Thanks to Rick Russell for starting our worship series on the Prayer of Jesus, also known as The Lord’s Prayer. He talked about how this prayer starts with the word “our.” It is a prayer meant to be prayed in community. He also talked about this being a prayer about working for God’s realm, or the Beloved Community here on earth. These themes will continue today.
We pick up now with the line, “Give us this day our daily bread.” A whole sermon just on that one line! And we begin with two questions:
Where do we find bread coming up in the Bible?
And what does this line, “Give us this day our daily bread,” mean to you?
Where in the Bible do we see bread coming up?
Manna from heaven: God provides what the Israelites need in the desert, one day at a time, sufficient for that day but no more—except on the sabbath. The day before each Sabbath there is enough manna for two days so that people will rest on the Sabbath.
Elijah and the widow.
Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs from the table.
Feeding loaves and fishes to the thousands. Happens in every gospel at least once.
Last Supper communion.
[Other occurrences not mentioned: Temptation in the desert: turn this stone into bread for yourself. And Jesus says, Humans do not live by bread alone.
Emmaus: Jesus is known to the two travelers in the breaking of the bread. Not in the review of the scripture, although that’s good, too.
Breakfast of bread and fish on the shore of the Sea of Galilee/Tiberias with disciples after resurrection.
Paul chastises early Christians for not getting communion right. (1 Corinthians 11)]
So when we hear this line, “Give us this day our daily bread,” what does that mean to you?
Let me survive another day.
Our lives are dependent on the natural world and its fruits.
May we all have what we need—not necessarily everything we want, but the things we need.
Last summer we worshiped in Kia and Jerry’s backyard, and I invited everyone there to write this whole prayer in their own words. Here’s what some of you wrote for that part of the prayer:
Several people just kept the line as it is. It was clear to them and needed no rephrasing: Give us this day our daily bread.
You give us this day our daily nourishment
Thank you for this day, and our daily bread
May I gain sustenance and contribute more than I exploit.
Feed our minds and souls with compassion for all of creation.
Give us what we need, one day at a time
We trust that there is enough for all beings.
We are nourished by your gifts.
Give us this day our daily bread (Master—all-powerful—we are hoping for the favorable side of the binary).
Thank you for sustaining our lives every day.
In this moment, this hour, this day, this Now, may we have what we need for body and soul.
The version of the prayer that we used today came from that day. Stacy Chilberg wrote, “May You be our sustenance both physically and spiritually.”
Here are the facets of this line that I want to unpack today. I will spend some time talking about the feeding of the thousands, and then I want to explore what “Give us this day our daily bread” means for our world today.
In Mark 6, the feeding of the thousands, the people who pursued Jesus and the disciples did not come with the expectation of being given food. But they did come very hungry. Jesus and the disciples were trying to slip away for a bit of a retreat to talk about what the disciples had just done. Jesus had sent them out to neighboring towns two by two to preach and teach and cast out spirits. They came back brimming with stories.
The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6:30-31)
So actually the disciples themselves are exhausted and hungry—physically hungry, but spiritually fed. They get in a boat with Jesus and take off. But keep in mind that they’ve just been preaching the Good News in all the towns in the area.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. (Mark 6:33)
So much for a break in a deserted place to rest and debrief and recharge. The crowds are hungry—the crowds are starving—for the food that Jesus and the disciples have, and we’re not talking about loaves and fishes. We’re talking about Good News, about food for the soul.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” “May You, God, be our sustenance both physically and spiritually.”
Why are these people so hungry for Good News? What is going on?
We’ve heard this story before. Roman occupation and oppression. People forced to pay taxes that are so onerous that families are forced off their land. Here are some of the details of what’s happening at the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias, and for this historical context I am relying on John Dominic Crossan’s book The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of The Lord’s Prayer (New York: HarperOne, 2010).
You may recall that King Herod dies when Jesus is a young child. [Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, as the story goes, had fled to Egypt to escape Herod, but Joseph gets the news in a dream that Herod is dead, and the holy family returns and settles in Nazareth, according to the Gospel of Matthew.] His sons each get one fourth of the kingdom. Herod Antipas, one of the sons, gets the Sea of Galilee and one other section. Like his father, Antipas has to make nice with the Romans if he wants to keep his job. So he creates a new city on the Sea of Galilee and calls this city Tiberias after the Roman Emperor Tiberius. In the city of Tiberias, Antipas sets up a big fish processing plant. Fish from the Sea of Galilee—now called the Sea of Tiberias—are brought to the processing plant and either dried, or salted, or turned into a fish sauce and exported. And the people living all around the Sea of Galilee, who used to fish in the sea and feed themselves, now probably have to pay taxes—on their boats, on their nets, on whatever fish they catch—and are probably required to turn over most of their catch to the fish processing plant. The sea no longer belongs to them; it belongs to Herod Antipas, and he is stripping it to feed the Romans far away.
