Monday, August 11, 2008


I've managed to leave my laptop at home the last two Sundays and so haven't recorded the sermons. (I'll conveniently blame it on my son Jack, who is making me a bit more bleary-eyed than usual.)

Here's the sermon from this past Sunday, Aug 10. Based on “Give us this day our daily bread" and the parable of the sheep and the goats...

This morning, we are going to look at the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And we will look at it through the lens of this passage that Val has read in Luke 12. Unlike the past few weeks, though, I do want to look at the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, in-depth, word for word.
I want to start with the very first word: Give. We don’t really talk about this word very much because it seems so self-evident, but let me ask you an honest question: how many of us really live, day-to-day, with a sense that the only reason we have food on our table and lights on in our home is because God gives it to us? I don’t want to presume, but I don’t think any of us do that perfectly. I know I sure don’t! I generally have the sense that if I want food on my table and lights in my house, I better get my fanny to work to stay gainfully employed. There are days I love it, days I don’t love it, just like any job, but regardless, you gotta work. It’s even biblical, really—you can see it in the book of 2 Thessalonians 3. In the book of 1 Thessalonians, Paul warns his readers that Jesus is coming back, and so you need to be prepared. Well, it seems like people took him to heart—they quit their jobs and started loafing about, hanging out together, and looking up to the sky. And so he has to write back to them in the book known as 2 Thessalonians, and says, “You need to be working! And if there are able-bodied people among you who aren’t working, the church shouldn’t be feeding them so they can be idle all day.”
And so I want to affirm the value of work. Yet at the same time, we should be aware that there is a strong current running through the Scripture—not least of which is in this piece of the Lord’s Prayer—that our livelihood does not depend on our earning it, but on God giving it to us. Think, for instance, of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber…The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” There, very clearly we see that we do not keep our own life, but God keeps it for us.
It may sound like I’m splitting hairs, arguing that God gives it and we don’t earn it, but we still have to work for it. But the real difference between the two is in your mindset, in your heart. We all know people who feel like they have to earn everything. People like this are difficult to be around, because you want to do nice things for them, and they always want to pay you back. They don’t want to be in your debt, they don’t want to owe anybody anything, they want to earn it. It may seem noble, but often it covers up this deep insecurity and anxiety that they shouldn’t have anything they don’t earn. And so they work and they work and they work. They work at their employment, they work at their relationships, they work and work and work.
And at the same time, we all know people who are not so worried about earning everything, but are confident that God is going to provide for them if they simply seek to follow Him. People like this can be refreshing because they are not always worried about earning their way through their relationships and life and everything else. They can be unnerving, because they don’t necessarily play by the same rules that others play by; but they are sure that they are not taking care of themselves, God is taking care of them. That kind of confidence is what the word “Give” implies—we don’t earn it, God gives it.
This is the picture that Jesus fills out in the passage that Val read. Jesus tells his listeners “do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or what you will wear.” By this he does not mean do not make provisions for such things. After all, it’s not like you just go about your spiritual business and then look outside and find food and clothes magically dropped on your doorstep. When Jesus says, “Do not worry,” he means “do not be anxious.” Why? Because you have a deep and abiding realization that getting the things you need to live does not only depend on you, it doesn’t even mostly depend on you, it depends on God giving them to you. When we come to realize that it is God’s giving and not our earning, we become far less anxious people.
The next word is “us.” Now this might sound a bit like a word we don’t really need to look at. But I will draw your attention to the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is written in the plural. Jesus does not say, “My Father who art in heaven…Give me this day my daily bread.” There are two ways we can understand this, and probably both have an element of truth in this. The first is that Jesus is talking specifically to his disciples here, and encouraging his disciples to pray this prayer together, so that “we” and “us” refer specifically to other Christians. The other way to look at it is that Jesus is praying on behalf of the whole human race, talking about God as our One Father and asking that all people everywhere have enough food to eat, forgiveness, etc. Now I confess that these waters are a little murky, so I’m not exactly sure what Jesus was referring to; I think it’s probably honestly a little bit of both ideas. There is something in the Lord’s Prayer that seems to presuppose Christians are the ones praying it; Jesus says, “THine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” in other words, “Everything is yours, God.” Christians would more easily pray this than others. Yet it may also be talking about everybody, too—it’s not entirely clear.
