Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 11, 2015 The Lord's Prayer - Finding Contentment

Many of you know that I’m kind of a strange eater (actually, maybe I’m normal and everyone else is strange).  Some of that is simply because I don’t like some foods, such as cheese, but some of it is because I quit eating certain foods because I no longer have to eat them.  When I moved to Louisville in 1981 to attend seminary, I had very little money.  My savings, which I believed would last much longer, quickly ran out, and food was one area where I could save some money.  My goal was at the time was to spend $15 or less each week on food, and even in 1981 that wasn’t much money for a week of groceries.

The Kroger down the street often had $0.79 pizzas, which meant you actually ate the box with a bit of pizza sauce.  Not very appetizing, but you could survive on them.  And on Ramen noodles.  And bags of white rice.  And three for a dollar frozen pot pies.  And some meals were plain popcorn and nothing else but a glass of water.  It was near the end of my second semester before I could buy an eight-pack of bottles of Coke, so one day of the week I could have two Cokes.  It was usually on Sunday evening, and I can’t describe what a big treat that was, to sit down for a few minutes and drink that cold bottle of Coke.

In my second year of seminary, I could, on occasion, afford to go to a fast food restaurant.  At the time, there was a Burger King coupon in the Friday editions of the Courier-Journal that was a buy one Whopper get one for free, and if I was fast enough, I could get to the library before anyone else made it to the newspaper rack and tear out that coupon, and drive into the middle of St. Matthews, across from Trinity High School and enjoy a meal that seemed better than a trip to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse!
I am happy to have moved beyond that struggle, but it was very good for me to experience that part of life.  You don’t forget struggle, and in that sense, struggles can remind us to be grateful.  When I sit down to a meal now, I am very cognizant of what a blessing it is to have a pantry and refrigerator full of food.  I am grateful to be able to eat, and to enjoy meals that are more than a plate of popcorn or a small package of noodles.

As we continue a series of messages from the Lord’s Prayer, this morning we come to the phrase give us this day our daily bread.

We’ll read the passage from Matthew that gives us the Lord’s Prayer, and also a passage from the book of Philippians, where Paul describes his contentment, as we talk about Finding Contentment.

Matthew 6:5-15
“Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Philippians 4:10-13
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

We live with such an abundance of stuff that, on the surface at least, we hear the words of Jesus to give us this day our daily bread in a far different way than those who were in his audience on the day he first spoke them.  How often do we worry about our daily bread?  In our pantry we have today’s bread, tomorrow’s bread, and in the freezer, bread for more days.  It’s not having daily bread that concerns us as much as it is having too much daily bread!

Even though we have our daily bread, it does not mean we are free from the anxiety of what we need in the days ahead.  We live in very, very anxious days and that anxiety can drive us to a crippling sense of worry and it can drive us into an obsession with accumulating money and belongings in an effort to find a sense of security.

So let’s consider what it means to pray for our daily bread, and how we find the kind of contentment of which Paul wrote.

The call to pray for our daily bread is an invitation to simplicity.
Jesus was talking to people whose lives were the very model of simplicity.  They led simple lives because there really was no other choice.  While we can stockpile food in freezers and other storage methods, the people in the time of Jesus were unable to do so.  They were people who lived on a day-to-day basis and struggled to have enough for each day.  For most people in that time, getting one’s daily bread was a literal truth.  They led lives of simplicity because of their circumstances.  They lived barely subsistence lives, working each day to earn, hopefully, enough money to feed their families.  The far majority of people lived in a grinding poverty that left them wondering if there would be enough bread for that day, let alone the next day.

For the most part, we have so much more than the average person in the day of Jesus, but I’m not sure were any freer of worry.  Perhaps it’s because we search for security in the things we own, and our sense of security has been greatly shaken in recent years.

Jesus invites us to a life of simplicity by asking us to pray simply for our daily bread.  It is his invitation to ask for what we need rather than all the extras we either think we need or that we desire to have.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned with our needs, or that God isn’t concerned with our needs; it means we have learned to be content with simpler lives.

You remember, I’m sure, how God provided for the Hebrew people as they wandered through the wilderness after being freed from captivity in Egypt.  God provided them with manna, a bread-like substance they collected every morning.  It was, quite literally, their daily bread.  They were only to collect what they needed for the day, and no more.  It was a very dramatic lesson about learning to trust God.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-12 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or in want.

But there is another reason why simplicity becomes important.  As the population of our world will cross the 7 billion mark at any time, and the estimates of growth for the next generation are staggering, simplicity with either be voluntarily adopted or enforced by a scarcity of resources.

To ask for our daily bread reminds us we are not as self-sufficient as we think.
I remember on Christmas Eve, when I was in the fifth grade, our neighbor’s house burned to the ground.  One of the kids was my age, in my class at school, and my friend.  The flames lit up the night sky and the glow from the fire could be seen from quite a distance.  It was hard for me to imagine the experience of losing everything you own in a matter of minutes. 

