Sermon of the Week
The Lord’s Prayer:
Bring Us What We Need.
We’ve come now to the heart of the Lord’s Prayer,
not because the focus of this week’s sermon is the most important.
It’s just as important as all the others.
But it’s more because we’re now half way through our sermon series
and we’re noticing a subtle but important shift.
After our first week,
where we examined the one to whom we pray:
our Father, in Heaven, the hallowed one
and then after looking at what we really mean
when we ask for God’s Kingdom
to come to earth as it is in heaven,
for God’s design for all of this to be done, fulfilled,
made real and true and real,
we notice a change this week.
These next two sermons are different,
because they turn our attention towards us,
toward our needs, and our concerns,
the things in our lives that have to happen
in order for us to survive,
and, more than that, to thrive,
to be the sort of people that God intends us to be.
We’ll do that through reflecting this morning
on an ancient story from the Book of Exodus.
We looked at Exodus a few weeks ago as well,
you may remember
as we considered the importance of Moses standing on holy ground
before the burning bush in wilderness beyond Midian.
There God called Moses, and told him
to go back to Egypt and to set the Hebrew people free.
And Moses was reluctant and afraid and not sure that he was the best choice.
But he went, and with God’s help, he led his people
out of centuries of bondage and oppression.
Through plagues and subterfuge and high-stakes chess,
Moses and the Hebrews leave Egypt
pass through the parted waters of the Red Sea
and enter the wilderness,
leaving their enslaved past behind.
One of the lessons of this story in Exodus
is how sometimes people grow comfortable in captivity
and find that freedom and liberty hard work.
And it’s true: freedom is hard.
When you have to get your own food and take care of your own business
that’s hard work.
They’re in the wilderness longer than they thought they would be.
and some of them looked back and wondered
hey, maybe slavery wasn’t so bad.
Out here we’re barely making it:
not much water to drink,
no food anywhere to be found.
Did God pull us out of Egypt just to lead us out here to die?
So this section of Exodus is all about the people
struggling to live into their freedom
and their complaints about all that to God,
which they aren’t shy in delivering to Moses,
and which Moses has to deal with.
But Moses deals with it.
He tells the people to trust the one who delivered them with a mighty hand.
They had literally walked through the red sea, for goodness sake
the waters parted on each side.
God would help them now
And God did.
God found them water.
God focused them on the task ahead,
and today, as we’ll soon find out,
God also gave them bread.
I invite you to open your heart and your minds
To this reading of God’s word (Exodus 16:13-18):
13 In the evening quails came up
and covered the camp;
and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.
14When the layer of dew lifted,
there on the surface of the wilderness
was a fine flaky substance,
as fine as frost on the ground.
15When the Israelites saw it,
they said to one another, ‘What is it?’
For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them,
‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
16This is what the Lord has commanded:
“Gather as much of it as each of you needs,
an omer to a person
according to the number of persons,
all providing for those in their own tents.” ’
17The Israelites did so,
some gathering more,
18But when they measured it with an omer,
those who gathered much had nothing over,
and those who gathered little had no shortage;
they gathered as much as each of them needed.
And may God bless to us our reading,
And our understanding,
And our applying of this Word, to how we live our lives.
By now most of us are familiar
with a common complaint
that is lodged against our fundamentalist cousins in the faith:
their rejection of science as largely irrelevant
for the life of faith, and thus for the pursuit of Truth.
That’s pretty unfortunate,
for a number of reasons,
not just because it has led to all sorts of social problems
like our slow reaction to the changing climate, for instance,
but also because science can open up
a wealth of understanding for us
as we try to grasp our religious past.
John Dominic Crossan gives us a really good example of this
when he opens his chapter on this clause of our prayer
give us this day our daily bread
with an exploration of an amazing archaeological find.[i]
The world didn’t give much attention to this story, I think
because it was right around the time
that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded over Florida
but that same week
on January 24th, 1986,
Moshele and Luvi Lufan, two brothers who lived in Israel
discovered what we now call the Kinneret Boat, or the Sea of Galilee Boat.
Some people, seeking to make an extra dime, call it the Jesus Boat.[ii]
Lake Kinneret is a harp shaped body of water
known to Mark as the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16; 7:31)
to John as the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1)
and to Luke as simply the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1).
Back in 1985 there was a drought in the region,
and the water levels were so low in that lake
that wide swaths of the lake bottom were visible off Magdala,
on the western shore.
Moshele and Luvi looked out on that expanse
and saw it: the oval outline of a sunken boat.
They called officials and went out to protect the site until they arrived.
Scientists complained about it, actually,
because when it was first discovered,
the boat was the consistency of wet cardboard or soft cheese.
It almost didn’t make it.
