by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
In holy things may be unholy greed.
Thou giv’st a glimpse of many a lovely thing,
Not to be stored for use in any mind,
But only for the present spiritual need.
The holiest bread, if hoarded, soon will breed
The mammon-moth, the having pride, I find.
George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul, Aug 7
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
Those of you who were here last week know that when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer, I left out the line about our daily bread – “Give us today the food we need.” There is an irony in my skipping that line because food is a significant part of my life. I admit it, I like to eat, and my favorite food is good bread. Obviously, we all need food, yet for many people, and I include myself in this, food is more than just sustenance for our bodies. There is an emotional and spiritual aspect to eating.
Food is also a significant part of the biblical story and Jesus’ ministry. The word bread is found in the gospels at least sixty times and in the rest of the Bible more than 200 times. I didn’t count them up, but there are many stories throughout the Bible that deal with eating and food. Certainly that includes the Lord’s Supper. This morning I want to look at a story that comes out of the Old Testament.
Moses and the Israelites had left Egypt. They had seen an incredible display of God’s power. God sent plagues to destroy their Egyptian masters, including the Passover which killed their firstborn sons. They saw God part the Red Sea, allowing them to cross but destroying the Egyptian army when they tried to follow. They went out into the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. They got to an oasis called Elim. There was plenty of water, but they realized that their food would soon run out. It takes a lot of food to feed six million people.
At that point the Israelites started to complain to Moses. They really were complaining against God, but Moses was an easier target, and safer. “We were better off back in Egypt. At least we had enough food there.” God took care of the problem by providing food.
Every evening a flock of quail landed in the camp. People went out and captured enough birds to feed their family. They had fresh meat every night. That was extravagant. Every morning, when they woke up, the ground was covered with dew. As the dew evaporated there was some sort of a bread left on the ground. They called it manna, which means “What is it?” It was sweet and tasted like honey. There was more than enough for everyone.
There was only one stipulation. They could only gather enough food for one day at a time. Not everyone followed that plan. Some of them tried to store up extra, but when they went to eat it the next day it was rotten and covered with maggots. God promised them daily bread and daily meat. It was a reminder, every day, that they were completely dependent upon God for all their needs.
Jesus knew this story of the manna and the quail. As he taught his disciples to pray he picked up on this story and prayed “Give us today our daily bread.” Jesus reminded the disciples, and us, that we are dependent on God for our food and for our lives. We need God every day. Let me share with you two reflections on this prayer.
First, when we pray “Give us today the food we need” we are affirming the goodness of God’s creation and that God cares for our bodies. In our world today there is a dualistic belief. Dualism is the idea that the spiritual world is different than the physical world. God is interested in the spiritual world, but not in the physical world. The creation, including our bodies, is corrupt and evil. Salvation is being set free from the physical world so that we can be true spiritual beings.
2000 years ago the early Church struggled with this idea. One of the main rivals to the early Christian faith was a religion called Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that the physical world was created by a lower god, a second-rate god. Some even associated the God of the Old Testament with the god of creation. Above this god of creation was the true god, the all-powerful god. Salvation was deliverance from this evil, physical world. This salvation came through knowledge. The Greek word for knowledge is gnosis, therefore the term Gnosticism. (Gnosis has a silent g, just as knowledge has a silent k.) Some Gnostics even believed that this knowledge came through Jesus.
The earliest Christians rejected Gnosticism. They proclaimed that Jesus was fully God and fully human. He had a body. He lived in the physical world. Therefore the physical world is not evil. When Jesus prayed “Give us today our daily bread,” he was teaching that the physical world is good and that God cares what happens in it. A Gnostic would never pray that prayer.
“Give us today the food we need to sustain our bodies.” This prayer reminds us that the physical world is not evil. Salvation is not deliverance out of the physical world. God is the creator and cares about the creation. God cares about the physical world, including our bodies. God provides for our basic physical needs. God wants us to have enough food, good health and life in abundance. This message is a wonderful comfort whenever we are worried about our lives. It is also a challenge for us to care for our bodies. It is a call to make sure we get enough sleep, that we exercise on a regular basis and that we eat a healthy diet.
God cares what happens to you. He cares what you do to and for your body. Take comfort in the good news that God wants to provide for your basic, physical needs. Therefore we pray, give us today the food we need.