We work hard to bring a measure of security to our lives.  We work to save money, we invest money, we purchase insurance, and search for other ways to prepare us in the event of disaster or to bring a sense of security in life.

But the economic downturn has brought home to us the reality that financial security is more precarious than we want to imagine.  Stock value can evaporate very quickly.  A 401K can be wiped out in a single trading session.  A job loss or emergency can eat away at our savings.  A medical crisis, even with insurance, can stretch us to the limits financially and remind us in very vivid terms of our own mortality.  I don’t say this as a way of generating fear or pessimism, but as a reminder that we often search for a measure of security in places and things that are not as secure as we believe them to be.

I listened to an interview recently with one of the wealthiest individuals in the world who had recently experienced a life-threatening situation.  It was very interesting when the discussion turned to faith.  When asked if he believed in God he said no, but added how he wished he did have belief and faith because of the comfort and sense of security it would bring in life.  Here was someone who had the resources to buy anything he wanted, to travel when and where he wanted, and yet he was still looking for a sense of security in life.

Jesus reminded his audience that our hearts long for security, that we expend a great amount of energy searching for security, and that means we should look for security where it can truly be found.  It is a sense of security that gives us a peace and confidence in the face of life’s greatest challenges and will see us through the most precarious of moments.

To pray for our daily bread is a reminder that we need to remember those who struggle to find their daily bread.
Have you noticed what Jesus did not say in this line of the prayer?  Jesus did not say give me my daily bread.  We should listen to our prayers to see how often they are filled with the personal pronouns of I, me, and mine. 

Jesus says us and our.  It is a reminder that we are part of the human community.  It is a reminder that the question asked by Cain am I my brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9) is not just a rhetorical question, but has a very specific answer, and the answer is an affirmation that we do have a responsibility to those who struggle to secure daily bread.  Almost a third of the world’s population fails to find enough daily bread for their families.  That’s more than 2 billion people.  That number will only increase as the population of the world escalates and as environmental stress and degradation becomes more acute.

In the 6th chapter of Mark’s gospel we read the story of Jesus and his disciples arriving in a remote area and a large crowd had gathered in anticipation of their arrival.  The disciples told Jesus he ought to send the crowd away and into the surrounding villages to buy food.  Jesus told his disciples you give them something to eat (Mark 6:35-37).  Perhaps the disciples were simply concerned and believed sending the crowd away was the best solution, or, perhaps they didn’t want to be bothered by the needs of the crowd.  Jesus forced them to confront the need of the crowd.

I’ll confess that I often don’t know what to do with the needs that confront us.  They can be so overwhelming and so deeply entrenched that I want to throw up my hands and say there’s nothing we can do.  But maybe that’s my own way of doing what the disciples sought to do – send the people away.  I don’t always have an answer, but I know we are called to never forget those who struggle to have their daily bread.

Even when we eat alone, we never really eat alone.  Every bite of food we take is a communal act.  Someone raised the food I eat.  Someone brought the food to market.  Someone delivered it to the store.  Someone sold it to me.  Food is one of the few things in life that bind us together, and even when I think I am buying and preparing my own food, it is not a solitary act.  If that bond of community is broken, we do not eat.  If a farmer cannot raise food, we do not eat, and so on down the line.  It will matter not how much money I have to buy food, if the community of food production is broken down, I will find very quickly I cannot eat my money.

To pray for our daily bread is to be called to a life of gratitude.
I often find myself thinking of what I don’t have rather than thinking of what I do have.  And when I look at my life, there really is very little that I don’t have.  It’s not that I have too little, but too much.

And yet our culture will continue to present me with message after message that I need more, when there is nothing else I need in life.  And those messages slowly and unknowingly soak into my mind and heart and gradually turn my gaze away from what I can do for others and cause me to think about myself.

Samuel Wesley was a minister and the father of John and Charles Wesley, who wrote many of the hymns that we sing and also founded the Methodist Church.  When John was five years old his family’s home caught fire, trapping John on the second floor.  The neighbors quickly came to their aid to help fight the fire and also to form a human ladder that allowed one of the neighbors to reach John and to pull him to safety.  The house was a total loss, along with all of the family’s possessions, but they were all safe and together.  Samuel Wesley was reported to have said, come neighbors, let us kneel together and give thanks to God.  He has given me all my eight children.  Let the house go.  I am rich enough.

It’s a very simple phrase – give us this day our daily bread.  At least it seems simple at first glance.  In reality, it is a huge acknowledgement we make to God of our dependency upon him and upon one another.  It certainly asks us to be grateful for what we have been given.  It could very easily be us who are struggling to find daily bread.  May our gratitude bring us to help others to find their daily bread.

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