But they encased the sodden hull in a cocoon
of polyurethane, fiberglass, and polyester,
and they gently lifted it up over to the water nearby
and literally floated it to a nearby museum
where it sits this very day.
They had to work hard to save what was left
but they succeeded:
the shell of an 8-by-26-foot boat
that required a crew of five and could hold 10 people
or their equivalent of weight in cargo.
It had four oars,
a double rudder,
and a square sail.
Here’s what was interesting:
The keel of the boat was one-third cedar—from an older boat, repurposed.
The other two-thirds were carob and jujube wood.
The frame was made of oak, but, all in all,
twelve different types of wood made up the ship.
It is the only boat from the first century CE ever found in the Sea of Galilee.
The boat had been kept afloat, somehow, by expert boatwrights:
working with inferior materials, probably the only things they could scrounge together.
And, most likely, one day,
when it wasn’t possible to keep this jalopy of a boat going any longer
they stripped it of anything useful and scuttled it in an offshore graveyard.
Reading about all of it, it’s pretty cool, when you think about it.
That’s a pretty important lake,
for any of us who follow God on the way of Jesus,
and who pay attention to Jesus’s life around that lake.
It’s where he gathers his first disciples—
Simon and Peter, James and John—
all working in boats just like this one.
It’s the lake where Jesus settles for a spell.
It’s where Mary Magdala is from,
and look: here is a boat from just that time.
Crossan spends a lot of time talking about this boat,
because it’s scientific evidence of what life was like at that time,
the economically depressed conditions of the communities who lived there,
people who worked hard and scraped together wood to make boats float
so that they could eek out a living on that lake.
Ever wonder why fish and fishing were so important to so many of Jesus’ stories?
It’s because that’s what so many of the people Jesus surrounded himself with
were doing: working hard to get fish to survive.
Bread and Fish. The staples of that part of the world.
With them, you could live.
Without them, you would not.
Come, follow me, said Jesus
I will make you fish for people (Matthew 4:19).
We will share the bread of life with the world.
You, my people, you give them something to eat.
Bread and Fish:
the two most important food groups of the Bible.
Some of us, who like grapes, might rightly argue for wine, or grape juice,
and who am I to quibble with them,
but God takes these ordinary things in our lives
and through them makes them extraordinary.
God does that through MEALS:
food shared together with friends and family
or, even when we eat alone
we have to acknowledge even there
that there’s a whole community
helping us with our food—
the people who gather it (or haul it in, if its fish),
who grind it into wheat,
or prepare it into a dish,
who cook it and who serve it,
who sometimes help clean up after it.
Except in the most isolated of moments,
all of our food is a community event.
And it is particularly so in our symbolic meal:
The Lord’s Supper.
In one of his sermons,
Augustine says something to the effect that
when we gather for the Lord’s Supper
when we share communion together,
we TRANSFORM ordinary bread and a simple cup
into something remarkable, the gift of a loving God,
and therefore something that is holy, a sacrament.[iii]
And a person participating in the sacrament might say:
you know, that bread up there on the communion table
looks suspiciously like
the bread that I had for breakfast this morning.
At breakfast, I did not think of that bread as holy.
Right, says the church.
That’s the point: now, after praying this prayer over that bread at church on Sunday
perhaps you will eat your bread differently on Monday, and on Tuesday, and so on.
Perhaps you will come to see all of your bread as connecting you
to the God who made you and who loves you
and who helps you see the holy everywhere you look
and to all the people who helped make that bread happen.
We give God thanks for the gift of Bread.
That’s what we do in the Lord’s Supper,
and that’s what we do in the Lord’s Prayer:
“Give us This Day our Daily Bread.”
After evoking the Kingdom of God here on Earth
“Thy will be done, Lord,”
Jesus says, ask for your daily bread.
To his disciples and to those hearing Jesus,
as he taught them this prayer,
that phrase give us this day our daily bread
would have surely brought to mind
the story we read this morning
of Moses out in the wilderness
wandering through harsh terrain
for forty long years,
a generation of people meandering
slowly, laboriously towards Canaan
that land with milk and honey,
excuse me: flowing with milk and honey.
It’s so harsh even to imagine that right now,
when all we want is bread.
They were hungry. Or we might say “hangry.”
The people complained of hunger in the desert
and “the Lord said to Moses:
I am going to rain bread from heaven for you” (Exodus 16:4)
and today’s story is the result:
meat at night: all those quail
and in the morning, a fine white dusting
a fine grain that was like coriander seed, and
the text tells us a bit later (Exodus 16:31)
“the taste of it was like wafers made with honey”
maybe meant to be a foretaste, a hint
of that land to come, the place to which they were going…
They called it Manna,
and it was LIFE.
