Sermon: Give Us What We Need

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Sermon: "Give Us What We Need"

5th in the "Jesus and His Prayer" series.
Delivered February 20, 2011 by Rev. George Antonakos.
Sermon Text: Matthew 6:9-13 (TNIV and MSG)

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This past Wednesday a handful of church staff gathered as we normally do from Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, from 11:30 to 12:00 just to have a break right in the middle of our day to pray, to remind us that God is really the source of our strength and our effort. And Wednesday we were gathered, and there were just a handful of us in the room, and I just asked if we could go around and just share, "Does anybody have a particular burden today?"

And I was kind of overwhelmed by the fact that everybody seemed to have a fairly significant family burden as we shared, and it was, it struck me so that I kind of half-breathed and half-said, "Boy, oh boy, everybody is carrying burdens that we don't even, we're not even aware of." And so it was good just to talk about them and pray for them.

And it makes me wonder, as we gather here today looking all spiffy and together, what kind of burdens we bring. I think if we were to break into small groups and ask each other, "What burden have you been carrying this past week?" or maybe, "What burden do you even carry into church today?" our hearts might break to hear the depth of concerns that we carry. I am inclined to ask for a show of hands because there's no shame to carry a burden, but I won't. But just know that probably you, and if you're not carrying one today, within your arm's length there are probably people who are carrying pretty heavy concerns.

So what are we to do with them? We're to offer them up to God because God is the only one who can take them from us, and that's what Jesus is trying to teach us as we come today to this petition of the Lord's Prayer in this series. "Give us this day our daily bread," or, "Give us today our daily bread." We have a turning point in the prayer. Everything up till now has been focused on God, and now we're turning towards our own needs as God's children.

I was looking at The Message's version of the Lord's Prayer, and we're going to look at that on the screen in just a moment, but I want to pray because I want it to serve as today's reading. It's a different angle on the Lord's Prayer, and I think you'll find it interesting, but let's pray first.

Lord, we thank you for bringing us here today, for your Word, for your Spirit. We pray for the combination of Word and Spirit to speak into our hearts so that we might be comforted and challenged and transformed more into your image through Christ our Lord, Amen.

So here's today's reading. It's a paraphrase. It's not really a translation, so let's use it anyway.

"Our Father in heaven," (you can read this with me if you like,)
"Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best - as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
  Yes. Yes. Yes."

That's a good one for Amen, huh?

So what do you think about Dr. Peterson's translation of "Give us this day our daily bread" to "Keep us alive with three square meals"? Having studied the text, I'm not so sure I resonate with it too much, but I know why he used it. And when we think three square meals, I always want to put the phrase on the end of it, "three square meals a day." We need three square meals a day.

So that leads to me sharing with you six possible meanings of this simple little phrase, "Give us today our daily bread." And the reason that there are so many is because the word "daily" in the Greek language is only used here in the whole New Testament, except for Luke 11:3, which is the same basic verse in the gospel of Luke. And the Greek word for "daily" is rarely found in other Greek literature, and so it leads some people to speculate that it's possible that the apostles coined the word. And so because of that, it's like well what exactly did they really mean when they were saying this?

Here are six possibilities. It's kind of painless. I'll go through them quickly.

1. Daily bread. That means three square meals. That's like, "God, for what I need today, give me the bread I need today.

2. Needed or necessary bread for existence in many areas of life. When Isaiah said in 55:2, "Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread?" obviously in that verse, it's not talking about bread. It's a metaphor for what we need in life, for only what God can provide to make life make sense.

3. Bread for the coming day. Imagine being on a camping trip and somebody says, "Here are your rations for tomorrow. Here's your provision for tomorrow. You now have it in your hands." And if you think about a day in Hebrew time, after 6 PM, you could think, "Okay, give us today our bread for the coming day."

4. Bread for future days. In Luke 11:3, it's translated, "Give us each day our daily bread." In other words, give us our bread for every tomorrow that we have.

5. Give us this day the bread that belongs to it. And this puts the emphasis on human cooperation and not just expecting God to drop a loaf of bread on our lap, but that we're going to work towards what we need.

