Sunday, September 16, 2012

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread ... between a disinterested diety and Jesus in my Back pocket...A Jounrey to the Heart of Prayer: Exploring the Lord's Prayer (part 4) Matthew 6:7-15, Psalm 31)

Is God really concerned about our lives… about the mundane day to day struggles we face? Putting food on the table; keeping a roof over our heads. Our ups and downs be they bumps and dips or tsunami like waves. Or Is God distant and disinterested? Sometimes it feels like that, even the psalmists wondered if God was on the job or at home with his feet up in front of the telle.


 Is God more concerned with the big issues, the global things, consumed with ‘land rights for gay whales in a nuclear free pacific’ than what is happening to me and you here and now, please I’m not trying to trivialise any of those causes, but you know what I mean. God are you here do you care?


Or maybe we think we’ve got God just where we want him! Rock band Depeche Mode wrote a song called ‘Your own Personal Jesus’ which talks of having someone who is there to meet all our needs, who is always there at the other end of the phone when we are alone, at our beck and call. It picks up the idea of God as being there primarily to meet our individual needs. It’s a song that’s been interpreted in different ways It’s been covered by Marilyn Manson, with a mocking tone, as a critique of religion as a crutch, a critique we have to hear by the way. It’s also been covered by Johnny Cash, and in the shaky voice of man who has been through so much and found faith in Jesus it is a song of trust and dependence.


But is God just some sort of cosmic help line and get out of Jail free card? The plastic buddy Jesus of the film Dogma, Sometimes I find myself wrestling with that, sometimes I wonder if we don’t treat prayer like that…like on line shopping…at the push of a button… at the bend of a knee.. And get disappointed when we don’t get the quick fix, the instant answer, the package in the post.


In the midst of that the Lord’s Prayer is Jesus pattern for prayer. It addresses both extremes.. It tells us God cares and hears, Christian prayer is not about saying the right words to try and get the attention of a preoccupied God, A Heavenly father with his head stuck in the paper. It is not like the bureaucracies and institutions in our world where it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. In Luke 18 to encourage us to pray in all circumstances Jesus tells the unlikely story of an unjust judge who only answers a widow’s plea because he is worn out by her constant demand to be heard. Jesus says God doesn’t need the constant phone messages, the email after email, txt bombing, the incessant knocking on the door, he is totally the opposite from the unjust judge, we can trust God because ‘Our  Father knows our needs even before we ask him.” Therefore pray. We have that relationship with God as a caring tender-hearted parent.


Jesus prayer also stops it being all about our needs… it stops prayer being self-centred. It sets priorities for our prayers and our lives, by putting the ‘your’ in front of the ‘Our’. ‘Hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then and only then it moves to our daily bread, forgive our sins, hold our lives in your hands… lead us not to the time of trial, but deliver us from evil. As I said last week we can spend the hours on the ours, but when we pause and focus on the yours it is put into perspective. The concerns we have don’t lessen but we can bring them to God in the sure knowledge of who God is and his plans and purposes for our world, which are for good not for harm.


We looked at the “your” last week and this week we are going to start looking at the “Our” petitions mainly Give us today our daily bread.


 “Give us today our daily bread’ is such an amazing shift in the Lord’s Prayer from Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven that early biblical scholars thought that Jesus must have been speaking in some sort of code, that when he said bread it was a metaphor for the ‘word of God’ for our spiritual needs.  It seemed an unbelievable leap from global mission to tummy rumbling. But the radical thing is that here we are invited to bring our basic needs for daily existence before God, God really cares about those things we can pray trusting that God will meet those needs. Yes in his temptation in Luke’s gospel Jesus had said man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ but the reality is we can trust God with both, we can trust God with what we need for life. We need the daily bread for our bodies and like the well-known devotional book “Daily bread” reminds us for our soul.


Give us today… I don’t know about you but I often want to jump straight to the bread part, it’s like walking past a bakery and you have this instantaneous response to the smell of fresh bread coming out of the oven… in fact I was disappointed to discover recently that some fast food restaurants use chemical agents to reproduce that smell to entice people into their stores and make them hungry… when it comes to bread it’s not a conscious coherent thought it’s a mouth-watering, sensory overload gut reaction kind of thing. We can miss he give us today…But the word used for today in the Lord’s Prayer in Greek is such a rare word that it makes biblical scholars and should make us stop to ponder what Jesus is meaning here. It could mean ‘this day’ or ‘the next day’.  Big deal I hear you say. I think it’s quite profound…Jewish men were encouraged to pray three times a day, at dawn mid-day and the end of the day. Jesus prayer here would fit in any of these.


As a Morning Prayer and noon day prayer it has the day we are in in mind in the evening which for the Jews was the start of their day, it is going to bed trusting God for tomorrow. To pray give us today, does two things, it’s an acknowledgement that our times are in God’s hands that each day is a gift from God. It also invites us to trust God for the day the Lord has given us…and as we end the day to hand over to God all the concerns and worries we have for the future and be able to rest in that.


