This morning we step foot inside the second strand of the Disciples prayer, the ethics strand, the strand that gives us guidance on how we are to live in the day to day. We see that even the God of the cosmos is also interested in the giving of something as mundane as a loaf of bread. Last week we discussed the first strand, the strand of the worshiping community who is reoriented around one father, Our Father, in heaven. This week we look at the implications of that reorientation. If God is our father, then what can we expect? What do we pray for? And how do we act? The prayer,
Give us this day our daily bread or,
Give us this day the bread we need or again,
Give us provisions for what we need today,
is clearly concerned with our ethics.
The role this part of the Disciples prayer has in our lives may shift from time to time. At one point we may be on the side of desperation, crying out, God, give me something to eat. Anything at all. At other times, we may be less desperate, but still panicked, God, Im ashamed to ask, but help us with these little things. Then of course, there are other times when we pray this prayer knowing full well we already have our daily, weekly and possibly monthly bread. Then we pray this prayer as, God, thank you for my food, help me to give it away.
The prayer for daily bread, is also a prayer to become givers of daily bread. We as the worshiping community, formed around our allegiance to God the Father and his kingdom allows us, even calls us, to live out a different ethic than the one our world operates by.
When we pray the Disciples Prayer we risk submitting ourselves to the call of the Gospel, we find that we are called not only to pray this pray, but to live it, and be its answer however we can. Or as the Quaker Elton Trueblood said, When we pray for bread we are entering consciously into the fellowship of those who bear the mark of hunger. (E. Trueblood, 52). This prayer helps us to fully enter into the Gospel, and empathize not only with Gods desires, but with those calling upon God to respond.
Growing up I have prayed both sides of this prayer. The prayer of desperation, and the prayer to become a giver. Growing up, we had very little. My step-father stopped working in 1992, and with six kids, a few animals, and a mother who tried to work part-time and take care of the family, we had major difficulties making ends meet. Our family of eight lived on $12,000 a year. I remember praying for daily bread. I remember not having food, I remember volunteering at food giveaway centers and being glad they would allow us to take food home with us too. I remember our house going through foreclosure a couple times, yet a random check arrived in our mailbox allowing us to keep the house. I remember the Christmases when the church we attended bought us gifts so there could be something under the tree.
Praying for bread is something I can identify with (at least to some extent) and the beautiful thing is that along with this empathy, was the experience that God truly was the provider of daily bread. We did have what we needed, and often it was Christians who helped us from getting into an irreversible downward spiral. God worked through the church to answer our prayers for daily bread.
How about you? Where are you located in this prayer? What is your daily bread?
When we pray this prayer we are asking God for real bread, and trusting that he has provided this bread for others in the past. Bread is an essential object in the Bible. It comes up in all kinds of stories, it was one the main form of sustenance for many in antiquity. What are some of the stories that you recall dealing with bread from the Scriptures?
I would think the most obvious and powerful are Jesus final supper, Jesus feeding the 4,000 and 5,000 with fish and loaves, (or bagels and lox) and God providing Manna in the Old Testament. When I pray, Give us this day our daily bread, I almost instantly go back to the story in Exodus 16 where God provided Manna to the Children of Israel. I think when Jesus was constructing this prayer he had this in the back of his mind.
This is a story our Manna and Mercy small group just discussed this past Monday. While the Children of Israel were on the move through the desert to the promised land, they began to get really hungry and complained to God that hed rescued them from Egypt only to bring them out in the desert to starve to death. God answered this complaint, 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. (Exodus 16:4) Thus YHWH rained bread, called Manna, or literally translated, What is it? The instructions were pretty straightforward, but as we all know, they werent easy to keep.
You know how the story goes, God provides the manna for all of them. Each was to gather only as much as they needed for the day (smaller clans got less, larger clans got enough for all their people), hoarding wasnt allowed and was unnecessary because God was providing new Manna daily. This flew in the face of the Egyptian culture they were used to. In Egypt where they were slaves the worked for the Pharaoh to gather up and accumulate as much as possible. Gods way was different. When some of the people hoard manna, just in case, the next day it began to rot and get worms in it! Yuck!!! Talk about leftovers going sour!
Theres a lot to be learned about Gods economics from this passage, and while we may want to try and quickly write it off as being from the Old Testament and no longer relevant today, Jesus prayer for Our Daily Bread today, inscribes into the heart of Christianity. This kind of sharing economy, where everyone take enough, so that there is enough for others.
Just like Manna was real bread that sustained the Children of Israel, when we pray this prayer, we are praying for real bread to sustain us. Were shouldnt spiritualize this prayer too quickly, when Jesus taught this part about bread he did not mean first and foremost a good sermon [Lucky for you!], or a especially nice quiet time though I it could be these things as well. For this prayer, Bread is bread, and then by extension it can be other things. In recalling this story, we remember the ethics around what it means to allow God to provide just enough.
Now I think for the most of us here, when we pray this prayer we fall into one of the two groups of people I mentioned earlier. The first group is the people who have enough, and the second are the people who need the people with enough to help them have enough also. As one person commented on my Face book: Getting to enough should be everyone’s shared goal. Those with more than enough should work towards enough, and those with less than enough should humbly aim for enough as well.
Therefore the translation, Give us this day the bread we need, hits close to both groups of people. It reminds us of the Manna story, reminding us that this is a prayer for enough. This prayer reminds us that there are limits and that we need to limit ourselves to what we need, and thank God for enough. When we pray for enough, we pray for God to establish his kingdom economy, where sharing is central. I take what I need so that you too can have what you need. To go beyond this, to pray for tomorrows needs as well is to fall into the temptation of hoarding.
Dallas Willard writes that this way of praying for what we need today helps form within us a trusting attitude towards God. I ask for what I need today, and I trust that God will also provide for tomorrow, just the same as today. He says,
This is how Children do it, of course. A Mother who discovers that her child is saving up oatmeal, pieces of toast, or strips of bacon [or in Ls case pieces of chocolate] for fear of not having food tomorrow has cause to be alarmed. The world being what it is, we can all too easily imagine situations in which the childs actions would be reasonable. But in any normal situation parents will be astonished and pained that the child does not trust them to provide for it day by day. A child should never have to even think about future provision until it grows older and has that responsibility (Willard 261).
In this prayer for enough we are reminded that we live in a world that is connected and that our lives have effect on the lives of others. We can often intentionally or unintentionally isolate ourselves from the deep needs of others, in our very rich society there is a vast separation between the rich and poor. Our call to have enough holds us accountable to our brothers and sisters around the world. A theology of enough balances out a culture of excess. It reminds us that to become takers of more than enough is to forfeit the chance of being kingdom givers. One persons excess and over-consumption is another persons daily bread. And I believe it is this ethic is inscribed into the heart of Christianity, and it is this that Quakers have tried to revive with their practices of plainness and simplicity.
We dont have to look far to find examples of how greed and a theology of excess can insulate us from and dehumanize the poor. In a society that prides itself on excess and over-consumption it is no surprise that we have to take from others to fill our wants. A theology of enough, the prayer for daily bread, is the difficult remedy for this greed. Gandhi once said, There is enough for everyones need, but there is not enough for everyones greed. True simplicity, the kind Quakers have always sought to practice comes out of a love for God and others, it humanizes those who are in need, it looks out for them and advocates that they too have enough, just like us. Quakers at their best have been givers, rather than takers of Bread.
Shane Claiborne writes in one of my favorite books, The Irresistible Revolution, that To pray my daily bread is a desecration; we are to pray our daily bread, for all of us. And so when we pray this prayer we recognize that others are praying this prayer as well. My brother who is out of work praying for daily bread, your sister who was recently laid off is praying for daily bread, the woman whos husband just walked out on her and left her with two hungry children at home are praying for daily bread. Those of us who are struggling to make ends meet are praying for enough to get by. And those of us who are thankful to be stable and to have extra pray for ways to be givers of daily bread.
And so I think we come to the mission of the church as it is found in this second strand of the prayer. We are to not only pray for bread but to give it if we are a community gathered around Our Father who provides. We set out to be like Our Father, as Paul says in Ephesians, Be imitators of God, Our Father in heaven by loving others and practicing concrete acts of giving. We break down the walls of isolation, and seek first to discover how we can respond to those around us who are in need.
