March 21, 2004

Matthew 6:11

Some of my earliest recollections of visiting my grandmother’s home centered around her weekly chore of baking bread. My grandma was a great bread baker. Having raised eight children with my father being the eldest, she had plenty of opportunity to refine her bread baking skills. So by the time I came along as the next to oldest of her grandchildren, bread baking for her had become a fine art. Her efforts were rewarded by the plump, delicious loaves that stood in neat rows on the kitchen table after she was finished. Just the thought of a thick slice of warm homemade bread with butter and honey or apple butter was the best! On a day when I was to stay with my grandma, I would smell the overwhelming aroma even before I got inside the kitchen door. I knew it was bread baking day. It was wonderful. On special occasions she would roll out the dough that had risen and after adding sugar and cinnamon she would roll the dough and magically they would be transformed into cinnamon rolls. To this day, the smell of homemade bread baking brings to me the feelings of warmth, comfort, and being cared for. As a child it translated love, family, care, belonging; the basic needs of any six or seven year old, or for that matter, basic needs of any of us as God’s children.

God our heavenly Father is also concerned about our very basic needs. In our Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:11 Jesus encourages us to think about our own needs and says “Give us today our daily bread.” He gets right down to the very nitty-gritty of life. The first section of the prayer begins with a God-focus, which is not about us, nor our problems. He says give honor to God as our Heavenly Father, desire for His kingdom to come and that His will be done. But then following this beginning, we can take great solace in knowing He instructs us to ask, and we are comforted to know, that God cares about our daily needs.

Seven small but powerful words: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread. We are boldly and unashamedly to ask for bread, that which is necessary for the maintenance of life every day. God cares about our physical survival and our temporal bodies. Our lives are dependent on God for the basics. He truly cares about our needs.

When Jesus was teaching this principle to His disciples, did he think about the manna in the wilderness? In Exodus 16 the Israelite community grumbled because of the lack of food in the wilderness. The Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven with instructions to gather just enough for the day.” God would provide for them day by day. So people went out to gather manna every morning, some getting more, some getting less. But there was enough for everyone. God instructed them, “Gather what you need day by day. There’s no need to store up.” But of course, some wouldn’t listen. They tried to hoard it. After all, they must have reasoned, we might need some for a rainy day. So they kept part of it for the next day. And sure enough, it didn’t keep, but spoiled as soon as they tried to keep more than they needed. Not only was it a terrible odor, Moses was angry. Had God not told them He would provide day by day. They learned their lesson. And God did just as He promised. Every day for 40 years there was always just enough.

Centuries ago, Gregory of Nyssa said, “The only thing we are permitted to ask for is something as basic as bread. Not herds or silken robes, not a prominent position, monuments or statues, only bread.” In a culture where we are not only encouraged but often driven to save up and hoard as much bread as possible, how much do we need? Even the Hebrews learned there were problems with too much. How much is enough?
Lynn Miller, author of First Fruits Living has just released a new book entitled The Power of Enough where he challenges us to think about this very thing. He asks, “What is it that makes us so susceptible to the proposition that ‘more’ will make us happier?” He goes on to say, “No matter how it begins, the desire for more seems to be present in everyone in one form or another. And the world of consumer advertising knows that all too well. ‘More is better’ is the message that comes from Madison Avenue. Bigger cars, bigger boxes of laundry detergent, more free airline miles, higher interest, more of everything. The missing value in all those ads is ‘enough’,” Miller concludes. After all, how much more can you sell to people who know they have enough? God provided every day just enough (and no more) for His Hebrew children in the wilderness.

This prayer is a prayer of dependence on a loving God who says, I will provide for you day by day whether it is the bread you need, money to buy the flour, milk, and eggs, or the appetite and physical health to enjoy it. We are to daily acknowledge our dependence on a generous God. Philippians 4:19 reminds us that God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. And Jesus also said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

In our marriage of 25 years, my husband Dale was the bread-winner, the provider. I never had to get up in the morning and wonder if there would be bread or milk or food for our family. A few times, especially when Dale was in seminary, I wondered whether the funds would stretch till payday. But there always was enough for our daily needs. As I think about it now, while those years were lean, God showed us in new ways what it meant to trust Him day by day. Then when 10 years later my breadwinner was gone, God assured me over and over again that He would continue to provide my daily bread – all my daily needs. As a new and struggling widow, I found that God provided what I needed day by day - which included a home in which to continue to live, opportunities for higher education for each of my children, and yes, even more than what was needed. Isaiah 58:11 reminds us: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” When I was invited to come to Grantham Church, I was wondering, now how will God provide? This move would be different, even a little scary. I would be doing it alone. Not with a husband – not with my family. And where would I find a place to live? One day I read about a house for sale adjacent to Messiah College. I thought – that would be convenient, but my eagerness dampened just two days later when I heard that someone already had put an offer on the house. Well, I hadn’t seen it – and maybe I wouldn’t want it anyway! After a trip to the Grantham area, and upon the encouragement of my children as well as the realtor, I decided to also put in a bid with little hope that mine would be accepted. Within a few hours I was told that the people who had earlier believed this was the dream home for them thought it over and changed their minds, withdrawing their bid. God does provide - in unmistakable ways.

