Our Daily Bread
Matthew 6:11, Luke 11:3
When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt after 430 years of living there, and eventually being enslaved there, the Bible tells us that he led 600,000 men, and that number isn’t counting the women and children. The Bible says it was 600,000 men PLUS women and children. Well over one million people easily. And with them were huge flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle and donkeys and camels. It was an absolutely enormous collection of people and animals raising dust as they headed out of Egypt, and then miraculously across the Red Sea, and on into the wilderness north and east of Egypt as they headed toward the land God had promised to give them.
Now, if you’re familiar with logistics at all, you know that moving that many people and animals and keeping them alive and fed and watered would not have been a simple or easy task. Millions, plural, of animals needed water to drink daily and adequate graze. And well over one million people needed to be fed three meals a day as well, and they needed fluids … water to drink. This was no small undertaking. And when they got out into the wilderness, the people started to worry about having enough food. Exodus 16 tells the story.
Quail and manna. Meat and bread miraculously provided. Enough for every person, male and female, from the youngest to the oldest, to have enough. To be filled. Never too much. Never too little. Always enough. If you tried to hoard it, it rotted. Except on Friday, when you could gather enough for Friday and Saturday, which was the Sabbath day, a day of rest for them. Saturday’s appropriate, enough, ration didn’t rot. Ever. But if you saved that much Monday to try to get ahead for Tuesday because the Jones were stopping by your tent for drinks and cards after a day of wandering in the wilderness, and you wanted to impress them, THEN the extra days rations would rot. Always enough. Never too much. Daily bread.
This fall, we’re walking together through the Lord’s prayer a phrase at a time. A prayer that we often speak together during worship. I pray the Lord’s prayer, I hope mindfully, three times each day myself. It’s a prayer that even many who don’t follow Christ know the words to. They can say it along with the pastor at a wedding or a funeral or at the baptism service of a family member or friend. It is easily the most familiar prayer in the world. The prayer Jesus used to teach his disciples how to pray when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” A familiar prayer, yes. But also a bold one, as we’re discovering as we walk through it together this fall. The great theologian Frederick Buechner says, “To speak these words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.” The first three petitions of the prayer focus on the power and glory of God. “May your name be hallowed, seen as holy.” “May your kingdom come.” “May your will be done.”
And then the prayer shifts, from God’s power and glory to our need. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Or as Luke records, “Give us each day our daily bread.” Daily bread. Daily manna. God’s provision for daily needs. Not gluttony. Not greed. Just daily needs. “Give us this day our daily bread.” That simple phrase says a lot more than we think it says. It says a lot about God, and it says a lot about us.
Jesus teaches us to pray to our good, loving, perfect heavenly Father, the only truly good father, asking for our daily bread. As “our Father,” he delights in meeting the needs of his people. God loves to provide. And to go above and beyond. When the Israelites in the wilderness grumbled and God provided manna, daily bread, he could have made it simple and bland. Nutritious but not all that exciting to eat. Like some kind of nutritious cracker. But he didn’t. He made it pleasing to eat. In the story of the Exodus, we read, “Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Ex. 16:31). It’s taste was of coriander sweetened with honey. It didn’t just do the job. It tasted good too. It was pleasurable to eat.
What’s your favorite food? No, really, call it out. Steak? Ice cream? Homemade cherry pie? Thai green curry? You know, God could have just made us to be sustained by fuel, like a biscuit, or even water. Instead, he made us in a way that we are sustained by a vast and wonderful array of foods … meats and vegetables and fruits and grains, and foods made from them. Food is a central experience of God’s goodness. God created this universe to be experienced and enjoyed. The world is more delicious than it needs to be. God didn’t HAVE to make us in such a way that we enjoy a prime cut of meat or delicious scoop of ice cream. Ashby’s Sterling Cherry Amaretto. Or Moomer’s Cherries Moobilee. The fact that we even have words to describe pleasurable experiences, words like delicious and scrumptious and delightful and satisfied are proof in and of themselves that we live in a world we are meant to enjoy. We have a superabundance of divine goodness and generosity. God went over the top. We don’t need the variety we enjoy, but he gave it to us out of sheer exuberant joy and grace.[i]
Our Father, our good, and loving, and just, and holy … our perfectly good father loves to provide for his people. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” This is the good heavenly Father to whom we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
You see, not only is God our loving, perfect heavenly Father who loves to provide for us, we also are completely and totally dependent upon him. Bread is the most basic of basic needs. Now, I’m not going to get into the gluten free thing here. I know there are many these days who cannot consume bread or grain products, but throughout human history, bread has been the most basic staple of meals around the world. Whether it’s a flour or corn tortilla in Central and South America, or fry bread among the people native to North America, or matzah bread in the Middle East, or a steaming loaf of wheat bread fresh out of the oven here in America today, bread has been and continues to be the most basic of basic staples. It represents our most basic needs. Our need for enough, but not too much, to eat. Our need for clean air to breathe and fresh water to drink. Our need for safety and security, to be able to sleep feeling protected and safe rather than in danger. Our need for sexual fulfillment in a loving relationship.