So the people living around the Sea of Galilee are literally hungry. They are also spiritually hungry for some liberating Good News. And that’s what Jesus brings. Food for the soul, and food for the body. In this parable of a story about feeding the thousands, his message is that the earth and the seas belong not to Herod but to God. And God will feed you abundantly, body and soul. God fed the Israelites with manna in the desert, day by day, with a little extra once a week so they could rest on the sabbath. Just enough manna every day: not too much, or it would go bad; not too little, or the people would go hungry. They couldn’t hoard it. God provided it for today and tomorrow and as many tomorrows as they needed it.
Not a hierarchical class thing. Everybody eats. Everybody is invited to the table.
Communion. Take, bless, break, give. Notice that those words all show up in this reading from Mark. Jesus tells the disciples to gather whatever food there is, which turns out to be fives loaves and two fish. They get everyone seated. Jesus takes the loaves and fishes, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples to serve the people. Those are the words and the motions we use at communion. Do them with me: take [hands out to bread], bless [lift bread to God], break, give [hold out]. This bread belongs not to Herod Antipas but to God, and it is for you. And it is abundant. This spiritual food belongs not to the Romans but to God, and it will feed you every day.
The early Christian communities didn’t always get what communion was about. Paul chastises the Corinthians for not getting the message of communion—that it is to be shared across all divisions of gender, class, etc. The wealthy Corinthian Christians had been bringing their own fancy food and eating first, not waiting until the working-class Christians showed up to the meal. So the workers got the scraps and leftovers. Paul says that’s not what this meal is about. Comm-union is about comm-unity. It’s about sharing what you have together. It’s not about the food; it’s about the sharing; it’s about all being equal in God’s eyes; it’s about taking care of each other. They hadn’t been doing any of that.
Give us this day our daily bread. Jesus continues to break bread with people after the crucifixion and resurrection. He is known in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus after resurrection. Two people are walking on the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion, and they encounter a stranger who walks with them and opens up the scripture and the meaning of Jesus’ ministry to them. But they still don’t recognize him. They invite him to their evening meal. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. Only then do they finally say, “Ohhhh!” And they get who he is. (Luke 24:28-31)
Jesus feeds the disciples bread and fish on the shores of the Sea of Galilee after resurrection. The ministry continues. Crossan writes,
My proposal is that the kingdom movement of Jesus intends to take back the lake for God! It is about the lake as microcosm of the earth, and the question is to whom the lake-as-earth belongs. To Rome or to God? We know that the “bread” of the Abba Prayer means food in general and not just bread in particular, but with Antipas’s establishment of Tiberias to commercialize the lake, to control its fishing industry, and to upgrade his tax bases, food focused on fish in the 20s CE. . . . In the beginning was fish because, when those peasant fishers and fishing villages lost their economy to Antipas’s new city of Tiberias, there was first no fish to sell and soon no bread to eat. (Crossan, 132.)
“Give us this day our daily bread.” What does this mean in our world today? What does it mean for Prospect?
Everyone is invited.
Not just about food or bread or fish; about just food—food with justice.
If like Herod Antipas, you control all the resources, you may be able to control the people in an oppressive way. Think of Putin shutting off the gas to Europe as winter approaches, bombing Ukrainian cities into oblivion, knocking out power, cutting off food supplies, threatening to use nuclear weapons. He’s crazy. He’s power-mad. And what a powerful counter message to affirm that everything belongs not to him but to God. That is food for the soul.
You notice in our reading today that the disciples said Jesus should send the people away to the villages to find food. When Jesus said, “No, you feed them,” they were overwhelmed. “What, are we supposed to come up with 8 month’s earnings to go and buy food for everyone???” They felt too few for the enormity of the task.
We at Prospect are few, and some of us are not as strong and vigorous as we once were. How are we supposed to meet the challenges of the world? And yet, Christ invites us to feed those who are hungry in body and soul.
Since the pandemic, we haven’t always been able to do coffee hour. Thanks to those who have stepped forward to host it, and to Judy Hooper for coordinating the hosts. People miss coffee hour when it’s not there. Whether we articulate it this way or not, coffee hour is a continuation of worship. It’s where we grab a cup of coffee and a cookie or a piece of bagel and touch base with each other. We reach out to each other. We connect. We commune. We break bread together. There’s no charge for admission. The wealthy and the poor eat together; the male and female and non-binary; the young and old—all the divisions in our society fall away because it is Christ inviting us to the table, and Christ includes everyone.
So as we continue to engage in vitality work in this congregation and figure out ways for this congregation to continue to thrive, I invite all of us to turn outward to our community and start listening and looking for ways in which people are physically or spiritually hungry. How can we be like the disciples, inviting them to come, to listen, to sit down and be fed? How can we be doing something so exciting that, even when we step into a boat to go off on a retreat, the crowds follow us around the shore and meet us on the other side because they are that hungry for the Good News we have to share? Kathy Mahan encouraged us to invite people to church on Thanksgiving Sunday, November 20. We can start there. Let people know our Good News. “Give us this day our daily bread.” May it be so. Amen.