October 7, 2018
Today we take a break from our regularly scheduled jaunt through Mark’s Gospel to hear a few readings that serve to introduce our stewardship campaign, the theme of which is Daily Bread.
The first is from Genesis, the part of the creation story in which God tells the man and woman he has just created that they will be in charge of taking care of all the plants and trees and animals that God made. Though the text doesn’t use the exact word, what God is telling the man and the woman is not, “Use (and abuse) this stuff however you see fit,” but rather, “You are to be stewards of this creation. Care for it. Till it. Help it to grow and thrive.” All, of course, with the understanding that ultimately, it belongs to God!
For our Gospel reading, it seemed appropriate that today we would hear one of the two texts, one in Luke and one in Matthew, that introduce us to the Lord’s Prayer, that prayer in which we regularly ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” The Matthew version is a bit closer to what we are familiar with praying, but I chose Luke for reasons I’ll get into in the sermon. As you listen to these familiar texts, and especially to the words of the Lord’s Prayer, think about them in terms of how God is calling us to notice what we have already been given, and giving thanks for how God always provides for us.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
How many of you would say that prayer is a fundamental part of your life of faith? How many would say it is the most fundamental part of your life of faith? Okay, now be honest: how many of you have ever struggled in any way with your prayer life, either not knowing what to pray for, or what words to use, or you couldn’t get into a good pattern, or because you were mad at God and couldn’t bring yourself to talk to him, or any other reason?
I have dealt with all of that! I have multiple times come to my spiritual director and said, “My prayer life isn’t working right now. Can you help me get it to where I want it?” And that is why I’m so grateful for this passage in Luke, in which the disciples witness Jesus off praying by himself, and they bravely and vulnerably come to him asking, “Lord, teach us to pray.” These are my favorite words with which to start a prayer journal, because these words are a constant prayer for me. Teach me to pray, Lord. Help me do this better. I know how important this is, God, so please, teach me to pray!
Jesus’ response is so powerful, that the words he suggests have been used by Christians for the past 2000 years. The Lord’s Prayer is memorized by toddlers, written on our hearts, runs through our veins and resides in our very bones. I remember once when I was struggling to know how to pray, and when I told my husband this, his wise response was, “Pray the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a really good prayer.” What a wonderful sermon! That’ll preach!
But even with such a “really good prayer” as this, the danger of a prayer that we all have had memorized since childhood is that it might start at times to lose its power, as we recite it by rote, and let our minds wander, and don’t really pay attention to the words. So I always welcome ways to engage with the Lord’s Prayer in a different way, to help me think about these words differently, to let them water my weary soul in new ways. And this week, we have just such an opportunity, as we consider this well-worn prayer in the context of stewardship.
When a member of our stewardship committee at St. Martin suggested Daily Bread as a stewardship theme, we were in the midst of the Bread of Life discourse in John’s Gospel – six weeks in a row of Jesus talking about himself as the Bread of Life. While it’s not my favorite preaching series, it is an image of Jesus I can, shall we say, sink my teeth into. Jesus is indeed that which gives us life, which sustains us, which fills up our bellies and our hearts. The question becomes: what do we do about that? Do we accept that reality, say, “Thanks a bunch, Jesus!” and go about our merry way? Well, sometimes. But during the next few weeks, I want us all to take the time to really think about what comes next, after we receive our daily bread. And today, I’d like to use the Lord’s Prayer to do that.
Let’s start by looking at Luther’s explanation of what daily bread is. If you remember studying catechism as a kid, or you read your emailed devotions this week, help me out here: what does Luther say is included in “daily bread”? [wait for answers] He says, “Daily bread includes everything needed for this life, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, fields, cattle, money, goods, God-fearing spouse and children, faithful servants and rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, order, honor, true friends, good neighbors, and the like.” In other words: Everything! Everything we need to sustain and nourish us in this life, both physically and spiritually.