And when Jesus instructs us to pray, “Give us this day, or each day, our daily bread,” he is reminding us that our human bodies, these physical, skin and bone and blood and water vessels that carry us through this life matter. Our bodies matter. The needs of our bodies matter. They are important. There isn’t some kind of divine hierarchy between the physical and the spiritual. Yes, these physical bodies will die, but in Christ we will receive new ones that will not die. And eternity with Christ isn’t a bunch of angels sitting on clouds playing harps. Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. A real physical AND spiritual place. The book of Revelation says “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). Heaven come to the redeemed earth, the new earth. The cosmos reborn. We are not to deify and worship the human form, but neither are we to despise it, for we are created in the image of God, and Jesus, the eternal Son, became like one of us.
Not only do our bodies matter, we are completely dependent on God for sustained life in these bodies. Many of us don’t have a real understanding of that today, with supermarkets filled with food and restaurants ready and willing to serve. They give us the illusion of security. A security that isn’t real. We think we are meeting our own needs. That we don’t need God anymore. And that’s a lie. A lie told by the mask of security. There are many right here in our midst who don’t have the money to buy everything they need when they go to the store, if they have the money to go at all.
And those who do have money to shop for food are getting just a small taste, a microscopic taste, of what it feels like to maybe not have enough as we experience small product shortages created by the pandemic. Remember early on when we all wondered if we were going to be able to buy toilet paper? Not because we didn’t have the money, but because there wasn’t toilet paper to buy? And then it was meat for a while. Beef was scarce, chicken was scarce. And what do we do when we experience even that kind of minor inconvenience? We panic and hoard, don’t we? How many of you at some point in the last year had a stockpile of toilet paper, or disinfecting wipes? Or you bought more meat than you needed for the week and froze it? Or you tried to figure out if you could raise a pig and some chickens in your suburban back yard? Some small glitches in the system, and we panicked, didn’t we?
So what happens if America’s agricultural belt, the prairie states that have such fertile soil and provide the bulk of our meat and grain, experience sustained droughts like California has experienced for several years now? What happens if many of us have the money to purchase food, but there’s no food to purchase? It seems unthinkable, but there are places in the world where it happens in each and every generation. What happens when it touches us here? We’ll learn what it really means to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We may think we don’t need God. That we don’t need God for the meeting of our daily needs. But we do. In Colossians 1:17, St. Paul, speaking of Jesus, says, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” In Jesus, our lives, our bodies, and the cosmos are held together. We are completely and utterly dependent upon him. When we pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” we are acknowledging our dependence upon God for meeting even our most basic needs.
Now, there’s another word in this line, besides the words “daily” and “bread.” It’s a word that runs throughout the prayer, actually. It is the word, “our.” Our daily bread. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is perfectly fine to pray this prayer alone. Like I said, I pray it myself three times a day. But whenever we pray this prayer, we are acknowledging over and over again that we are a part of a community. Give US this day OUR daily bread. We are praying for God’s provision and blessing for farmers and ranchers and we are praying against famine and drought. We are praying for the processors who turn plants and animals into food, and for the truck drivers who move the food around the country. We are praying for the whole system. But because the prayer is for our most basic needs, we are also praying for social and medical services to be provisioned and provided for. We are crying out against poverty and praying against unemployment and underemployment. Whenever we pray, whether we are praying alone or as a family or as a group or as a church, we are praying as a part of a praying community.