6. Give us the bread of life promised for the great tomorrow, the bread of the coming kingdom, which the Lord's Supper points to and which encompasses Jesus as the Bread of Life. Give us the bread for that great feast. Help us to think about that great feast coming and the hope that is filling our hearts, and then we won't worry about our bread for today because we know you have everything under control.

So which will it be? I don't think we need to be too concerned because no matter how you slice it... Thank you. Thank you for listening. We can say this: this part of the Lord's Prayer is concerned with day by day needs, and we cannot exclude any physical or spiritual concerns from its interpretation. The bottom line is this: bread does not keep, so the request is all about living in daily dependence on God's sufficient grace for today because this day is the only one we have. There is a distinct, as the recovery groups say it, one-day-at-a-time spirit to this prayer, and it's exactly what Jesus teaches at the end of Matthew 6 when he says, "Don't worry about tomorrow."

The prayer reflects the lesson that God was trying to teach the children of Israel when they were in the wilderness and he gave them manna for every day. Remember he gave them manna for each day, and he said, "Just collect enough for today"? Why didn't God give them manna for a week? It's really easy for God to put preservatives in the manna. Why didn't he do it? Because he wanted them to learn a lesson. "Trust me with your daily needs. I am here for you. I will provide for you. Don't worry about tomorrow. I've got that covered too. Trust me."

The petition itself is a confession of our hearts. It's a confession of our need. It's a confession of our dependence. And even if the translation is "Give us the bread that we need for tomorrow," it's not contradicting what Jesus is teaching at the end of the chapter when he says, "Don't worry." It's really a prayer just entrusting ourselves to the God who will provide for us and who can only provide for us ultimately with the deepest needs of our heart. Do I hear an Amen?

So here is how one scholar boiled it all down, that the meaning could basically be this:

"Grant that we may lie down in sleep not with a sense of abundance or surety against hard times, but simply without despair, that we can go to sleep without despair, knowing that the coming day has been provided for."

And when we believe this, it can help us address whatever burden we carry in here today because the alternative is just constant stress and worry and carrying burdens that God never intended for us to carry. So let me give you three reasons why this clause of the Lord's Prayer can help us trust God with our daily needs and be lifted above our anxiety.

1. This prayer, "Give us today our daily bread," praying for daily bread, validates our most basic human needs and desires. It's basically a statement that says, God says, "I take your desires seriously." Just like the Book of Common Prayer communion liturgy, it says, "Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid."

N. T. Wright asks in his book on the Lord's Prayer, "How do you react to the phrase, 'All desires known'?" He says, "It says a lot about your spiritual health depending on whether or not you hear that phrase as a threat or a promise." God's knowledge of our basic, fundamental needs and Jesus inserting this prayer into what he taught his disciples, because there's no equivalent to all the Jewish... There's a Jewish prayer called the "kaddish," which was 19 petitions that a Jews would pray every day, and there is nothing equivalent to this. I mean, there's something similar, but this really stands alone.

And so when Jesus inserts this, he's basically validating God's awareness and concern over our desires and burdens and whatever we need. And Scripture is filled with stories of people who brought burdens of their heart to God. Like Naomi, for instance, whose daughter-in-law Ruth, she prayed, and she was so burdened that she'd find a husband. And that prayer was not only answered, but the husband who married her, that Ruth became the great-great-grandmother of King David.

And there are so many other stories like this. Stories of burning, like Hannah praying for a child. The needs that are expressed are not in spite of the desire but based on the desire. God takes our desires seriously, and when you compare that to the way other religions treat desire, it's very different because other religions say, "All desire should be eradicated if you're going to achieve spiritual centeredness." Desires honestly addressed to God are not to be shunned.

Do you know when we really pray? When you and I really pray, do you know when it is? When we have to. When there's no other way. When our desires are so strong, or when we're so desperate that we offer that prayer, that's the prayer of the heart that God desires. And that's usually the times our desires and needs are most strongly felt.

I remember when I met my wife, Ellen, in 1972, at Cornell University. We were there for a five-week biblical study. I'd just signed on a couple of weeks before. I said, "I know I've got to get God's Word in my heart. That's been one of my problems in my spiritual journey. I haven't been getting God's Word in my heart." So I signed up for this five-week course at Cornell University, and in the first week I meet the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life, and I'm thunderstruck. I'm just stunned. I can hardly speak, but I faked it. So I acted calm. There was so much going on in my heart, and I lay in bed that night, and I remember I said, "God, I didn't come here to meet somebody and have a relationship. I came here to study your Word. Why are you doing this?"

So here's what I prayed. I said, "Lord." I was really spiritual back then. I said, "Lord, you have to give her the same desires or take mine away. I'm not going to make any moves, not going to try any shenanigans or anything like that. I'm going to just trust you." And the last night of the conference, I declared my affection to her. It was a moment of great decision, great truth. I was scared, you know, because I finally confessed, but I was praying. I said, "Well if these haven't been taken away, I'm just going out on a limb here." And three kids and three grandkids later, you know her answer, right?

Praying this prayer, especially on the heels of everything that comes before us, because he's, the Lord's teaching us, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." All of that toward God, and then he says, "Give us this day." So the prayer positioned where it is basically is trying to teach us God will give us what we need when we need it.

Say that after me. God will give us what we need when we need it. I remember one time I was very anxious about something, and a friend of mine sort of called me up short, and he says, "Listen, God will give you the grace you need for the future that you're worrying about when you need it. He won't give it to you a minute before that. So let it go. Don't live into something mentally that God hasn't given you the grace to deal with yet. If God calls you to some challenge or some trial, God will give you the grace to deal with it then," which was a good reminder.

Okay, that's the first reason. The second reason this clause helps us trust God is this:

2. Praying for daily bread shows that God intends for us to pray for specific needs. He takes our desires seriously, and now he wants us to pray for specific needs. Now I know we could have a debate about whether we should pray for a parking space, okay? Driving around, should we really pray for a parking space? Or should we really pray for a specific team to win? Like a team I have in my mind that just started spring training? They wear orange and black, and they're close to my heart. Should we pray for that team specifically to win? Watch out, they have a new look. I'm telling you it could be different this year. Yeah, keep praying. But I digress.

Think about how this prayer again is positioned with what comes before it. We're praying, so now to honestly ask God to do something specific is not a trivial thing. We're so focused on God, and we're praying this specific need, it's like a loving parent. It's like a child and a loving parent. What else would we expect to do if we're coming to our Father? We're coming to our Father, we're praying about our needs, and so that's why Jesus taught in another time, "Which of you when your child asks you for a piece of bread will give them a stone?" And then he goes on and says, "Your heavenly Father knows your needs before you even ask for them."

If we believe that God has the power to do anything, why not boldly and specifically pray? Because I think I've heard people, you might have heard people say, "I'm not going to pray for that stuff, that little dinky stuff over here because God has a lot more things, bigger things to worry about." That's not what this clause is teaching us. Pray specifically.

I have a Corrie ten Boom quote on my desk. Corrie ten Boom was a courageous Dutch woman in World War II. She housed Jews, kept them safe, and she went to prison for it. She carried a lot of burdens in her life, and she said this.

"Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden."

And I would add that no prayer, no matter how large or small, needs to steer away from praying specifically for something.

A week or so ago, Ellen and I met good friends of ours, Pat and Ann Hartsock. Pat used to be the associate pastor here from the mid-70's to the early 80's, and we met over the weekend, and we had dinner. And unbeknownst to me, he decided to bring his favorite devotional book with him to the dinner table, and it's Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest. And he just started sharing with us how God specifically answered a prayer for him when he was puzzled about which direction to take regarding seminary.

He'd been accepted to Gordon-Conwell in Boston. He'd been accepted to Fuller in California, but he lived in DC area, and he'd never been west of West Virginia, and it just seemed back in the 60's and 70's a daunting thing to go out to California. And at the same time, his in-laws were moving back east while they were thinking about going out west. So he didn't know what to do. So he prayed specifically, and he said, "God, show us what to do."

