Now that is quite the list. As theologian Karl Barth says, “This list consists the necessities and requirements for the life of a German “bourgeois” farmer in the sixteenth century. And nothing hinders us from interpreting and expanding it according to the needs of our time and of our individual situations.” If we were to ask our young people today what they might add, I suspect that free unlimited cell phone data or at least Wi-Fi would definitely make the list today. Yes, the modern middle class lifestyle, is that what we mean when we pray for “bread”?
While not to enter a theological debate with Martin Luther and Karl Barth (which I would surely lose), I suspect the two qualifiers in this prayer should at least give us a moment of pause.
The first is that we pray not just for bread, but give “us”…“our” bread. The modern middle class American lifestyle is so often just about me or at best my family. And it would be so much easier if Jesus had said we should pray for God to “give me my daily bread.” But once again, Jesus reminds us that this is a community, corporate prayer.
So, who is this us? Who joins us in this prayer? Surely it is those who sit beside us in the pew this morning, right? And those who will stand before and behind us as we make our way through the line for the covered dish luncheon following worship today? And we should not forget in the “us,” our homebound members or those in the hospital. They cannot join us for the Lord’s Supper today or for congregational lunch, but pairs of elders and deacons will take them communion. They cannot join us here today, but they too are part of our prayers, right, as we pray for our bread.
There are others affiliated with our church but who are not here on Sunday mornings. What about the more than 100 children and families who come through the halls of this church each weekday as part of the Mother’s Day Out Program and Preschool? Plus all the teachers and the staff? Then there are those who attend bible study here with Jane Howington, several hundred every week. Surely, they are part of the “us” who prays, right? But as the circle widens, I am starting to wonder if all of these folks are praying that God will grant them the same middle class American lifestyle when we ask for our bread.
And what about the other residents of Augusta? What about our neighbors just down the hill? We heard this week that the Kroger on 15th street will be closing. It has been struggling for years and no one is really surprised. But its absence leaves a “food desert” just down the hill. Residents in Harrisburg and downtown Augusta will not have easy access to fresh, affordable, food. How does that impact what we pray for, knowing they join us in praying for our bread?
There are many more steps we might take down this road, but let’s take just one more. Members of our church and community have just returned from our annual mission trip to Haiti. There is immense, for most of us unimaginable, poverty there. A daily struggle for mere survival. They are part of the “us” who prays for our bread too, but I suspect that many pray for enough calories to stay alive for one more day rather than a middle class American lifestyle.
And that brings us to our second qualifier to our prayer for “bread.” It is the prayer for “daily” bread. The word in Greek is epiousia. It appears in ancient Greek literature only in the Gospels so its meaning is a bit ambiguous. Sometimes it is translated, “essential” or “sufficient” or even “enough.” So what are we praying for when we ask God to give us “our daily bread?”
Whatever it is, once again, it is not just for me or for my family or for my church or for my neighbors or even for my country. No, we pray for what will be enough, sufficient, or essential for all of us.
And that is a problem for most of us who are gathered here in this sanctuary today. In the United States we have available to us an overabundance of food. When I was young, my grandfather’s cousin Franz came to visit with us for a week or so. Franz lived in communist controlled East Germany. He spoke very little English, so my grandfather translated as we talked with one another. One evening my father asked Franz what most surprised him about America. Without hesitation, Franz replied, “the grocery store.” The amount of food in American grocery stores completely overwhelmed him. Instead of single brand of cereal, there was a whole aisle of choices. Instead of a few bananas available once a month, there were hundreds every day. Franz could not comprehend the size and the scope and the quantity of food available.
When there is the threat of a dusting of snow within 50 miles, we run to the grocery store and wipe out the bread and milk aisles. Then we laugh about it because we know there is really no threat that those shelves will not quickly be restocked. Yes, the risk for most of us here today is not that we will perish because we do not have enough calories to survive. No, the risk is that we will die from too much bread rather than too little, filling the gnawing emptiness within through ceaseless consumption. As Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, whom we have heard from before in this series say, “For us we ought to pray for the grace to be able to say, in a culture of overconsumption, ‘Give us the grace to know when enough is enough;’ or ‘Help us say No when the world entices us with so much.’”
My friends, we do not live by bread alone, but we cannot live without it either. Jesus teaches us to pray, Give us this day our daily bread, in the hopes that as we pray this prayer on Sunday, we might change the way we see the bread we eat on Monday. For when the Messiah comes, all will be fed. May our prayer give us courage to work so that those who are without bread will have enough and we who so often have an abundance might know when enough is enough.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: