“Our Daily Bread”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 24, 2019

Matthew 6:9-13

 

Today in our Lenten sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, we come to the third sentence of this familiar prayer.  Two weeks ago, we considered the first line, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Last week, we explored the second line, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Today, we hear this petition:   Give us this day our daily bread.

 

I am reminded, as I think about this prayer, of one of our son’s current favorite books, How Groundhog’s Garden Grew, written and illustrated by naturalist Lynne Cherry.  It is a story about gardening, about the seasonal cycles of the natural world, about tending the earth and receiving its bounty.  It begins with a scene in which Little Groundhog is caught stealing food from his neighbors’ gardens.  Squirrel chastises him:  “This food does not belong to you.  If you take food that belongs to others, you will not have a friend in the world!”  But then she decides to teach him another way.

She shows him how to save seeds, to dry them and store them for next spring.  She shows him how to keep potatoes and onion tops for sprouts.  She shows him how to fertilize the soil with compost.  And after their winter hibernation, Squirrel and Little Groundhog set about planting his garden.  They dig the soil, plant seeds and sprouts, transplant perennials, weed and water.

Throughout the summer, Little Groundhog marvels at his plants as they grow.  He watches flowers bloom, watches insects pollinate them, watches tiny vegetables emerge, and feasts on the bounty as it ripens.  When fall comes, he has much, much more than he can possibly eat by himself.  And Squirrel teaches him one more important lesson:  that when you have more than you need, the best thing to do is share.  The two of them host a feast for all their critter neighbors, and both food and fellowship abound.

Give us this day our daily bread…

 

When Jesus’ followers heard the phrase, give us this day our daily bread, their minds would have harkened back, not to Little Groundhog’s garden, of course, but to a story from the Hebrew scriptures, a story that, as observant Jews shaped by their holy texts, they would have known by heart:  the story of the Exodus.

Moses and the Israelites had escaped from Egypt by the skin of their teeth.  After a long, long season of suffering in slavery under Pharaoh’s harsh yoke, God heard the cries of God’s people and sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to “Let my people go.”  They made their way through the Red Sea waters, out of Egypt and into the Sinai desert, where they would wander for the next 40 years on their winding journey toward the Promised Land.

The journey through the wilderness was not easy.  They faced hunger and thirst.  They faced the regret that comes when you leave a known situation, no matter how devilish, and face the fear of the unfamiliar.  They faced the infighting and quibbling that seem to be part and parcel of our human nature.  They faced temptation to build their own deities, to form idols they could touch and see, rather than placing their faith in an unknowable, undefinable God.

The Exodus journey through the wilderness was not easy.  But it taught the people some necessary lessons:  lessons about depending on God and lessons about depending on one another.

When the people were hungry, the story says, when their bellies ached and rumbled, when their muscles trembled, when their vision dimmed and their minds swirled, God provided manna from heaven for them to eat.  It is a mysterious story, and manna is a mysterious substance—but neither the composition of the manna nor the factual basis of the story is the point here.  The point is that the people received as much as they needed each day.

When they tried to gather more than they needed, the excess vanished.  When they gathered less than they needed, the shortage was overcome.  When they kept some overnight, it spoiled and moldered—but a new supply arose each morning, enough for that day’s needs.

Give us this day our daily bread…

 

Like those long-ago Israelites, when we pray this prayer, we are reminded of our dependence on God, day in and day out.  In our modern American society, we may think of ourselves—I may think of myself—as self-made people, people who have worked hard and earned what we have and taken ownership of our lives.  We New Englanders especially like to think of ourselves as people who are self-sufficient, independent individuals.  But this prayer tells us otherwise.  It tells us that we are not meant to be solitary, to rely on ourselves alone.  We are meant to rely on God—and God is a God of abundance, of plenty, of more than enough for everyone.

When we try to stockpile resources so we will be assured of having enough tomorrow, we give in to a mentality of scarcity that tells us that there is not enough of whatever it is we need.  That if something is available, I’d better grab it quick before someone else lays claim to it.  That if I don’t need it today, I should keep it anyway, because you never know what tomorrow will bring or what I might need then.  That everyone else is operating the same way, and so I need to protect and defend what is mine so that no one else tries to snatch it away.  But the prayer is not Give us this day all the bread we will ever need.  It is Give us this day our daily bread.

And the prayer is not Give me this day my daily bread, either.  It is Give us this day our daily bread.  Phrased in the plural, as we recognized in the first week of our Lenten series, the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that our flourishing is intertwined with the flourishing of our neighbors near and far, with the flourishing of all humanity, with the flourishing of all creation.

When some of us hoard the resources we hold, when we store them and stockpile them and save them up, we prioritize our own needs at the expense of those around us, and we create a situation like the one in which we find ourselves in this town, this state, this nation, this world, in which the gap between wealthy and poor, between haves and have-nots, grows wider and wider with the passing of time.  When some of us who have more than we need keep it for ourselves, it creates inequality and inequity and suffering for those who do not have enough.  It also creates fear and division that harms those who have too much, too—fear of loss, fear of diminishment, fear of those who have less.  And it might just mean that those who have too much of one thing may get fooled into thinking that all their needs are met, when in reality, money can’t give us love, and physical food is not the same as friendship, and a warm body is not always the same thing as a warm heart.

Give us this day our daily bread.

 

To pray today’s line of the Lord’s Prayer is to align ourselves with the equitable distribution of resources God promises, where everyone has what they need—with the creation of a world in which sharing by all means scarcity for none.  It is to reinforce the lesson the Israelites learned from the manna in the wilderness, the lesson Little Groundhog learned from Squirrel, the lesson Jesus taught his disciples:  that when you have more than you need, you don’t build a higher wall—you build a bigger table, so that all might be fully, abundantly fed.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Amen.

 


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