Bible Readings: Exodus 16:1-11 & Matthew 14:13-21

Daily Bread

Come with me in your imaginations to the desert of Sin. This is not quite as interesting as it sounds. It’s just a hot, dry place somewhere to the north east of Egypt, between Mount Sinai and the oasis at Elim. The Israelites had been out of Egypt for about a month and a half, and all they can remember about their enslavement is that they at least got fed. Now they’re hungry and grumbling about it. So God, with great grace, provides meat and bread. Well, I say bread, it’s not bread like they’ve ever seen, it’s bread that just appears on the ground in the morning, sweet as honey, and then melts away as the desert sun rises.

The instructions are simple. Gather enough for what you need for your family today, eat it today don’t keep it over night. The instruction might have been simple but keeping it was not. Some of the people kept some over night, you never know there might not be any tomorrow. Well there was fresh manna on the ground, but there were also maggots in the jars left over from the day before. Moses is not impressed, I can just imagine him tearing his hair out.

But, never mind, they got in to the rhythm of things and all was going swimmingly until Friday. On Friday something weird happened. There was twice as much manna as on the other days. The people were a bit worried, did they have to eat all this extra today? Things had gone badly when they’d kept some over before. So they go and see Moses, who has had updated instructions from God. Also simple. Tomorrow is the Sabbath, so there will be no manna. Boil or bake the extra from today for tomorrow.

The instructions might have been simple but keeping them was not. Sure as eggs is eggs what does Saturday morning find some of the people doing? Yep, off they go trying to find the manna that God had told them would not be there. Then God got a bit fed up. “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?” God says to Moses. If you ask me it’s a bit unfair on old Moses, he’s not done anything wrong, but the people just cannot get their heads around a couple of things:

One: God is going to provide their daily bread: daily. Two: God has told them they need to rest one day in seven, and God’s provision will allow for that.

This is an object lesson that was in the fabric of the history of the people of God. The giving of manna and the problems God’s people had grasping the grace of God in this were part of the very identity of the folk that Jesus was teaching to pray. “Give us today our daily bread”. As soon as they heard that phrase, “daily bread” they would have been in that desert in their imaginations, that story would have been playing in their minds from their days in Sunday school.

Some time after Jesus had taught his friends to pray like this, they had another object lesson. Come with me this time, not to a hot and dry desert, but to a grass covered hillside above a lake. It’s been a long day, trekking round the lake and up the hill to listen to Jesus’ teaching. There’s hundreds of you there. It’s starting to get late and you begin to realise that you haven’t eaten all day. You realise that actually you’re quite peckish, and you’re a bit disturbed because you also realise that you have no idea where the nearest Greggs is. Then there’s a hubbub and Jesus’ disciples are getting every body to sit down on the grass. You do as you’re told and you see Jesus take something out of a basket that a young lad is holding, it looks like some small loaves and a couple of fish. You hear him thanking God, break the loaves and pass them to his disciples, who start giving it out to the crowd. You think, well that’s not going to help much is it! A couple of minutes later the bloke next to you nudges you and passes you a fish sandwich. You tear it in half and pass half to the bloke next to you, but the piece you’ve got in your hand doesn’t seem to have got any smaller. You start eating, and eating, and eating until you can’t eat any more. You’re replete with fish sandwich. You’ve got some left over – you throw it in the basket that is being passed round. What just happened?

God just provided daily bread.

So, what general principles can we draw from these stories about what it means for us to pray, “Our Father … give us today our daily bread”

I think the first is that God is a generous God, a providing God who wants to give us what we need to thrive and live full lives. When we are praying this prayer, and others like it, we are not trying to persuade someone who does not care, or who is resistant to the idea of giving us things. We don’t have to persuade God to part with what we need.

God does want us to learn to trust, though. God does not want to us to be like those Israelites who accumulate more than we need and try and hold onto it, because we’re not sure there’s going to be any more for tomorrow. When we do that, we tend to end up trusting in the store of bread, not in the giver of bread, we tend to end up trusting in the store of bread, not in the giver of bread, and that way lies maggots and rottenness. When we pray for our daily bread, we are also praying for God to give us the trust we need to live one day at a time in God’s gracious provision.

We do, though, need to hold this tension with what we learn from the double portion of manna for the Sabbath, and the baskets left over from the feeding of the crowd. Saving is not always wrong. Sometimes God gives us more than our daily bread, so that we can have periods of rest, or so that we can provide for others, or so that we can just enjoy the extra. The problem comes when we forget that it is God who provides it, and seek independence from God’s provision in our hoarding of the resources that have been given to us.

You see, one of the reasons that we might struggle with this prayer is that we know that there are Christians throughout the world praying it, and going hungry. Our brothers and sisters in parts of Africa, in refugee camps in Lebanon – around the world there are people right now asking God for their daily bread and not receiving it.

What does it mean to pray, “Our Father give us today our daily bread” in the face of this?

It seems to me that there are two important clues to help us with this.

The first one is that the prayer is not “My Father, give me today my daily bread”. We are taught to pray, “Our Father, give us today our daily bread.” I wonder how wide our “us” is? Is “us” me and my family. Is “us” those of us here in church this morning, maybe plus our families. Is “us” the people like me, in my kind of situation? Is “us” the people of this community or country? It seems to me that Jesus talked about the whole world a lot, about having to come to include those who were usually thought of as being outside “us”. It seems to me that Jesus’ “us” included every single person on the planet.

The second clue is in the story of the manna gathering, from which I missed out an important detail. Verse 17 and 18 say this, “The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it, the one who gathered much did not have too much and the one who gathered little did not have too little” Somehow in God’s economy, the things that God provides are intended to be enjoyed in equal amounts by those who are able to gather little and those who are able to gather much.

Taking these two clues together it seems to me that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “give us today our daily bread” he was teaching his well off disciples to pray that they would have less, and have the grace to be generous in giving away what they had, and was teaching his impoverished disciples to pray that their rich brethren would be moved with compassion to feed them.

Our brothers and sisters around the world are hungry, not because God has not provided enough for them to eat, but because the provision that God has made for them has been stolen from them by those of us who have more than enough to eat. Every time we pray this prayer we pray for the over throw and destruction of the unjust global systems and cultures which propagate this iniquitous inequality.
As I have been reflecting on and reading about the Lord’s prayer over the weeks in preparation for this sermon series, the importance of the fact that it uses “our” and “us” and “we” has come home more and more to me. Apart from the knowledge it gives us of who it is we pray to, and the guidance about the different kinds of things that we can pray about, it has struck me really forcibly that it is a communal prayer for a community, a global community. It has brought home to me how much of the my prayer is, by comparison, very narrow, focussed on me and my family, the problems and challenges of my life. It has challenged me to increase the breadth of my praying, to realise that my prayers need to have a wider scope and to include a bigger, “us”.

My experience is that God does provide, sometimes miraculously, for our needs, often times from unexpected directions and despite our grumbling, lack of faith and general missing the point. God’s provision is generous and overflowing, so let us demonstrate our trust in that by being generous and overflowing ourselves, by not hoarding what we do not need, and by going to our Father and praying for our daily bread.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *