Sermon-Proper 15 - August 18, 2019
St. Andrew’s, Marianna
The Rev. Canon Renee Miller
“How to Pray, Part 5”
May the sacraments and the Word and the hunger of our souls meet and lead us ever more deeply into the heart of God. Al-hamdu-lillah. Amen.
So, what’s the first thing you think of when I say the word ‘prayer?’ Now, that we’re actually getting answers, I’m going to ask the Lay Reader to go to the microphone and repeat them for the benefit of our remote visitors. And, if any remote visitors want to offer an answer, send me a chat.
We come now to one of the parts of the Lord’s Prayer that seems clear and understandable. “Give us each day our daily bread.” It hardly seems like this prayer should even need any explanation. But, if you haven’t figured it out by now, you’ll see that there are a multitude of meanings and applications to each of these short prayers within the Lord’s Prayer.
At a quick glance it seems we’re just asking God to give us food every day or provide for our physical needs. That seems rather straightforward until you realize that it may mean more than food like steak and potatoes. The word food actually means nourishment – so, when we ask God to give us each day our daily bread, we might more broadly say, “Give us each day our daily nourishment.” There are 2 important points about that statement. First, effective nourishment requires a variety of foods and second, nourishment can mean a lot more than mere food.
My grandmother knew how to be a grandmother. She and I had a great thing going at mealtimes. When my mother said I’d had enough watermelon, and couldn’t have any more, my grandmother would pass more to me under the table. When my mother told me I had to eat something I didn’t like, I would pass that to my grandmother under the table! I don’t think my mother ever found out about our devious little ruse! The truth is, we all have our favorite foods, but we know that a steady diet of only those foods will not give us the vitamins, nutrients and minerals we need. Imagine a diet of nothing but watermelon or ice cream, beef tenderloin, peach cobbler, chocolate (perish the thought) or even spinach. None of these would be enough to keep us healthy. And what about the foods we don’t like? Maybe beets, or brussel sprouts, okra or calf's liver? We may not like them, but they may have important and necessary nutrients that will help keep us healthy.
If we were in a modern Healthy Eating 101 class, we would learn that the USDA has updated the Food Pyramid we all grew up with and it is now called My Plate and is a plate with portions dedicated colorfully to the separate groups of food that include: protein, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy. A good variety and lots of color is what we’re striving to see on our plate.
Yet, we all know that we sometimes have conflicting feelings about being given ‘each day our daily bread.’ Think of the number of diet books written and the billions of dollars spent each year trying to figure out what our daily bread should be. We know we sometimes don’t eat when we should or what we should. A variety of colors would not describe our plate. Unless you consider white potatoes, white bread, white gravy and a little browned meat ‘color.’ We’re more likely to call that ‘comfort food’ than ‘colorful food.’ Sometimes we choose the wrong foods to the exclusion of foods that our body needs for optimal health. Sometimes, we’re greedy for more food than we need or different foods than we have.
This is not a modern problem. It’s the same problem the Israelites faced in the desert. They were used to the colorful plates in Egypt with all kinds of varieties and tastes, and white manna (that looked probably a lot like our communion wafers) day after day was anything but appetizing. “Let us go back to Egypt,” they cried to Moses. They were unhappy with the food they had each day. They were also greedy for more food — not content with the amount they had. So, to bring them into a place of balance, God told them they would be given their bread each day, but they could only collect enough for their family for that day -- except before the Sabbath when they would be able to collect 2 days worth. And if they took more because they thought they might need a second helping or a midnight snack, the manna rotted. Food that is spoiled loses its potency. It is no longer able to nourish us. I think about this when I go to the restaurants and they insist on serving way more than one person my size should eat. I ask for a smaller portion noting that I’m willing to pay the full price but the answer still is, “You can take the rest home for tomorrow!” But tomorrow’s food is for tomorrow. Today’s food, eaten tomorrow doesn’t have the same nutritional quality even though in modern times it may not be spoiled.
Well, what does this have to do with the prayer, “Give us each day our daily bread?” There are several things it means and several ways it can be prayed:
First, “Give us each day our daily bread,” is a prayer of faith that God is looking after our most basic needs. We are as important to God as the sparrow. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount when he was teaching the disciples how to pray “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” We can pray the prayer in its literal sense — with a heart simply asking God to provide for our needs for physical sustenance. Or, it can be a simple gratitude prayer before meals: Thank you, God, for giving us each day our daily bread.”
Second, “Give us each day our daily bread” is an affirmation that the right food is the food of the moment, the food we are given this day. We don’t need to long for what we don’t have, we don’t need to be greedy for more of what we do have. We have enough for this moment — for this day. (The prayer might even help us re-think leftovers. We might make smaller portions of meals to begin with!) When we pray “Give us each day our daily bread” we may find it serves as the dieting tool we’ve been frantically looking for, that might, actually work. If we pray it faithfully and trust its truth, we might find our cravings diminishing and our health and internal satisfaction increasing. If every time we want a second helping, or a big bowl of ice cream just because it tastes good, we might pray “give us each day our daily bread…” I think we’d be surprised to find that we opted for a smaller bowl of ice cream and maybe chose not to have the second helping. We might just lose those extra pounds we’ve been wanting to shed!
Third, “Give us each day our daily bread” is a metaphor for the rest of life. As I said earlier there’s more to nourishment than mere food. When we pray “Give us each day our daily bread” we’re praying to be given whatever will nourish us — not just our body, but our life. For the most part, we seek to avoid any of what we consider the troublesome parts of life. In other words, we would prefer to have a life of ice cream and cake. We don’t want a life of liver and brussel sprouts — in other words, a life of sickness, financial trouble, hurt and betrayal, car breakdowns, injustice, waiting for medical diagnoses, the loss of those we love. We don’t want to have to gnaw away on that kind of food, when comfort, ease, privilege, health, and plenty are so much more delicious. Why would we want to eat the bread of tears when the bread of angels would taste so much better? We prefer the bread of angels because we are not often able to distinguish what is the right food, the right nourishment for our life. We think ease and plenty are what’s nourishing. But, when we pray “Give us each day our daily bread,” we are surrendering to God’s prepared feast for our life - no matter what that might be. It is an act of trust that God knows better what will be nourishing for us - our whole entire life — than we do. Because we don’t have the big vision God has, we really don’t know what will sustain and encourage our growth most effectively. To pray “Give us each day our daily bread” is to acknowledge that fact and surrender to the divine will. It is to align ourselves with God – to be reduced to that single straight line with God that we’ve been talking about throughout this sermon series.
There’s no way of getting around and successfully avoiding the liver and brussel sprouts of life - life will never be just ice cream and cake. The prayer “Give us each day or daily bread” says we’re good with that. The truth is, we need a variety of experiences in order to be nourished and shaped into a whole and holy person.
So the prayer in the Lord’s Prayer that seems so easily understood is one of the most demanding and fearsome prayers to pray. If we have the courage to pray it, we will find that life doesn’t always delight us or suit our palate. We will find that the food we are given may not be what we wanted or expected. But we will also find that when we take the risk to pray the prayer, we are given just what we need in the amounts that are just right. Surprisingly, we’ll find that we are completely full — completely satisfied. Amen.