When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it does two things. It first acknowledges that God can and does provide everything we need to live, to thrive, to be nourished and sustained – including not only the food we eat and our other physical needs, but also the relationships we have that feed our souls, really all those things we hear about in our reading today from Genesis.
Second, praying this prayer helps us to recognize that daily bread when God does provide it, and then to respond in kind. There are several ways we might respond. The first and most important is gratitude. This week, in one of the devotions that was sent out, I suggested keeping a gratitude journal. Did anyone do that, or have you in the past? I did this while I was living in Slovakia as a missionary, and during a really tough and lonely year, it was my lifeline. Every day, I forced myself to recognize God’s providence in my life, to see all the ways that I was being fed and nourished, and on days when I couldn’t do it, I went back and read how God had provided in the past. It kept my eyes up and open that year, kept me looking around for daily bread. Intentional gratitude is an immensely powerful tool, not only for giving life, but for helping us to recognize life when it is right in front of us!
From that gratitude comes another way we respond to God’s gift of daily bread: giving. Someone told me about something Rotary Club does called Happy Dollars. When something good happens in your life – your kid gets a job, you do well on a project, your best friend gets married – you respond by making a financial gift to a worthy cause, or to God through your church. “It’s a feel-good practice,” this person told me. And it is! It’s a natural response, really – just like when we are grateful, we may spontaneously smile, sharing our joy with the world, a financial gift, however much, is a way of sharing with the world our joy and gratitude, that God provides for us our daily bread.
Of course, it also works the other way around. Sometimes we give when we are happy and grateful. Sometimes giving can be something we do to remind ourselves to be grateful, and to help us recognize that daily bread in our lives. This is a reason for regular giving, because when you sit down on a regular basis and write a check (or whatever you do), it is a regular reminder to stop and take note of the ways God has already blessed you with daily bread. This is all the more important to do when we are feeling ungrateful or grumpy! Like writing in a gratitude journal, this is a practice that forces us to recognize our bounty, and to be trusting enough to release it back to the giver. For me, each check I write as an offering is an opportunity to be concretely grateful for the gifts I have been given, even if I am feeling grumpy at the time!
Another response to God’s gift of daily bread that I want to mention pertains especially to the daily bread that feeds our emotional and spiritual hunger, that is, our relationships. I think it is very telling that the very next petition in Jesus’ famous prayer is, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those indebted to us.” Forgiveness is hard work, both on the giving and receiving end, but not forgiving or not accepting forgiveness is a surefire way of keeping us from fully receiving the daily bread that God offers us. It is so damaging, even toxic to relationships. It holds us back from the joy God wants for us. In that way, not to forgive is to be a poor steward of God’s gift of relationship with one another. I know, I know, it is so much easier for me to stand here and say that than it is to do the hard work of forgiveness. Yet once we are able to get to that point – to forgive someone, or to accept forgiveness from another person, from ourselves, or from God – it is as if our hearts are cracked open, and ready to receive more robustly the life, love, and grace of God, and then, in turn, to share those things with the world. To give them back. To live them day to day. In other words, to share our daily bread!
Of course, perhaps the best daily bread of all that we receive from God is the bread of God’s grace, which we have the chance to receive physically as actual bread when we come forward for communion. Today, the first Sunday in October, is the day designated as World Communion Sunday, a day when we recognize our relationships with Christians around the world. As we come forward to receive the bread that is Jesus’ body, we will remember that Christians the world over do the same thing. We can also recognize that Christians around the world pray this same Lord’s Prayer, have the same needs we do, and come to God as broken individuals in need of the same grace. How remarkable to recognize that God’s daily bread is certainly given for us, but also given for all the children of God around the world. That, indeed, is something to be grateful for! As we come forward in a moment for communion, I hope you will join me in praying for ourselves, and for Christians the world over, that we would all recognize God’s gift of daily bread, daily grace, daily life, today and every day.
Let us pray… Give us each day our daily bread, O Lord. Thank you for this gift. Thank you for your grace. Help us to recognize that you provide all we need from day to day, and strengthen us to respond in kind. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.