We continue our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen how the prayer reminds us that God’s intention is to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven, that is, make the world a more user-friendly, peaceful, place. It involves a transformation of our inhumanity toward one another into the deliberate practice of compassion and forgiveness. This is God’s will. And we are to pray that we align our intentions, our wills with that kingdom, to bring it about by living into a code of values.
It’s a kingdom where everyone has enough. The petition we focus on today is “Give us this day our daily bread.” Have you ever noticed that Jesus didn’t teach us to say, “Give me this day my daily bread.” In fact, there’s no first person singular in the Lord’s Prayer. There’s no “I” or “me” in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not individualistic, private concerns of one’s own physical and spiritual enrichment – like going to the spa. No this is about us. Our family, neighborhood, community, world. All of us. Give us this day our daily bread.
Of course this petition harkens back to the Exodus where the Hebrews who’d escaped from Egypt found themselves in the desert eating a substance called manna that miraculously appeared every morning. There were certain characteristics of manna. It rotted by the day’s end. If someone tried to hoard it and stockpile it, it wouldn’t work. It spoiled, so the people had to learn to rely on God for it and give thanks every day for their basic survival. And they had to learn to live in a world where food insecurity wasn’t an issue, where the kind of poverty where some people couldn’t afford to feed themselves simply didn’t exist. Enough for all. It wasn’t a culture of anxiety but recognition of an economy of abundance, everyone had enough. Manna. Daily bread.
When Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, it’s deeper than just general thanksgiving for food that most of us can take for granted anyway. The basic stuff of life is what we give thanks for, our survival, our essence, the breath of life. It’s about us, all of us getting what we need.
It’s a prayer of radical trust. It’s not about saving up for the future to ease your insecurity. Not give me enough to retire on. Give me enough to leave something to my family. Just give me enough. Today. Not give me tomorrow’s bread today, but help me to rely on you, God every day. Have you ever noticed the redundancy in the Lord’s Prayer? We might say, give us our daily bread. But instead we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s as if Jesus knew we need all the reminders we can get to relax and trust God.
When Jesus fed the multitudes, he underscored the lessons about trusting in God’s providence. He spent his time preaching in Galilee, which was an area going through a severe economic downturn. People were hurting, they were poor. Galilee was sort of the Appalachian mountain area of their day.
One day he winds up teaching thousands of people, and the disciples tell him that the hour is getting late so Jesus should send everyone into the villages to buy something to eat. It seems reasonable. Everyone knows the teaching goes down better if there are donuts afterward.
But Jesus says, “Nah. You feed them.” As if somehow, the hunger of other people somehow became their problem, too. They must not have thought about it before. Not my problem. Somehow Jesus makes the needs of others a problem for his followers to grapple with.
But they are overwhelmed. “Lord, yo, it would take serious cash to feed all these people.”
They knew how limited their resources were so they didn’t even dream about something larger, feeding people. They couldn’t conceive of other people’s hunger as their problem. I think about how sometimes when we complain about the big problems, we throw up our hands all too aware of our limited resources, “Ah, but what can you do?”
- A billion people on our planet go to bed hungry, “Ah, but what are you going to do?”
- Poverty runs deep in many communities and repeats from generation to generation. Bad schools in bad neighborhoods ensure the cycle continues. Ah, but what are you going to do?”
- Dictatorial regimes slaughter any resistance, children are gunned down at school, “Ah but what can you do?”
- Incivility and division and rudeness and lack of decent common empathy and valuing of truth are ruining us. “Ah, but what can you do?”
But you know what at some point you start to hear the voice of Jesus as the one asking, “What are you going to do?”
Our first impulse, like the disciples is to say, “Yo, dude. The problems are too big. Our resources, too small. I’m just a person. For some, it leads to excuses. They know they cannot help everybody. So they chose to help nobody. You can hear them, “Most of the money doesn’t get to the people who need it anyway.”
But every once in a while something amazing happens. In John’s telling of the feeding miracle, a little peasant boy decides he can share his lunch of 2 fish and 5 barley loaves. How do you know he’s a peasant? Because he is eating barley instead of wheat bread – the mark of peasants who did not have the money for wheat.
In fact, scholar John Dominic Crossan says the reason a lot of these people were poor is because the governor Herod Antipas had made a sweetheart deal with the emperor where much of the grain from the fields and fish from the lakes were hauled off to Rome so the Roman emperor could brag to everyone about how he was the one who provides. “Trust in me,” the emperor told his people, “I provide your daily bread, and fish, too.” The story of the feeding is yet another example of the gospel saying that God, not Caesar sits on the throne of this world and truly provides. Trust in God more than the government for your security and provisions.
So the boy offered his little gift, which must have seemed like it would help feed that number of people the same way that jumping gets you closer to the sun.