Every day when they were riding to work, Ann would read from My Utmost for His Highest, and on May 10th, she's reading along. It's talking about God guiding us and stepping out in faith, and she comes to this phrase that says, "Go ahead and offer that prayer. Go ahead, write that letter." It says, "Write that letter" right there because Fuller said, "You need to write us a letter claiming your spot because we're going to give it away if you don't write that letter."

So right there in the devotional, "Write that letter." And he's driving along and he says, "It doesn't say that." She goes, "Yeah, it does. Look! It says, 'Write that letter' right there." Now I'm not saying that God will answer you as specifically as that in every case, but I am saying that God answers and is honored when we pray for specifics, and he wants to make it clearly known.

Now there's just at least one more reason we can trust God and come boldly to God in prayer other than the ones that we've already listed, and that's this: Praying for our daily bread lifts our eyes beyond our own needs. We are part of the entire human family. If we don't understand the "our," the first person plural aspect of this prayer, we are going to be inclined to keep this prayer focus as an inward prayer only. And then the appropriate prayer would be to combine what comes next and pray, "Forgive us this day our daily bread," if we don't pray the phrase, "Give us today our daily bread," and think of the "our" and those who do not have daily bread. And so this prayer heightens our awareness of the needs of others.

I don't know why in this past week two incidents happened within 24 hours of each other that never happen to me hardly. I mean, I can't even remember. Last Sunday, we had a meeting, a lunch meeting, after church, and so a new friend of mine and I were walking into a place in Towson, and as we're walking in we see a guy getting his lunch essentially out of a dumpster. I mean, in Towson! He's taking lunch out of a dumpster.

I had to respond and help him out a little bit, and then the very next morning, I take Ellen and my grandson Luke and daughter, Mandi. We decide, "Let's have Valentine's breakfast," so we go to Denny's. And my daughter and grandson and I were there a little bit earlier. Ellen was coming a little bit behind us. And there was a guy right outside in front of Denny's begging food, asking for help.

She said, "Well come on in," and when I saw her walk in with this disheveled guy, I wasn't quite sure what was going on. He sat in a booth behind us, and it bothered me a little bit that we didn't ask him to sit with us, but we didn't, and so Ellen bought his breakfast.

So 24 hours, those two things, the week that I'm thinking about this message. The point is not what we did. The point is to draw attention to the fact that we're praying to our Father, and we're praying for our daily bread, and that requires us to pray and work towards addressing the needs of others.

The way N. T. Wright puts it is.

"We should be praying this prayer not just for the hungry, but with the hungry in all who are desperate from whatever deep need." And of course, he says, "The test will be after we've prayed this whether or not we're willing to stand physically alongside those people and support them, those for whom we have claimed to speak."

I saw that willingness to stand by people this past last month when Tony Meager, who is a fellow who has come to our church about six months ago, and he has become part of Men's Fraternity on Monday nights, and he brought to our attention that a small Baptist church in Silver Spring, their youth group, had set a goal to raise 100,000 pennies, and the reason that that was the number was because that number represented all the children living in poverty in their region.

And so as part of a nationwide Baptist effort, they collect 40,000 pennies, and those pennies get stolen. And so Tony saw this, and he said to us on a Monday night, he says, "Guys, what if each of us gave 16 rolls of pennies, just $8 apiece? Fifty of us, we could have the 40,000 pennies." And within a week we did it.

And Tony carries, with his family, carries all these pennies down to the church in Silver Spring, and that struck me because it was more than just giving the money. Tony put shoe leather to it and bothered to connect with the need. And so here's the church, here's a picture of the church, small little church, Baptist church, and here are the pennies, very heavy, and then here's the photo op where Tony is with some of the kids from the youth group and the pastor on his left.

And so the pastor said to the kids that, "Do you see how sometimes when negative things happen, God will turn and make them even better if we'll just trust him?" And this illustrates all kinds of things, but what it illustrates mostly to me today is it's an example of praying for our daily bread cognizant of the needs of others.

And there's another way that we can think about this. When you walked into today, I think you were handed an envelope, I believe, and a card that's inside of it. Would you mind finding that card for just a moment? And there's a recipe on one side, and then there's a little script on the other side. Would you turn to the side that has all the writing on it and just look at the first paragraph with me?