They wouldn’t die of hunger, not out there
not as they trusted and followed God forward
away from enslavement and into freedom.
Now: as is typical of the stories of God
in this part of the Bible
God set up all these conditions:
Only get what you need.
Don’t keep any left over for tomorrow,
unless it’s the day before the Sabbath
then get twice and it’ll be ok.
And when they did all that, it worked out fine.
If they didn’t, well, the manna got nasty and no one could eat from it.
The point being that we need to learn
to trust on God to provide the bread we need
every day, your daily bread
and to learn that now, before you make it
to the land of wealth and sustenance
where the natural resources would flow in abundance
and you might too easily forget to thank the God who provides all of this for you
whether its manna and the occasional quail,
or milk and honey and wine and sheep and a fatted calf or two besides.
When we pray these words of The Lord’s Prayer
we’re praying for enough bread for today, and tomorrow, and the every day to come
and, if we’re listening, we notice that we’re praying in the plural…
give US this day OUR daily bread.
Most of us don’t think much about our daily bread because,
for most of us, here in this room,
enough bread is not a problem.
Most of us perish from too much bread rather than too little,
swapping out the gnawing emptiness of hunger with overconsumption.
We’re a far ways away from the scarce conditions
of the Sea of Galilee.
Someone mentioned in our bible study this week
that all this talk of bread, in our culture
is as likely to bring up thoughts of too many carbs
than it is the very question of our survival, or having enough to eat.
But this is OUR prayer, as surely as it is the prayer of the food insecure in our country
which Harvesters, our local food bank, tells us affects
one in seven of our neighbors,
or more than 350,000 people in the Kansas City area,
about 108,000 of them being children.
And it is OUR prayer, as surely as it is with people all over the world
who search for their next meal.
Some of my most vivid experiences have happened over meals.
I remember travelling on a church sponsored trip to Guatemala
to the rural areas outside of Quetzaltenango
where people count it as a fortunate experience
to have walls and a roof over their dirt floors and maybe a running toilet
and the gift to us of rice and beans and tortilla and even some chicken
and so generously given,
a recognition that all this food,
when it is taken and blessed and broken and shared
in the name of Jesus our Christ
is enough to feed us, body and mind and spirit.
What are some memories of meals that have meant something to you?
Is it the people that bond close over them?
Is it the way that the food helps us feel as we celebrate something?
Or remember someone who has passed?
Or just live our daily lives,
filling this most basic of human needs with acts that bring us closer together?
This prayer isn’t just about the actual food we need,
though it is about that.
It reminds us how, in God’s Kingdom
we have enough food to share with one another
so that no one will go hungry.
But the prayer is also about all those other things we need to thrive:
our connection to one another,
a reminder that we depend on each other
and on God,
to make it through our days,
and the joy we share because of being bound together in one human family.
So when we lift up the words “Our Bread”
we know that the bread we have is also meant to be shared
so that people who are hungry have enough to eat.
We know that we’re called into community,
so that we eat together
and through it all,
we’re to give thanks to the God who provides all of these blessings,
the one who holds lavish banquets and joyful parties,
where all are welcome, if you hear what Jesus is teaching in his parables.
That God is amazing.
That God inspires us to go walking on a CROP walk
and to go serve at harvesters
and to carve out room in our heart so that we remember everyone who is hungry.
Give us this day our Daily Bread.
Those words keep us grounded in the earthy, everyday reality of human need
and the understanding that God wants to provide what we need
and intends to do so,
in the Kingdom that God is bringing about through her people,
through you and through me.
May we get excited by that possibility
just like we might have our heart beat a bit faster
when we smell fresh bread baking in the oven:
the anticipation of that moment when all those elements—
grain that become wheat, and water, and salt, and other goodness—
and through the labor of human hands
and the heat of a hearth
transforms it all into good food for a hungry soul.
Bread is a remarkable thing.
Thank you, God, for giving us each day the bread we need
and we will keep praying for it
thanking you for your providence
focusing on the needs of our neighbor
celebrating the meals we share
a foretaste of that kingdom we’re travelling through this wilderness to seek…
May it be so.
[i] See “Give Us Our Daily Bread” in Crossan, John Dominic The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of The Lord’s Prayer (New York, New York; HarperCollins, 2010), p119-141.
[ii] There is no evidence to connect this boat to the life of Jesus or his disciples.
[iii] Cited in Willimon, William H. and Stanley Hauerwas Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1996), pp 70-77.
Image Credit: Sunrise over Sea of Galilee, by “windhaven1077” available at https://pixabay.com/en/sunrise-sea-of-galilee-lake-israel-676455/ (accessed on October 13, 2018).