Following Jesus isn’t a solo sport. Oh, you can find God on the golf course, or out on the water, or out in the woods, or on your bike, or out on a run. But that CANNOT be the ONLY way you find God, the only way you meet with Jesus. The concept of the lone ranger follower of Jesus is completely foreign to a biblical worldview. Every analogy in Scripture for followers of Jesus is communal. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. A kingdom is communal. We are children of our heavenly Father. A family is communal. We are each parts of the body of Christ. A body is a community of parts working together. Yes, you absolutely can and should meet with God, interact with God, just you and God, whether you’re on the water or in the woods or out on the road. But that CANNOT be the only way. We are to gather together to encourage one another, to teach one another, to correct one another, and to worship God together. He is not MY Father, he is OUR Father. I am not to pray for MY daily bread, WE are to pray for OUR daily bread, both alone in our own times of prayer, and together. When we pray, we are praying, crying out to God, not only for our own basic needs, but for the basic needs of those around us, and those who are a part of this human family that each one of us is also a part of.
Sometimes people read, and even pray this prayer, and don’t really know what it has to do with poverty, with hunger, with disease and sickness. On the surface, this prayer is silent about these issues. So, when we come across hunger and poverty and homelessness, we don’t know what to do. And so we judge. We assume that those who are experiencing hunger and poverty are doing so because of their own sin, their own laziness. They’re reaping what they’ve sown. And sometimes, that’s the case. But not always. In fact, not usually. But we want to think it is. So what’s going on? Does God love some people more than others? Absolutely not. Today, in the mountains of Guatemala, a woman will climb a mountain to gather wood to make a fire, and then descend to her hut. Once she’s unloaded the wood she’s gathered, she’ll climb again, on foot, with a massive jar, to obtain water to cook with, and for her family to drink. And then she’ll carefully grind each kernel of corn that her husband has been able to raise that has been rationed for this day, meticulous in not losing one precious kernel. And then she’ll fashion the ground corn into tortillas, bread, to feed herself, her husband, and her hungry children. And do you know what she’ll do tomorrow? The exact same thing.
Does God love you more than her? Has God blessed you more than her because you’re more valuable than her. Absolutely not. When Satan fell, sin and brokenness became a possibility. And when Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation, sin and brokenness entered the created order. Poverty and hunger and disease and homelessness, along with selfishness and greed, went from possibility to reality. And they will be with us until Christ returns. And until that time comes, we must remember that we are a part of a community. That our actions really do impact others, and that God has called us to care for one another. That’s the blessing in the midst of the curse – that those who have more than enough are able to share with those who don’t have enough.
The prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 55:1, paints a beautiful picture of life in God’s kingdom with these words: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The kingdom of God is a kingdom of more than enough for all. More than enough to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. More than enough salvation. More than enough forgiveness. And more than enough grace. In this fallen world, resources are limited. And we, as the people of God, followers of Christ, are given the responsibility of meeting the needs of those around us, and of providing for the meeting of needs around the world. We are given the blessing of sharing. There is no such thing as a follower of Christ who doesn’t care about the needs of others, whether those needs are the fault of the person in need or not. When we became followers of Jesus, we left the kingdom of not enough, of scarcity and greed and hoarding, and we became citizens of the Kingdom of more than enough.
Our good and loving heavenly Father delights in providing for his people, through his people. And whether we believe it or not, we are wholly dependent upon him for the meeting of even our basic needs. Yes, right here in America. We are dependent on God, every day. And so we join with our neighborhood, our community, our country, and our world and we pray, “Our Father … give us this day, our daily bread.”
St. Basil the Great was one of the earliest of church fathers. He died in the year 379 as bishop of Caesarea. In one of the many works that he wrote, he wrote these words: “The bread that is spoiling in your house belongs to the hungry. The shoes that are mildewing under your bed belong to those who have none. The clothes stored away in your trunk belong to those who are naked. The money that depreciates in your treasury belongs to the poor!”[ii] Our Father, give us this day, our bread for this day. Amen.
[i] Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus (Crossway, 2011), pp. 67-68
[ii] St. Basil the Great, as quoted in Willimon and Hauerwas, pg. 76.