I think the most important thing to take from this is that the Lord’s Prayer—and prayer in general—is something meant to be done together, not separately. In our very individualized culture, we often assume that Christianity is entirely an individual affair, a matter of what I believe and what I do. In fact, sometimes our Baptist tendency to not honor tradition makes us more prone to this. The great distinction of the Baptist faith is that we assume you can think for yourself. My job as a minister is not to be accountable to God for decisions you make, but to set an example as best I can for how to live the Christian life, and to advise you in it, comfort you in it, wherever helpful. But the living it is up to you. That of course is true.
But sometimes our focus on that blinds us to the fact that even though we all are individually accountable, the Christian life is not meant to be an individual adventure. We talked about this a couple of weeks ago when we talked about Christianity not just being an individual transaction, about getting my needs met and getting into heaven, but joining a Kingdom. The church makes no sense if it’s just about individuals getting their needs met. If that’s what it is, believing a few things, signing on the line, giving your heart to Jesus and getting eternal life back, why go to church? Maybe it’s nice to learn, maybe it’s nice to hang out with other Christians, maybe it’s nice to find good ways to cope with the pains of life; but there’s nothing mandatory about it. But if Christianity really is about joining the Kingdom of God, the church makes a lot more sense. Because you just can’t do a Kingdom alone—we have to be together, we have to be a community, for the Kingdom to make sense. So we go to church not primarily to learn, to hang out with Christians, or for emotional support. We go to church because we are a sign of the Kingdom to the world; and if we are a bunch of me’s running around, instead of an “us,” we are not really showing the world the Kingdom, are we? People see God—or don’t see God—not only in what we believe, but in the kind of community we are. People sense what God is like by how his representatives live with each other and treat each other. Give “us”—your people here—our daily bread.
The next couple words I want to focus on are “this day.” What could this mean for us? Another way to think about these words is to say, “Just for today, give us what we need, just for today.” Why might Jesus say this in prayer? Remember, the Lord’s Prayer functions as a model for all Christian prayer. So what might he be saying about prayer here? Well, Christians have interpreted it in different ways. Some Christians have thought that such a phrase means, “Don’t be greedy.” Now, I’m quite sure Jesus doesn’t want us to be greedy, but I’m not sure that’s what these words imply. Instead, I think most of what Jesus is trying to say here is that it’s essential for us to live one day at a time.
One of the things we are very grateful as parents of infants is that the science of infant sleep has really progressed a lot in the last few years. A lot of literature is out there now on helping your baby to sleep well. Now, as you can imagine, there are different schools of thought about what’s right and wrong, but the advice we took with Grace and we plan on taking with Jack is from a book called “Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems.” Essentially, what the author argues is that babies need to develop methods of soothing themselves to sleep and not relying on their parents to soothe them. Kids need to develop the skill on their own. So you put them down to sleep, and they may cry at first, so you go in after 5 minutes, and soothe them a little bit; you leave, and they cry, so you go back in after 10 minutes, and soothe them again, let them know you still love them; and then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, then every 20 minutes for however long it takes for them to go to sleep. Now, the first night, maybe the second night, maybe even the third night can be tough. But by the fourth night, the babies learn to calm themselves and fall asleep, and usually sleep quite well. I know that for us it was rather like a miracle! This technique was developed by a Dr. Bruce Ferber, and so it’s known as “Ferberizing” your little one. Now here’s the catch with Ferberizing—you can’t do it until your baby reaches a certain age. Until your baby is four months old, your baby doesn’t really have the mental capacity to soothe herself or himself—they need someone to soothe them. When they hit four months, they have developed to the point where they can do it.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, when you know that a full night of sleep will be coming soon when the baby hits four months, you have a tendency to have that date circled on your calendar. November 12. It seems so far away. I know that I really thought of it in terms of those 123 days even the day Jack was born. You think, OK, if I can get through these 123 days, then I’ll get my sleep back. But I’ve been realizing how toxic that viewpoint really is. You know why? I know that there are many people here who would give an awful lot of money to have those 123 days with a baby back. To look into his eyes, even at 3:45 in the morning, is a precious things. I wouldn’t want to do it my whole life, but the fact is, I get these four months only once with Jack; only for four months of his life can I go and hold him and give him whatever he wants and not worry that I’m spoiling him. I have these four months for God to rip out our old family wiring, and re-wire my heart and open it up to more love than I ever knew I could have before. This is a tremendously privileged time in my life, but I cannot enjoy it if I’m always thinking about 3 months down the road.
