Manna

 Inspired by Luke 11:3

Well if you thought last week’s reading was short, holy moly! This week we only have one verse, with a grand total of seven words! How in the world am I going to write a sermon from just seven words? Well, since I ended up only preaching on one word last week, Father, or Abba as Jesus put it, I think I’ll be ok with seven words this week! So, this is the second of three weeks on the Lord’s Prayer and just as a reminder, l have them also separated by theme so to speak: week one being all about God, week two, this week, being all about us, and the final week focusing on our relationship with each other and the world. So, that continues to be our plan of action, unless of course the Holy Spirit has other plans, which she often does, but doesn’t always send me a memo about them.

Jose Vela Zanetti, “El Pan Nuestro de Cada Día” 1980
This week we have this one verse, “Give us each day our daily bread.” The first thing that always strikes me about this line is that it’s not really in the form of a question, is it. We don’t pray, “Will you give us each day our daily bread…please?” No, it actually comes across like more of a directive, even the word petition I feel is a bit too soft of a word. It sounds more like, dare I say, a demand, doesn’t it! “Give us each day our daily bread.” It’s not, “God, if it’s no trouble, and I know how busy you are, but if you get a chance, could you please drop off some bread? Any kind will do, I’m not picky.” No, “give” is what we pray, and not just today but “each day” in case we forget to ask tomorrow. Now, what I love about this is the relationship that this implies. It’s a relationship based on trust and confidence and faith in the one whom we are demanding from. This demand for daily bread, for sustenance, is not based on greed or rudeness or a sense of entitlement. Rather, it’s Jesus inviting us to expect goodness from a good God.

Antonio Tempesta, "Gathering of the Manna" 1600
To really get the most out of this one line of the Lord’s Prayer though, I invite you to travel back in time with me. Oh, about three thousand years ago. It’s just after the time of the great Exodus, when God’s people, with the help of Moses and Miriam, escaped slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. The Red Sea is behind them, and they begin what will be a forty-year wandering through the wilderness, homeless, at the mercy of the elements with little food or water. Fear takes a hold of them quickly and they begin to wonder what in the world they are doing out there, saying, “It would have been better to have remained slaves in Egypt than to die out here of starvation in the wilderness!” God then accused them of being a bit overdramatic, no, just kidding, but what God did do was provide bread from heaven, called manna, which would collect on the ground overnight. God then instructed them to gather it, but to only gather enough for each day. No more, no less. And so they did, and God continued to give them their daily bread while they were in the wilderness.

Now, fast forward a thousand years to Jesus teaching his disciples to pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.” You better believe that in the back of their minds, was the old story of manna from heaven, and with that story comes a remembrance of the relationship, and the kind of relationship with the one who provides our daily bread—the goodness of a good God—coupled with that trust, that confidence, that faith that we spoke of before. When we demand our daily bread we are also confessing our trust in the goodness of God to not only give us what we need today, but tomorrow as well even though we can’t see it. When we demand our daily bread we are also saying that tomorrow’s needs will be met as well, in spite of our lack of faith, in spite of our complaining, in spite of our drama, in spite of our greed, in spite of our fears, in spite of us, our daily bread will come, just as that manna did, a thousand years before Jesus taught them this prayer.

Now, earlier I mentioned that this week would be all about us and that next week would be all about our relationship with each other and the world but this demand to give us each day our daily bread does indeed have great implications with how we relate to others. And the first step in that is to acknowledge how differently people pray this prayer based on their life situation. In his book, Lord, Teach Us, Will Willimon shares this story, “A woman in a little village in Honduras trudges up the mountain each day to gather and then carry down the mountain the sticks for her cooking the food. Then she grinds the corn her husband has raised, cherishing every kernel, hoping that this season’s corn will last through the winter. The tortillas are made in the palm of her hand. She drops them in the pan, cooks them and feeds them one-by-one to her children, the only food they will have that day to fill their aching stomachs. That woman undoubtedly prays, “Give us [each] day our daily bread” different from the way we pray that petition (emphasis added).”

To acknowledge that many people pray this prayer differently based on circumstances is one thing but I’d like to stretch you even further than that. Have you ever considered that praying for your daily bread, for most of us, is actually praying for you to have less than you already have? Think about the state of the world as far as food goes. It’s been well documented that there are enough food resources to go around the world for everyone to have enough daily calories, daily subsistence but yet, there are so many who don’t have enough to eat to survive, while there are so many who have more than they could ever eat. So, when we pray for our daily bread, the harsh reality of any answer to that prayer that’s worth its salt, is the recognition that some of what I have, should have gone to someone else more needy than I. Richard Vinson puts it this way, “Praying for daily subsistence rations, for most of us, is a bit like praying for a pay cut. We eat more food, surely, than any society has ever eaten. We have more varieties of food available to us, from fresh to frozen to fast, than any society has ever had, more than most societies a few generations back would have believed possible. If we pray, “Give us [each day our daily bread],” are we prepared to have God slash our incomes or somehow wreck the food production industry? Are we prepared to stand in real solidarity with the poor, whom Mary said God would raise up, while sending the rich, like us, away empty?”

Jose Vela Zanetti, "La Ultima Cena" 1977
At our Wednesday evening online Bible discussion I’d like to talk about not only why praying this prayer this way can be so challenging for us but also how we can live lives of contentment, rather than always wanting more, you know, the American way! To begin that conversation I’ll leave you with the story of the Contented Fisherman that goes like this, “The rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe. "Why aren't you out fishing?" said the industrialist. "Because I have caught enough fish for the day," said the fisherman. "Why don't you catch some more?" "What would I do with it?" "You could earn more money" was the reply. "With that, you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats…maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me." "What would I do then?" "Then you could really enjoy life." "What do you think I am doing right now?"

In our thankfulness to a God whose mercy knows no ending, whose generosity knows no bounds, may we also challenge ourselves to learn how to live lives of contentedness, happy with having enough, so that all may one day have enough too. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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