When we pray to God to give us this day our daily bread, we are trusting him to provide for our needs certainly, and even as we wait for God to answer our own prayer, we see ways that we can be the means that God uses to answer the prayers of others. And so what we're really laying out here as far as a challenge is on the recipe side is basically a common meal of Southeast Asia, the Wa people, and it would cost about $5 to come up with the ingredients for you to fix this meal for your family one day this week. It would also be a show of solidarity to have a meal like this to think about what people in Southeast Asia might be eating on a daily basis.

And then, the other part of the card, what you're probably reading right now is that a typical meal for a US family of four is about $15, so what if we all committed to having this meal this week sometime and taking the extra $10 and sticking it in the envelope that has been given and bringing it back to church next week or giving it today or whenever and thinking about contributing so that we can apply this prayer for others?

And notice what it says at the bottom of the card. It says, "By cooking this one meal, your $10 can feed one rescued child soldier for a month, and if 400 families participated, we could provide a year's supply of rice for 44 children."

It would be great for all of us to do this and see how God blesses others through it, but let me finish. Almost 3,000 years ago, a prophet of Israel named Elijah walks into a town on the Mediterranean coast called Zarephath. And when he walks into the town, he meets a widow, a widow who was making preparations for what she thought was her last meal of her life because of a severe famine that God had brought on the land. Elijah the prophet asks this woman for a drink of water and a piece of bread which was hard to come by those days.

Her reply is found in 1 Kings 17:12.

"'As surely as the LORD your God lives,' she replied, 'I don't have any bread-only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it-and die.'"

To that Elijah said, "Don't be afraid." And then he tells her to take her last, the little that she has, and make a cake for him and for them, and then he promises her something amazing. He says that, "Your jar of flour and your jug of oil won't run dry until the Lord sends rain upon this land." And by faith, she did as she was told, and the Scripture says in 15b of 1 Kings 17, "So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and for her family."

We have a heavenly Father who promises to supply our needs. He takes our desires seriously, and he tells us it's okay to have desires and it's okay to pray for specifics. But sometimes it takes a step of faith to get outside of ourselves just as it did for the woman. Her faith resulted in her need being met. Her faith resulted in her son's need being met and Elijah's need being met, but God met her need. When? At the precise moment of her generosity, when she was meeting the need of someone else.

We get so caught up in our own needs that we often forget the needs of others. She had bread just for that day. That was it. And shockingly she decides to give it away, and that's when the miracle happens. That's when it happens, something that she never imagined could happen.

This widow's faith shows us that God will ease our burdens and the burdens of others as we're trusting God to provide for us. And then God will work miracles in ways that we couldn't imagine.

You know, maybe you felt this way this past week, I don't know. Maybe there are certain days when we feel like there's not going to be any tomorrow. We get so burdened down. We get so crushed under the load of what our anxieties are all about, but Jesus, the Bread of Life, promises us that he will supply every single need that we have.

King David, in Psalm 37, said, "I was young, and now I'm old, but one thing I have never seen is the righteous begging bread." So why hold onto anxiety or worry? Offer your burdens to God because in Christ there's always a hopeful tomorrow.

And so here's how we're going to end. I want you to just symbolically if you would along with me to cup your hands, and these cupped hands are a symbol of the burden that we carry or the burdens that we have carried or the burdens that we will carry. And as we close, I want to invite you just to gently lift them up the Lord and give him your burden, and in its place expect the peace and the promise that only he can give, and then as you trust him, all will be well. All will be well as we follow him and trust him with that need.

Let's pray: Our Lord, we ask that you would seal this word to our hearts, that you would help us truly to cast our burdens upon you knowing that you care for us. We pray that no matter what it is that is bothering us today, whether it's physical or mental or spiritual, relational, whether we're worried about what's going to be provided tomorrow or a week from tomorrow, we cast it all on you today, and we ask that you would guard our hearts and our minds through Christ Jesus our Lord, and show your glory in meeting the needs that we offer to you and trust you with through Christ our Lord, Amen.

© 2011, Rev. George Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org