The second reflection is more challenging. I would imagine that most of us could go home and find enough food to eat today, and probably for tomorrow and for several more days, maybe even for a week or longer. By almost any standard in the world, we are rich. We have an abundance of food, an abundance of things, and the potential to buy more.
This weekend there were hundreds of teenagers up at Camp Crestfield participating in the 30 Hour Famine. They ate lunch on Friday, then skipped dinner as well as breakfast and lunch on Saturday. They fasted for about 30 hours. It is a fund-raiser for World Vision to help feed hungry people throughout the world.
I’ve done the 30 Hour Famine several times. It isn’t too hard, until you get around food. In one church we gave the kids $1.00 apiece and had them go to a grocery store to buy the food that they would fix for the dinner that would break the fast. When you are hungry it isn’t fun to wander through a grocery store. One year up at Crestfield I was with a group of kids that went to a thrift store that had used clothes and other items for people who couldn’t afford new things. We helped with various tasks around their shop. What they didn’t realize was that we were fasting for the 30 Hour Famine, so they provided freshly baked cinnamon rolls! Do you remember my comment about good bread being my favorite food? Saying no to those rolls was hard.
At the end of 30 hours without food your energy level is low. The reality is that in our world there are millions of people who experience that every day. 21,000 people die from hunger every day. Five million children die every year from malnutrition. And I could go home and probably survive for a week on the food that is in our home.
How do we make sense of a prayer for daily bread when most of us have an abundance of food and other things? To me, there is one conclusion; when we pray this prayer we are committing ourselves to help feed the hungry. We are committing to help people with the physical needs of life. Notice that the prayer doesn’t say “give me my daily bread.” It’s “give us our bread.” It is a corporate prayer that includes all the people of the world. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are being called to participate in feeding the hungry and meeting the physical needs of people in our world.
We have the Food Pantry over here that is a wonderful ministry of this church and other area churches. This is one way that we participate in feeding the hungry and meeting physical needs. A few people work over there on Tuesdays – it would be wonderful to have more people helping out. Many of you bring food that is given out to the clients. Thank you for that. Are there other ministries that we could, and should, participate in? Our mission committee is trying a variety of mission experiments. Last Thursday we went over to Aliquippa to the Uncommon Grounds Café. In a few weeks we are again helping out with Family Promise, a ministry that enables homeless families to stay together. All of these mission opportunities push us out of our comfort zone and challenge us to share God’s love in new ways.
Justin went to the Wednesday Night Bible study at his church. The pastor talked about prayer, listening to God, and obeying God. He wondered, “Does God still speak to people today?” As he walked out to his car to drive home he prayed, “God, if you speak I’ll listen and do my best to obey.” He got into his car, fastened his seat belt, and as he started the car he had a strange thought – go buy a gallon of milk. He hadn’t heard any voice and didn’t know if it was God, but the idea of buying milk kept bothering him. Finally, he thought “What the heck. I’ll use the milk.” He stopped at a grocery store and bought a gallon of milk.
Justin got back into his car to drive home, with his milk. After a few blocks he got an urge, “Turn left on Seventh Street.” He turned onto Seventh Street, drove for a few blocks and pulled over to the curb and looked around. There were several business on one side of the street, though they were all closed for the night. There were some vacant lots on the other side of the street and then a few houses. Again he sensed something. “Go give the milk to the people in the house across the street.”
Justin looked at the house. It was dark. Either there was no one home or the people were already asleep. He thought, “Lord, this is crazy. If there is someone in there they are already asleep. If I wake them up to give them the milk they’ll be mad and I’ll look stupid.” The only response he got was the urge to go and give the milk.
Finally he got out of his car, walked across the street and knocked on the door. He figured if no one answered right away he was going to leave. But as soon as he knocked someone yelled out, “Who is it? What do you want?” A man opened the door and peered out with an angry scowl on his face. He didn’t look too happy at having a stranger knock on his door at this time of the night. Justin handed over the gallon of milk. “Here, I brought this to you.”
The man grabbed the milk and rushed down the hallway. A woman came back down the hallway carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man followed carrying a baby who was crying. He said to Justin, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and had run out of money. We didn’t know how we were going to buy milk for our baby. I was just asking God to show me how to get some milk.” His wife shouted from the kitchen. “I asked God to send us an angel. Are you an angel?” Justin took out his wallet and gave them all the money he had. As he walked back to his car tears of joy streamed down his face. He knew that God still speaks to people today, and God answers our prayers.
“Give us this day our daily bread, or milk. Give us the food we need. Amen.”