Our lives, like our bread, are gifts from God. Daily we are dependent upon God.
We throw ourselves on His mercy. We can trust the present day because our last day (our yesterday) belongs to Him and tomorrow belongs to Him. “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

There is a problem that may arise as we pray “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread.” In our country of plenty, do we really feel the need to pray for bread? Most of us have a good supply of bread at home in the pantry or if not at home, there is a large supply right around the corner at the mini market or in the grocery store. In fact, in our diet-conscious society, we’ve probably decided we eat too much bread and are trying nobly to do without. Or we have so many other more important or sophisticated things we want to ask for instead of bread. So we say this prayer in church rather weakly and then go out to a Sunday feast. So even if we don’t feel the need or even want bread, why is it still important to pray these words in the Lord’s Prayer?

Let’s look again at the words. Jesus tells us. You are to say: “Give US, not give ME – OUR (not my) daily bread.” We must never be selfish with our prayers. This prayer is not just about me. This prayer encourages us to pray not just on behalf of ourselves, but also for others. This is not just about me receiving my daily bread. This prayer is a prayer of generosity. Am I at all concerned about the lack of bread that others have? It is impossible for me to pray for my daily bread or tomorrow’s bread without being horribly aware of the millions who didn’t have bread yesterday, don’t have any today, and in human terms, are unlikely to have any tomorrow either.

Even if we think we don’t need to pray for bread for ourselves, it is very important to pray these words in the Lord’s prayer for the very lives of others are depending on us. We need to pray these words for people everywhere who aren’t blessed with the kind of supply that I have. This prayer is a prayer of generosity. I am to think about more than just my own needs. Then there is the larger question. Is there enough bread to go around? Maybe it has more to do with unfair distribution and hoarding or our unwillingness to compassionately share our bread with the world. Exodus 16:18 reminds us, “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.” The Biblical mandate is clear. God intends that everyone have enough – not too little and not too much.

Jesus had great compassion on hungry people. “When he saw the large crowds he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. It was late in the day; his disciples came to him. This is a remote place, and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat. But Jesus said: “You give them something to eat”. Then we know the familiar story of the five loaves (of bread) and two fish. The story is one of generosity – the giving of a little that was multiplied many times over until all were fed. Even our little is not ours alone, but in the giving, miracles will occur as it is multiplied.
Our bread is not ours to hoard – we are responsible for our neighbor’s need. Could I sit down with a loaf of bread – say grace, and then eat the whole loaf myself, even if it were my loaf bought with my money? We must show the compassion of Christ who was concerned about the multitudes of hungry people. Certainly we need to pray. But we need to pray not just for the hungry, but with the hungry. There are hungry people all around us, not just in Calcutta, India or New York City.

What should we do? What can we do? How might we share our daily bread? Certainly we can individually and as families ask God to show us opportunities where we can share our bread Are there signs that someone with whom I work every day is having a really hard time even having enough to eat? What might God be asking me to do to share my bread with them? Would a little money for gas for their vehicle help? Or maybe I could even slip them a couple of $1 coupons for the kids for McDonalds? Just this week I listened to an incredible story about an individual sharing bread with the needy. It’s a story that probably many of you here at the Grantham church have known about for many years. I was amazed as I listened to Homer Kraybill tell how he and Mildred spent 20 years literally giving out bread, the leftovers from local grocery stores, that would surely have gone to the dumpster if he wouldn’t have daily picked it up, seven days a week, at one point as early as 3:30 in the morning but always by 7 a.m. In 2002-2003 the last year that Homer provided this outstanding service of bread delivery he logged 10,450 miles on his car as he delivered bread to the needy not just on West shore but to seven non-profit organizations in the Harrisburg area. Can one person make a difference? This remarkable story should erase any doubt. And since Homer discontinued this practice last May for health reasons, many of those non-profit places no longer benefit from the free bread that one elderly gentleman and his wife delivered every day.

I pause to also think of a number of ways the Grantham Church has been sharing their bread particularly through ministries here at the church. This week as I walked down the hall I noticed the large collection of staples, paper towels, and diapers for New Hope Ministries. That’s sharing our bread. In the six months since I have come to Grantham, I am heartened by the practical ways, particularly through the deacon ministries, we have been meeting needs, whether it has been through giving Giant Gift Cards, providing heating oil for an empty fuel tank, making funds available for the purchase of medications or delivering a home cooked meal to someone who recently had surgery. Jesus said, “When you gave to my brothers, you were doing it to me.”

My grandmother also made another kind of bread, which intrigued me as a child maybe even more than her weekly baking. Several times a year instead of placing the dough in oblong bread pans, she would roll it out, score it into long strips of flat, white, unleavened bread in preparation for the communion service. That weekend as the minister would symbolically hold up a long strip of bread, I would hear the words and the congregation would be reminded, that this bread is a symbol of Christ’s body broken for us. The bread took on a whole new meaning. Bread - it’s a part of almost every day’s diet. Yet Jesus used it to illustrate a new truth. To His disciples He said, “Take this Bread, it is a symbol of my Body which will be broken for you.” They must have wondered, “How could that possibly happen? What did He mean?”

Soon after the feeding of the hungry multitude, Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again.” As they reflected on the 5000 people who had just been fed, this too must have been hard for them to comprehend. How would that happen? How would 5000 people or how would they as his disciples never be hungry again?

This is common bread. Curiously, it looks similar to the bread you ate this morning at breakfast – but something sacred happens. When it is blessed, it takes on a whole new meaning. We see it as a symbol of our dependence on a gracious and merciful God who daily showers us with many blessings. And just as surely as we acknowledge our dependence on God, our eyes lift from our prayer of gratitude to search for those who don’t have bread. We will eat our daily bread today with gratefulness. But we will have a growing desire and a longing to share our bread tomorrow.