March 14, 2012

“Give us this day our daily bread”

Luke 11:1-4

Several years ago I presided at a funeral for a member of  the church I served in Oley.  This man was dubbed, “The Mayor of Oley.”  He was a mechanic, and if you got your car serviced there, you also participated in whatever burning issue there was on the religious or political horizon.  The best conversations, though, were in Pennsylvania Dutch.

When I arrived at the funeral home on the day of the funeral, I signed the book and picked up a card, just like everyone else.  I greeted the family and made my way back to a sitting room where I could collect my thoughts before the service.  I took a moment and read the card.  On the inside was a prayer, in Pennsylvania Dutch, that I immediately recognized as the Lord’s prayer.  This is what it said:

Unser Fodder, dar duh bischt im Himmel;
Ge-hellich sie Dei nauma. Die Reich soll kumma
Die willa soll ge-duh worra, uff dei Ardt, wie im Himmel.
Gebb uns heit unser daeglichBrode, und nich ein bissle.
Fer-gebb uns unser Schulda, wie mir onnerra ihre Schulda fer-gewwa,
Fier uns net in fer-suchnung, owwer arlaes
uns fon Bassa. Far Dein is es Reich,
un die Kraft, un die Harrlichkeit
im Aewickhkeit.

When I read this, I am not fluent, but I thought to myself, something is wrong here.  So I went home and got out my dictionary and realized that there was a phrase added to the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which was, ‘and not a little.’

While this may be culturally correct for us, it is not faithful to the prayer recorded here in Luke’s Gospel.

In Jesus’ life, people said a lot of things about him.  Some of them weren’t too nice.  He was, for instance, called a “Glutton and a Winebibber”  This accusation is actually a quotation from Deuteronomy 21, where it is explained to Israel what to do with a rebellious son.  “…they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death…”[1]  So there is more to this accusation than meets the eye.  It was a way to say that this man is a threat to our society and so must die.

Here in Luke’s gospel the greek seems to say, ‘give us each day our needed bread.’

To me, this phrase indicates at least two things.  First, in the midst of a prayer where we are praying for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, it is easy to go off on a spiritual tangent.  What I mean is that it is easy to only believe this prayer is about some kind of mystical experience of the power of God, alone.  There are many ways that people have practiced disciplines of extreme austerity in an effort to not focus on the needs and desires of this life.  In this prayer, Jesus is inviting us to take seriously the physical needs of our human existence.  That is why it isn’t a leap for people who pray this prayer to say that it is important how people are treated, how their lives are.  That is why our youth group got involved with the 30 hour famine…an event to raise money for World Vision, a charity that works toward the elimination of  hunger and starvation.  That is why we engage in ministries that work toward justice.  That is why what leaders and governments do to every member of their society is not a political issue, it is an issue of faith.  “Give us this day our daily bread,” reminds us that at a time when bread made up over 80% of the diet of the common person, having enough to sustain life and health was an issue worthy of raising up to God.  Praying for what people need right now is not trivial.

Second, we should remember that this isn’t a prayer about our own personal needs alone.  It is about me.  It is about you.  But my problem with the misquotation in the Pennsylvania Dutch version is that it can easily reflect the reality that some of us have more bread than we need and others have way too little.  This prayer is actually a prayer for a community.  And if we recognize that the family of God extends to every corner of creation then to be satisfied with excess, well, it just isn’t right.

So when we pray this prayer we might think about our own family, our church family, and if we are really brave we would think about all of God’s people.  No exceptions.  We can see ourselves as part of this mass of humanity; we can see ourselves, not as praying this prayer for them, but praying this prayer with them.

Tom Wright insists that for Christians we cannot pray this petition without making a connection beyond our physical needs.  Who cannot think of the Eucharist?  When we come to the altar with our hands open, receiving the bread of life, the source of our hope and the sustenance for our spirit, we participate in the kingdom here and now.  In these moments of reflection we realize that we are accepted, and Paul Tillich said, and that we are not approaching a distant and disinterested deity, but one we humbly call “Our Father.”  We come bringing our own needs, physical, spiritual, so that we might be sustained in this life for discipleship.  We come trusting that God will give us all we need, not the least of which is forgiveness, healing, and courage.[2]

Bishop Wright also urges us to do some additional work as we approach the sacrament.  Many of you pray for others all week long.  Why not bring them with you to this bread and this cup?  Visualize it tonight, along  with your own needs think of someone who could benefit from receiving ‘our daily bread,’  hold them in your heart as you receive these elements.  Ask God to deliver this blessing to them, and then ask yourself how you might be part of God’s answering that prayer.

[1] Deuteronomy 21:20-21

[2] N.T. Wright, “The Lord and His Prayer,” Eerdmans, 1996, p. 48