This past February I was a co-facilitator for a weekend retreat on Convergent Friends in the Redwood Forest of northern California. During that weekend we took time to discuss what it meant for us as Quakers to embody the testimony of plainness. One 18th century Quaker discipline reads:
It is also our concern to exhort all friends, both men and women to watch against the growing sin of pride, and beware of adorning themselves in a manner disagreeable to the plainness and simply of the truth we make profession of (The Old Discipline, 196). [Interestingly, it is right next to section on poverty, I think it shows that these two things are interconnected.]
Our task at that retreat was to flesh out what plainness looks like in 2009. I remember one lady sharing that she was led to get rid of half her clothes, and she pointed out just how difficult it was to get rid of 50% of her clothing. She said she had given 25% a number of times, but this call to give up half was excruciating. But there was another catch, she had to give all the clothes away personally, to the people who needed them. She wouldnt take them to a charity and let someone else do it for her, she felt it was essential that she be connected to the process of giving. I think she embodied the heart of this prayer.
Many of you have done similar things: youve given food and clothes to those who have needed, thats daily bread. Many of you have taken people in when they had no place to go, that too is daily bread. In that same Quaker disciple it says, We treat the poor as people who are in our family, and we should think of giving to those in need as lending to the Lord who will repay in due time.
And so you have been invited to be givers and bring things that would be helpful for homeless people in our area during winter this year. We can be givers of daily bread right here as a church family. We can do this by being prepared to be on both sides of this prayer: The prayer of desperation, and the prayer of enough which compels us to become givers of bread.
And what better thing to represent this tension of giving and taking than a trashcan, probably not the first thing to come to your mind? A couple weeks ago we watched a really great film on dumpster diving, and in that film we got to catch a glimpse of what it looks like for people to live off another persons excess. Trashcans in our society are receptacles of excess and over-consumption. They contain our refuse and the things we wish to keep hidden from our eyes. But as kingdom people we reverse this meaning and subvert it, we can make it into a receptacle of sharing, of manna, of enough.
My friend Greg Russinger started this project, a trashcans can make a difference, in Portland as a way to embody Gods sharing economy with something that for many of us simply represents waste. A trashcan can make a difference, if we cut back on our excess, cut back on our waste, and lived sought only to have enough then we could have a trashcan filled with gifts rather than trash.
Greg writes on the TCMD website:
In our culture, the trashcan is where we collect our refusethose unwanted and unclean items that we want to be rid of. For many however, the trashcan represents lifea medium through which daily sustenance is found. In the spirit of the ancient practice of gleaning, in which the leftover crops at the edges of farmers fields were left for the poor and the stranger, weve reclaimed the trashcan as symbol of hope and given birth to a new initiative: A Trashcan Can Make a Difference (TCMD).
TCMD is a collaborative redistribution effort that uses trashcans for the collection of new goods for those in need. The items collected are then specifically distributed to those in need through partnerships weve developed with other local non-profit organizations. TCMD is continually growing through franchise activismthat is, a growing network of concerned individuals, families, businesses, groups, churches and schools collaborating autonomously to host a trashcan in various locales, providing those communities with a visual reminder and an opportunity to embrace the values of generosity, social concern and cooperative living.
It is a network of sharing. For now, I suggest we leave this trashcan in the foyer near my office where we all can have access for it. This will become a place for us to give things to for poor people who need what is inside this. If you know of people are who in need feel free to come and take from this. If you are in need feel free to come and take. We can continue to grow in the ethics of the kingdom by being a community of sharers, givers, and enough.
During our open worship of prayer and silence I invite you all to come up and place things inside this can so in an act of giving Daily Bread. You can put anything in here, if you didnt bring something but you want to put something in it you can come back later and add to it or you can put money in there and we will use that money to fill in what things may be missing from the can.
As you come forward I invite you to mediate on the part of the prayer we discussed today: Give us this day the bread we need, and remember those who are in need. Pray it for your yourself, pray it for your family…And remember you have been invited to participate in the answering of this prayer.
Old Mennonite version of the Disciple’s Prayer:
Abba Father God, Bless your holy name.
Let your reign come now, Let your desires be carried out.
Bring your peace to birth, As in heavn, so on Earth
Give us bread, daily; Free us, as we free.
When the way is hard, Be our guide and guard.
Your rule, power; and praise Reign supreme, always.