Now the same principle in my life holds in your life as well. Each of us is in a life-world that is just dripping with God’s presence, if we are aware and sensitive enough to see it. And yet so much of our lives is spent waiting for the next thing, and not enjoying the stage of life that we’re in. This is what Jesus is talking about when he talks about giving us this day our daily bread. It’s Jesus’ way of saying, “Live in the moment. Do not worry about what you will need for tomorrow, do not focus on what tomorrow’s problems will be, focus on today. God, give us what we need for today. Give me what I need for the moment that I’m in. And then tomorrow, I will be in another moment, and I pray you will give me what I need for that moment.”
Now I’m aware that different people hear this different ways. Some personalities hear this and rejoice—some people live in the moment quite easily. Some people hear it and panic, because they are the type who always are preparing for the next thing down the road, and they like to have a few months of provisions around the house, always prepared for any eventuality. To these people, it’s sort of a threat to focus on the moment they live in, because there’s a certain security in always preparing for the future. If you’re an active kind of person who loves to solve problems, then you probably like to focus on the future, because the future always has problems you can solve, or at least work on if you can’t exactly solve them. There’s always more to do to prepare for the future; it’s like a total vacuum that always is happy to take your physical, spiritual and emotional energy if you’re wanting to spend it. Whether it is your strength or not, all of us can learn a bit from Jesus requesting just the help we need for this day. Because if we can learn to live day by day, something strange can happen—as we are assured we will have what we need for each day, we learn to be thankful for little things we missed before when we were always three steps ahead, worrying about what comes next. We learn to love our lives when we learn to spend our lives living instead of anticipating them.
Finally, let’s close by looking at “our daily bread.” Bread is a simple food. Every culture has bread in some form, a staple food, a food of the masses. In our culture, having bread to eat is a way of talking about a person not having enough—subsisting on bread and water is not enough for anybody! But in other cultures, having only bread might be a feast.
Why does Jesus refer to bread? Well, I think it’s in part because Jesus wants us to live simply. We do not ask Jesus for a daily feast, a daily balanced meal, even a daily vegetable. Just bread. Again, some people see greed in this, that Jesus is saying we shouldn’t be greedy. I see it a little differently, and I see it as about simplicity. Maybe that’s two sides of the same coin, but I think it’s not so much about Jesus berating us not to want more, not to be so greedy. I think it’s much more about us learning to enjoy the simple things. Remember, Jesus liked to feast with the best of them—his first miracle, in fact, was turning ordinary water into wine! And he was liberal enough about his feasting to have people think he feasted too much. But Jesus knows what happens to people who feast too much—they’re never happy unless they’re feasting more. Witness our culture—more wealth than was imaginable even 50 years ago and also incredibly depressed and worried. Why? Because we don’t know how to love simple things, the earthy stuff of life; and so when that’s all we have, we get depressed.
Jesus wants us to have our daily bread, not because he hates us having better things, but because he wants us to live happy lives. And we can only be happy once we learn to love simple things, because sometimes those things are all we have. So Jesus asks God that we might have them, that we might have enough, so that we can learn to love the simple things. Then, if we learn to love the simple things, we will love those feasts in our lives even more!
I think what this phrase calls for is a corporate, simple dependence. We are called on to be simple people, enjoying the simple things of life without demanding to have our future all worked out in the present. And we are called not to earn them but to receive them from God. And finally, we are called on to do this together, not alone; our community should be characterized by this simple dependence together.