come from matted hair. But she doesn’t want it. Inevitably she’s not very happy with me when I give her one.
I find this playing out in my spiritual life as well. There’s times where I don’t want what I need. Maybe I need a stern message from God that says I’m going in the wrong direction and I better stop and turn around now (otherwise known as repentance). But the problem is that this wrong direction had a Dairy Queen at the end of it, and I really want an ice cream cone, and why couldn’t God just let me get the ice cream and then turn me around!
Whatever your ice cream is.
I need the message. And the problem begins when we are praying this prayer every week, “give us our daily bread,” and saying that that means “Lord give to me what I need,” but believing that that means that God will give us those things that make us happy. And then when God gives us something that doesn’t make us happy, but which we need, and we begin to resent that. And we begin to resent God from doing that. In terms of spiritual life, sometimes what happens is we start to neglect our spiritual disciplines, because God keeps talking mean words in them.
We have physical needs, and a lot of her physical needs get met in our bread; in our food, in the things that we consume. And likewise we have spiritual needs, and our spiritual needs are getting met in spiritual disciplines. There’s a reason that in the back of both churches there’s a little booklet that is a devotional, and the title is Our Daily Bread. Spring Hill has another devotional called The Upper Room, evoking images of communion, where Christ gave us bread. We will celebrate later today.
And there’s a reason that both of these devotionals are invoking this idea of bread and nourishment; because of the study of Scripture in this way is nourishment for your soul. The study of Scriptures is nourishment for your soul. And as you’re studying the Scripture, as you’re reading perhaps what is written there on the page, God sometimes pokes at you and gives you something you need that particular day. This is my experience. But sometimes I don’t want to hear it, and if I don’t wanna hear it enough, sometimes I “forget” to do my devotion the next morning, and the next morning, and the next morning; and eventually I’m not studying Scripture anymore. I’m intentionally trying to keep the Shepherd from directing me.
So as we pray this prayer of asking for what we need, our daily bread, we have to do so keeping in mind and trusting that God will give us what we need even if he doesn’t feel that good in the moment, but also that God will not give us more than we need. And praying that in that way, at least if we mean it, takes a level of trust. It is a sign of a deep faith. It’s not easy. It’s not easy. But what I’m gonna challenge you to do this week is to do that: to pray in that way. Perhaps pray the Lord‘s prayer every day this week as you’re praying and at your 10:45 time slot, as you’ve been doing since January 17; instead of the prayer in the book of worship this week, I want you to pray the Lord‘s prayer. But I want you to put it in your own words. So what you gonna have to do there is probably to say the prayer, and then rephrase it. “Our father, our parents and the one who who loves us, hallowed be your name, your name be glorified.” Etc. But even if you don’t do it for every single line, at least when you get to “give us this day our daily bread” I want you to you put that into your own words, something along the lines of “give me what I need, only what I need, and help me to accept it.” I want you to pray that this week in your morning prayers.
The last thing I wanna say about this as we head into communion is something I alluded to earlier, that for a lot of people, not only did they have only one meal per day, but that meal looked a lot like the little boy in John chapter 5: five loaves of bread and two fish. Bread was a staple, and they would often have wine as well. That was their daily meal. And I pointed out to note that when Jesus gets up to the upper room, and he sitting with his disciples instituting the Eucharist, he’s taking items that they see every single day. And he’s saying that every time you eat this, remember me; and every time you drink of this, remember me. He’s not expecting them to be eating that and drinking that once a month on the first Sunday of the month either, he’s expecting them to be eating and drinking it every single day, maybe multiple times a day, and remembering him every single time that they do. That’s why when I lead at Institute, or at youth group, or those sort of things, I like to do communion, not with fancy elements like this, but with store-bought hot dog buns and a red solo cup. The reason is that I know that they’re heading out to college, and they’re not likely to see the fancy goblet, but they’re probably gonna see a red solo cup. And maybe they’re gonna see a red solo cup in the most tempting parts of their time at college. And I want to at least once try to instill something in their brain that triggers a memory of Christ in that moment. Communion was meant to be thought of at least daily.
I know you’re not gonna face red solo cups every day, nor am I changing the elements here, but I want you, in each of your meals, to think about communion this week. At least in every dinner. Think about communion, remember what Christ has done for us as you say grace over that meal, and as you eat that meal, or at least as you pray in the morning. Remember Christ daily, as if this was your daily bread. Because it is. Amen.