Sermon: “Bread for the World”

Praying “Give us this day our daily bread” can increase our gratitude for each meal. Jesus is also inviting us to live into a basic trust that there is an abundance of food if we will find the political will to share. Or as Gandhi famously said “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” We should additionally note that Jesus is teaching us to pray in the plural: not “Give me this day my daily bread” but us and our.

Teach Us to Pray: Bread for the World

The Rev. J. Carl Gregg

13 February 2011

Broadview Church; Chesapeake Beach, Maryland

“Give us this/each day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11 / Luke 11:3).

If you imagine Jesus’ prayer as the hinge of a door, then this week we have swung from the first half of the prayer to the second half. We have moved from the first set of petitions about God’s name, kingdom, and will to the second set of more down-to-earth, pedestrian requests: petitioning God for food, forgiveness, and freedom.

There is only a slight difference between Matthew’s “Give us this day our daily bread” and Luke’s “Give us each day our daily bread,” but it is worth noting that Jesus teaching us to pray for food takes on extra resonance when read in the context of Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve disciples. In Luke 9:2-3 we read that Jesus “sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money — not even an extra tunic.’” If you are sent on a mission without food, then learning to pray to God for your daily bread becomes much more important than it might be if you know your pantry and refrigerator are relatively stocked and that there will be a 24-hour grocery store nearby.

For example, listen to Luke 12:23-30 in light of the petition to God to “Give us our daily bread”:

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! … 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and God knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for the kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

It is much easier to sing the song “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” than it is literally never to plan where you will get your next meal. It could be initially liberating not to worry about food or clothing, but what about all of the people who starve of malnutrition each day? Or what about the species of birds or plants who go extinct? Does Jesus’ metaphor breakdown at this point?

Of course, we should note that this idea of radically relying on God for daily bread is not original to Jesus. The Israelites famously relied on God for daily bread, called “manna,” during the wilderness wanderings. For example in Exodus 16:4 we read, “Then God said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.’” If the Israelites gathered extra manna, it would spoil. Here we see the deep history behind Jesus’ admonition to pray for your daily bread.

The first time I remember seriously thinking about what it means for Jesus to teach us to pray for our daily bread, it was the summer between my junior and senior year in high school and a friend let me borrow his copy of Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in a World of Hunger.  The title said it all: how do you reconcile a world that contains both “Rich Christians” and “Hunger” — including people literally dying of starvation. Shouldn’t rich Christians be doing more to help feed hungry people? Isn’t that what Jesus would do as well as what Jesus did? As one reviewer of Sider’s book wrote:

Every day more than 34,000 children die of starvation and preventable diseases, and 1.3 billion human beings live in relentless, unrelieved poverty worldwide. Why is there still so much poverty in the world? Conservatives blame sinful individual choices and laziness. Liberals condemn economic and social structures. Who is right? Who is wrong? Both, according to Ronald Sider.

I’ll also never forget sitting in Furman Chapel as an undergraduate and hearing sociologist Tony Campolo preach a sermon that began with the following unforgettable introduction:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. Third, far too many of you are more upset with the fact that I just said the word “shit” in church during a sermon than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.

I suspect that most of you care much more about starving children than about curse words in a sermon; however Campolo’s “shock and awe” style of preaching left an impression on me. After all, of the many sermons I have heard during my life, his sermon is one of the handful from which I can still recall passages.

Nevertheless, caring about the children is much easier than actively addressing the problem of world hunger. As we saw earlier with Ron Sider’s work, there is a messy confluence of reasons — both individual and systemic — of why each human being does not have their daily bread.

Fortunately there are organizations working to alleviate world hunger. One of the most prominent Christian lobbies for food justice is called Bread for the World.  And, although I am all for the separation of church and state, I think that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on the right track when he said in his book The Strength to Love that

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

In this spirit, I am hopeful about the efforts of Bread for the World and similar organization.

As we continue to explore the meaning of Jesus teaching us to pray for our daily bread, I am reminded of another of Jesus’ challenging sayings in Luke 3:11 that “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” I cannot help but be convicted that something is broken in our world when so many, including myself, have many coats and much food — when there are also those who had no coat and no food.

Indeed, social scientists tell us that there are approximately

1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty . . . by an absolute standard tied to the most basic human needs. They are likely to be hungry for at least part of each year. Even if they can get enough food to fill their stomachs, they will probably be malnourished because their diet lacks essential nutrients…. This kind of poverty kills. Life expectancy in nations officially classified as “least developed” is below age fifty and one in five children die. And to the UNICEF figure of nearly 10 million young children dying every year from avoidable, poverty-related causes, we must add at least another 8 million older children and adults.

These staggering figures — 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty — are from 2009. Moreover, as we have discussed on previous Sundays there is shocking poverty even in our own backyard as movements like “End Hunger in Calvert County” seek to address.

I do not list these grave conditions to make you feel guilty. Rather, I invite you to consider that the point of Jesus teaching us to pray for our daily bread is at least threefold. First, I think Jesus is inviting us not to take our next meal for granted. Learning to pray regularly and with sincerity “Give us this day our daily bread” can increase our gratitude for each meal that is prepared and set before us.

Second, when teaching us to pray for our daily bread, Jesus is inviting us to live into a basic trust that there is an abundance of food for everyone if we will find the will and the means to share. We in the “First World” need to learn the lesson of the old adage that “enough is as good as a feast.” We don’t have to have it all. We don’t always need “all you can eat.” Sometimes, indeed, enough — just enough — is as good or better than a feast that may leave us overly full and bloated. There are appropriately feast days in our calendar like Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving, but we make a mistake if everyday becomes a feast day. We become like those who hoarded manna: taking more than they needed for their daily bread, they found that the extra food simply spoiled and become no use to anyone. Or as Gandhi famously said “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

Third, when Jesus teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” we should note that Jesus is teaching us to pray in the plural. He is not teaching us to pray “Give me this day my daily bread.” Instead, we are to preach for us and for our bread. In this spirit, in the contemplative silence that follows be open to how God may be calling you to respond to Jesus’ teaching us to pray for our daily bread:

  • Do you feel led to partner with Bread for the World or a similar organization in a letter writing campaign, lobbying Congress to reform our Farm Bill or foreign aid laws?
  • Do you feel prompted to learn more about the movement to End Hunger in Calvert County?
  • Or is God speaking to you differently or more personally?

How are you learning to pray — and to live — in response to the petition “Give us this day our daily bread?”

Websites to Take Action

Resources for Reflecting on Our Daily Bread


Contemporary Version of The Lord’s Prayer — Revisioned from Mathew 6 by Hugo Blasdel (HBlasdel@gmail.com)
9 `Pray then in this way:
Abba whom we love
with all that we are.
10Your kingdom be realized,
within and among us.
Your ways be revered.
11Let us be sustained on the path daily.
12Let us love all of our neighbors as
ourselves, as we have loved
you and feel your love.
13Let us be true and in spirit always.  AMEN

Notes

1 The statistics on poverty are from ethicist Peter Singer’s powerful book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.

2 For more information on the U.S. Farm Bill, see Michael Pollan’s 2007 essay “You Are What You Grow” at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/magazine/22wwlnlede.t.html?pagewanted=all. For a much shorter and more recent perspective, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/opinion/16sun3.html?ref=farmbillus.

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