Over the last few weeks we've been looking at what we call The Lord's Prayer, that prayer we recite every Sunday following the Prayers of the the People listed in your bulletin. It's a prayer that those who have been in church for a long time, know by heart, and in some instances may recite it without really thinking about what they are praying. So this summer we have been looking at that prayer on a sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase basis in order to understand it a bit better and make it more relevant to our lives and faith. Today we are looking at the line “give us today our daily bread”.
I spent a long time as a student: thirteen years in public school, four years of university, six years part-time studies for my accounting designation and another five years part-time at seminary. Somewhere around the end of my 27th and beginning of my 28th and last year as a student, I figured something out. It was this: If the teacher repeats something, it’s probably important.
The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in the bible contain 60 teachings, 40 parables and 25 miracles of Jesus. The portion that was read today is part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, a time when Jesus preached a very long sermon (3 chapters worth in the book of Matthew). That sermon contains a whopping 25 of Jesus’ 60 teachings. They come at us at such a furious pace in chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the gospel of Matthew, that you think Jesus would hardly have time to repeat Himself in order to highlight what’s important.
But He does repeat Himself in the ten verses read from Matthew 6:25-34. In fact, Jesus punches home the same teaching three times in these verses. And then to underscore His teaching, He asks seven rhetorical questions, all with the same message: DO NOT WORRY! The fact that Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer, the fundamental prayer of the Christian faith, to his followers (all thousands of them according to the book of Matthew), then follows it up with teachings on God’s Kingdom and not being anxious, should tell us that when the Kingdom of God does come into our lives, when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, we don’t have anything to worry about, regardless of how life altering the answer to that prayer could be.
Jesus gives us plenty of reasons not to worry. He says that life is more than food or clothing and that if God our Father who art in heaven takes care of the birds, God will do the same for us. Jesus says that worrying won’t add a single second to our earthly lives and that to be consumed with these things is to be as futile in our thinking as those who don’t know God.
People of faith know God cares about their every moment. We know that we’re in the palms of God’s hands, that God hears our prayers. We know too that we belong to God eternally. Even non-believing people realize the silliness of being consumed by worry. Mark Twain, an atheist, once said, “I am an old man and have known great troubles, but most of them never happened.”
So why do we worry? And what does this have to do with the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread”?
Here’s a revelation for you: we worry because we are control freaks. Adam and Eve were lured into sin because the serpent told them that when they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would be “like God”. It bothers us that while, unlike all of God’s other creatures, we can project and to some extent predict, what the future will bring, we can’t actually control what happens to us. This can be anywhere from annoying, (like when we get caught in Queensway traffic on our way to a meeting), to life-threatening, (as when the doctor tells us that we or a loved one has cancer.)
It’s good for us to make plans and it’s good for us to be engaged in trying to solve problems, but we should be aware that worrying about things solves nothing. The number one fact of the universe is that God is God and we are not. So, make your plans and when the time comes, willingly move on to Plan B if necessary. Jesus puts it this way, “So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Someone paraphrased this imperative of Jesus to say “Wait to worry.”
So excessive worrying is a bad thing. But what’s it got to do with “give us this day our daily bread’? Just this: no matter how adept you may be at multitasking, there are two things that are very difficult to do simultaneously. Though you may be able to do them both at the same time for awhile – maybe even decades – eventually, one will win out over the other and become the prevailing habit in your life. Those two things are this : you can’t keep worrying and be thankful to God at the same time.
Worrying can represent unbelief. Not worrying represents faith in God. Each moment of our lives is a contest between worry and thankfulness, unbelief and faith. In the end, worrying is a form of self-worship. Even though we may express our worry by saying things like, “What am I going to do?” seemingly confessing helplessness, the underlying assumption is that my immediate problems and, by extension, the long-term good of the known universe, depends on me.
I was a farmer's daughter, growing up on a mixed subsistence farm just outside of Cobden so I know the difficulties farmers go through. Some years ago I visited an elderly farmer who said this to me. “If you’re a farmer you have to have faith or you won’t last.” He went on to explain that you could pick the best seeds for your crop and be diligent about cultivation, weeding, and fertilizing. But farmers know that they have no control over the sun or the rain or temperatures that if not just right, could scorch or freeze their crops. What this farmer discovered is that over his long life, God could be trusted. Thankfulness displaced worry in his life. Faith supplanted anxiety.
Even when we suffer, when life is hard, we followers of Jesus have much for which to be thankful. During the Holocaust, when the Nazis put people in concentration camps, they would work the imprisoned people until they could no longer do anything. Then they would dispose (execute) them. One family was composed of a father, a mother and their two children, one of whom suffered from a physical disability. Every day, the mother and two children were taken to one work site and the father was shipped to another. And every night, the father checked on his family. One night, though, the father found only his one son. “What happened?” he asked. The surviving child said that his brother with the disability had no longer been able to work. And so the guards had taken him to be executed. He clung to his mother’s skirt, sobbing. She picked him up and, holding him close to her, said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll go with you if it happens.” And so she did. That’s akin to the God we have through Jesus Christ. In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, God stands with us in the darkest and worst of times – even in death – so that all who trust in God will be ushered into eternity with God. For that, we can be the most thankful of people!
Having heard me say that worrying is a bad thing and how important thankfulness is, you all have the right to know whether I worry or not. Well, I do. But if I worry, then I suppose that I fit right in with the rest of the Church. It’s been my observation that the Church is Jesus’ Christ’s community of recovering control freaks. We’re learning to replace our worry over tomorrow with gratitude to the God who says to us “You belong to Me for eternity!”
I read about a man who had a “worry tree”. He had a stressful executive position and every night, before he walked through the front door of his house, he touched a tree close to the porch and said, “God, all these worries I’ve been stewing over, I’m giving to you here now at the worry tree. I’ll pick them up from You tomorrow if You seem to be telling me there’s anything I can do about them. Otherwise, I’m turning them over to You … and thank You.” When you think about it, every time we pray “give us this day our daily bread” we’re leaving our worries for tomorrow at the worry tree. Or, more accurately, we’re leaving them with God. That’s because, as Martin Luther wrote “God indeed gives bread to all … even to the wicked, without their prayer, but we pray this petition that God would lead us to acknowledge our daily bread as God's gift and to receive it with thanksgiving.”
The opposite of faith is not unbelief. The opposite of faith is worry. May we live in the assurance that God provides our daily bread and so, free from worry, we can glorify God Who gives us everything. May thankfulness replace fear. And when we do worry, may God help us remember all God's blessings. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, may we learn to be thankful for God’s provision today. May we learn to pray “give us this day our daily bread” and remember that every good and perfect gift we enjoy comes from the loving hand of God.