Once it’s offered, Jesus takes the bread and looks up to heaven and gives thanks; he breaks the bread and makes everyone sit down on the green grass to participate in the feast of heaven. Everyone eats to the point of 12 baskets of fragments being left over. What’s the point of the leftovers? Why not just the right amount? Was Jesus showing off?
John says that this wasn’t just about feeding; it was a sign, a lesson that pointed beyond itself. It points to the abundance of God where we see only lack. The twelve baskets represent the tribes of Israel, people thought God had abandoned them and was working through Rome now. But the abundance reminds them that God was still active. We think God is done with us, but the grace is more than enough. We worry and fret about our futures, echoing those seagulls from Finding Nemo who constantly attack and hoard what they find, “Mine, mine, mine.” At the beach the other day, I thought of this when a flock tore into an open bag of Cheetos a family left behind when they got in the water.
God has provided us the means to feed the world, there is enough food, the problem is in the sharing and economics of it and the violence that keeps much of the food that is given away rotting on the docks while tribal warlords keep the food fromgetting to those most in need. We’ve got to find better ways. The drought will affect food prices worldwide, devastating those who are already right on the edge of survival.
What I like about the passage is that it leaves much to our imagination. It doesn’t explain how it worked. Did bread grow, like a lizard’s tail, you take some off and it just grows back, and then some? Maybe what happened was not so much that the physical properties of the bread changed, but human hearts were broken open when they saw the gift of the child. Perhaps what happened was lots of people had food with them. The boy did. Was he the only person in 5,000 with some food? Maybe a lot of folks had some food and they were inspired to share it. We might look around the room right now and think there isn’t any food in here – but if we asked about Cheerios in purses for kids, little snacks tucked away in cars, I’d imagine we aren’t as deprived as we might think.
I remember mentioning this once and someone thought that I was explaining away the miracle. No. I’m magnifying it. What is the more dramatic and significant miracle – the Son of God changes the physical properties of bread, or that the Son of God gets people to open their hearts and share with a neighbor in need? Wanna’ see a miracle? Pass an offering plate. Every Sunday. The miracle of sharing.
We can’t go back and watch what happened. But we can follow the call of the gospel to be like this child, and in the face of what seems so little to offer to give what we have and to watch how when we place it in Jesus’ hands, miracles happen. Jesus multiplies our gifts. Maybe it inspires others to give, too and that creates a space where God can work.
I like to think about the first dude that Jesus handed the bread to. He could have said, “O thanks, I need this for my family.” He looks at the crowd and says, “Jesus gave it to me, me! Mine. Mine. Mine,” and tucked it into his knapsack and shuffled home.
Think about your life, your possessions, your income, the things that give you pleasure, your abilities, as a loaf of bread, a small barley loaf. Christ gives it to you, a gift that you didn’t produce on your own, but something that came from God. And there you are realizing there is a great crowd around you. Will you let your hunger and anxiety about the future where you wonder if there will be enough later dictate your actions? Will you take it as private property and tuck it in your knapsack? Will you delude yourself into thinking that you get that because you were more precious, you deserve it, you are better than others because your hard work, self-discipline, spiritual life is superior? Or will you offer what you have, and pass it along so that the miracle can happen. Maybe God trusted you with it because God believed you wouldn’t hoard it, but that you’d do the right thing and share it. The thing that makes this miracle so wonderful is that it’s repeatable.
You see the same things I see in the news, and now you have an answer.
- There are hungry people. Jesus asks, what are you going to do? I’m going to be part of a church that gets involved, that fills up food pantry items, that gets involved in Food Finders and Habitat for Humanity, helping people in some of the poorest places on earth to provide some hope.
- There are homeless people. What you gonna’ do? Be involved with a church that partners with Precious Lamb preschool and COA ministries.
- The kids are losing moral center. What you gonna’ do? Invite somebody to VBS or children’s choir. That they might learn the stories.
- Violence takes the lives of so many innocents, What you gonna’ do? Gonna’ be an instrument of peace making, to help de-escalate tensions, to be a person of understanding and compassion. I’m going to worship and feed my soul so that I am more centered, balanced so that I’m not lashing out.
- People are sick. What you gonna’ do? Hold them up in prayer, knit prayer shawls, bring a meal, give a ride to the doctor’s office, remember that being supported is as important as medicine when it comes to getting through something really bad.
It’s amazing what happens when you do these things. I cannot quite explain it; it’s a mystery, but a miracle happens in your human heart, a miracle where you see abundance where before you saw only lack, a miracle where you trust that whatever you have to offer, Jesus will multiply it. Suddenly the blessings in your life will multiply because you will be part of so much more than mine. Mine. Mine.