Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Lord's Prayer - The Fourth Petition
"Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread"
Think of a table - your dinner table.
Growing up, our family had two dinner tables in our home: one over in the dining room, which you only got to use a few times a year when the "company" came over, and another that served as the day-to-day table for the family. But both tables provided plenty of space for home-cooked meals or take-out pizza, where we could get together and eat. That's what the dinner table's for, regardless of whether it's a handmade, polished wooden surface or a petite prefabricated platform.
What's on your table? Do you find yourself enjoying big meals of pasta and salad, or diet-conscious frozen entrees from the supermarket? A simple breakfast with oatmeal and raisins, or homemade blueberry pancakes with fresh juice and grilled bacon? Whatever meal you eat at the dinner table - or at your desk, or at your coffee table while watching television - is a gift from God to sustain you. Has your stomach ever growled, or have you ever felt a pang of hunger after missing a meal? We need food! Vegetables, fruits, meats, bread - even Twinkies, which seem to defy classification - come from the natural world that God has created.
In all the rush of getting food to the table and getting on with our lives; however, this fact can get lost or, even if remembered, we don't give usually give it much thought. After all, does it really seem like a cup of instant noodles comes from God? But have you noticed that when you prepare a meal using ingredients like tomatoes or herbs that you'd grown in your own garden, you tend to appreciate the meal all the more? If you take a look at this week's Take-Away sheet, you'll notice that the first couple of questions ask about your family's table prayer. Reflect on what that prayer teaches - what it says. If you have neglected thanking God before you eat, it's not too late to make a change.
In this fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to work in our hearts so that we always remember that what we receive at the dinner table comes from His hand. We're asking for, as some people have said, an "attitude of gratitude." What's more, we're asking that God continue to provide our daily bread. The Greek text doesn't actually read "Give us this day our daily bread;" rather, it's more like "Give us today our bread that is coming." In faith, we trust that God will work through employers and farmers and ranchers (and Hostess, the people that make those Twinkies) to supply that which we need to sustain our bodies - and He goes beyond that in giving more than we could dream possible. When you pray before your meals in the week ahead, thanking the Lord for something specific each day in addition to your table prayer.
Think about the dinner table. Who gathers around it? Is it a place for family and friends to sit, talk, and become closer to one another? How often, each week, does your entire immediate family sit down together for dinner? It might seem as if work and sports and meetings take too much time to gather around the table. But the truth is that we give away our time - these things can't take it away. You might, however, be alone at your dinner table because you're not married, or because your children have left home, or because a loved one has died - the empty seats reminding you of what you do not have.
In this fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer, we give thanks for the people with which God has surrounded us and through whom He cares for our physical and emotional needs. We also ask our heavenly Father to give us a godly spouse, supportive friends, a loving family, good neighbors. Furthermore, we ask that He sustains them and continues to care for them. Part of the bread that we receive from God's hand is this time together with those who are dear to us.
Think about the dinner table. What surrounds it? Don't think about the food and the people, now, but instead consider the roof over your head, the clothes that you're wearing, and the car or bus that takes you to the supermarket where you can buy those food-category-defying Twinkies! Beyond all these, God provides for you by sending rain and sunlight. He protects and defends you through the means of firefighters, police, and the military. He sustains your very body, giving you life and breath. In short, all that we are and all that we have depends on the Father's ongoing care.
In this fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to provide everything that we need to live. Sadly, we often confuse what we merely want with what we truly need. This is where the "daily" part of "daily bread" comes to bear: we're not only asking for the bread that feeds us but also for the humility we need to keep from falling into greed and waste. In a world that encourages us to demand whatever we want, whenever we want it, Jesus teaches us to simply ask for what we need to see us through the day. Dr. Gibbs, one of my professors at the seminary, wrote, "Perhaps we might pray a longer version of the Fourth Petition: 'Teach us to distinguish what we need from what we can do without. Give us today our needed bread, which comes from you. And lead us today to give to others what they lack.'" God, who has given us so many gifts, gives us enough to share. He is at work in us to give daily bread to people who are in need of a helping hand. In this petition, we learn that God gives.
Now think about another table: the Lord's Table. Here, at God's altar, we come for the Bread of Life. You've probably heard any number of sermons in Lutheran congregations about Holy Communion, but we can never hear enough. Here, at this table, a divine mystery occurs among us. The Son of God provides the bread and drink that we need to live, giving us his body and blood. But, as we've seen, the daily bread isn't just what's on the table. God gives us the people around the table, our family in Christ, to build us up and support us. He gives us everything that surrounds the table: our church building, our resources, our everything. All this happens at this table because of what happened on the cross in the atoning death of Jesus Christ, who came to feed a starving world.
Being fed, we are sent. Having what we need, we are led to give. Recognizing all that God our Father does for us, we give thanks.
Let us pray: Dear Father in heaven, grant that we may give You thanks for our daily bread, through which You provide for all our physical needs. Give us humble hearts that gladly ask You for what we need, and work through us to share what You have given with those whose tables are empty. All this we ask in the name of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.