Now that’s easy to say and I don’t know about you but I often lie awake concerned about things… or wake up concerned about them in the middle of the night… in praying Give us today this daily bread Jesus invites us to give those things over to him. Invite us to trust him even with the big things that might loom over us and be like a blanket shrouding the future as far as we can see. But you know we are going to have to deal with them one day at a time, one step at a time. We can trust God to provide what we need on that journey every step of the way, every day on the way.


Bread… In our supermarket shopping well stocked shelves, full freezers and cupboards, suburban lifestyle we might not connect as readily with what Jesus is saying. In Jesus day in first century Palestine poverty was rife, people lived hand to mouth, much of their time was spent working to simply get bread to eat that day. You couldn’t simply put a couple of loaves in the freezer for latter in the week. Also for Jesus original listeners there was the common history of remembering back to their ancestors in the wilderness when God had provided for his people a daily portion of manna, bread that except for the Sabbath would not last from one day to the next that could not be horded. They remembered as a people they were actually dependant on God each day for their existence.

And to pray for our daily bread is to acknowledge our dependence on God today for the basics of life, to bring those things to him and know he cares about them and to live in an attitude of thanksgiving that God provides. We can forget that bread does not just come pre-cut and readily wrapped. God provides the sun and the rain, the soil and those who toil, to grow food, the seed and the stead for ploughing and planting, the skill of the baker or the recipe for the bread maker, he give us the gifts, abilities and opportunities to earn a crust, it seems like we do all the work, but it is dependent on the goodness and grace of God.


The challenge of bread is also that we often get our needs and wants confused. We are used to a world where we are constantly bombarded with luxury items being must haves, can’t live withouts, and praying for our daily bread brings us down to focusing on what is essential for us. It stops prayer being the spiritualised wish list in our consumer society. It’s a call to be satisfied with a simpler lifestyle. The answer to commercials on the TV is quite simply ‘Give us today our daily bread’.


 “Our” daily bread also stops even this prayer trusting God for the basics of life from becoming self-centred. We are part of a collective humanity that looks to God, it’s creator, for its daily food… It deflects the dig of the ‘own personal Jesus’ because it connects us with people round the world and challenges us to pray alongside the poor. In coming straight after ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ it calls us to be part of God’s answer to our own prayer. Sharing what we have, standing against the injustices and evils in the world that would deprive people of these basics. We know its God’s will that people should be feed and cared for, for justice in the world. In Matthew 9 Jesus sees the crowds coming to him and has compassion on them and calls his disciples to pray for them. “the harvest is plentiful’ says Jesus and the workers are few, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers’. In our bibles there is a chapter break just then and we miss the flow of the story: that in response to this call to pray Jesus sends out his followers on a short term mission trip, to proclaim ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’ and heal the sick and set those oppressed by demons free. It’s the same with praying for our daily food, as we bring that request to God we are to realise that we are part of the answer.

Praying this prayer has wider ethical considerations. It invites us to consider fair trade; am I getting my daily bread at the expense of someone else’s? Is it sustainable? Is it just for multinational corporations to have a monopoly on food production… Does the focus on today and my daily food mean we don’t think about the long term effects of food production and land use for the future?. After the Lord’s Pray in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus moves on to economics, in that he echoes what is in the Lord’s prayer… he says put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these will be added to you’… trusting God with our daily bread, liberates us to be about the God stuff, Kingdom of God stuff… Salvation and transformation.  

Give us today our daily bread… can I sum it up by saying God cares for us…

People God cares for you… he can be trusted with the big things, the global things, and with the small things… the everyday things of life… God cares for you… this prayer is for you… give us today our daily bread is an assurance that God is willing and able to provide our daily needs… In fact as we pray that it helps us to see God’s hand not always in the miraculous but even in the mundane. At this time of year I grumble about rain and sunshine because the grass grows too fast, but it’s part of God’s provision… the big theological word is it’s God’s prevenient grace.. it’s providence…God cares

People God cares for you… He can be trusted with all the things of life. It’s liberating to know that… in his first letter to the churches spread throughout Asia minor Peter will say Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you’… Psalm 31 is one of my favourite psalms. It picks up the wrestle we have with trouble in our lives. It swings from great heights of praise and thanks to God down to feelings of complete despair… the psalmist says ‘Your my refuge but I feel like refuse’, all the stuff that’s on my plate makes me feel like broken pottery… I can identify with that…can you… but it ends as a prayer of simple trust of simple trust in God… The trust that under pins the prayer for daily bread… God cares for us.


  1. Have you seen this cartoon?

    1. Thanks Stephen... I like it. hope the three hour lecture and dealing with the dodgy tooth goes well for you. Blessings