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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

March 11, 2018

 Our Needs in a World of Want

Exodus 16:1-12; Matthew 6:25-34

            John Calvin pointed out that The Lord’s Prayer, our focus for this Lenten season, resembles in structure the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20.  This should not surprise us, as Jesus, among so many other things that He was, was surely a faithful Jew.  Calvin noted that the Ten Commandments begin with our duty and service to God, the Holy One of Israel.  You remember the first four commandments: (1) “You shall have no other gods before me.  (2) You shall not make for yourselves a graven image, or worship any idol….  (3) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.  (4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

            Then having established our duty to God, the commandments turn to our duty to each other.  “Honor your father and your mother.  You shall not kill.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness.  You shall not covet.”

            We begin getting our relationship right with God, then we find it possible to get our relationships right with each other.  In fact, establishing a healthy relationship with God enables us to relate in life-giving ways to each other.

            So in Jesus’ model for prayer, we begin with God, our heavenly Father.  We pray that God’s name, which means God’s reputation in the world, will be hallowed, or made holy.  Then we pray that God’s kingdom will come, God’s will be done “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

            Having established a right relationship with God through our prayers, we then rightly turn to pray for ourselves.  This, by the way, was how Jesus answered when asked, “What is the greatest commandment in all of the Law?”  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  And the second is like it.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            This is how we are to pray – not need-centered or self-centered, but God-centered and kingdom-centered.  When our prayers start with us, we easily distort our relationship with God, and lose much of the power and peace of prayer.  We are not the starting point of prayer – God is.  We are not the center of the universe – God is.

            I mention this precisely because Jesus makes some breathtaking statements about God’s care for us and God’s eagerness to provide for us.  Let me offer two examples.  In Matthew 18 Jesus says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”  Then in John 16, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name.”

            These are favorite verses of those who preach the “prosperity Gospel,” including America’s most popular television preacher.  And Jesus offers both these wonderful promises about prayer.  But when we pray them in a self-centered or need-centered manner, we can easily hold God to these promises in a way that suggests that God is somehow answerable to us.

            Remember Abraham Lincoln’s word on this?  “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is whether we are on God’s side, for God is always right.”  I know some incredibly pious Christians who are intensely self-centered and need-centered in their prayers, who could not imagine for a moment that God is not always on their side, and does not always want the same things for them that they want.

            That has never been the kind of Christian I have aspired to be.  We are challenged by Jesus to be like Him in His focused desire to be about the will of His Father.  In John 6, Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.”

            Here is the great secret of the God who bid us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”: God cares about our needs, and God meets our needs, not so things will go our way, but so things will go God’s way.  God meets our needs and answers our prayers not so we can have our way, but so we can have God’s way.

            The truth is that our lives matter to God; they have a significance that we can scarcely over estimate.  This is why Jesus bids us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  This is Jesus’ invitation to pray for our needs, or for our provision.  God is a God who provides, who supplies our needs.

            That is the first thing we acknowledge in praying, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  God is always a God of providence and grace.  “Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him,” Jesus said.  When Josh was a boy, we used to watch The Simpsons together.  Once at Thanksgiving Marge asked Bart to offer thanks.  Bart bowed his head and said, “Since we bought the food, and since we cooked the meal, and we set the table, thanks for nothing, God.”

            To pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is to pray, “Thanks for everything, God.”  Especially because most of us do not worry much about our next meal, do we need to pray it, if only to remind ourselves how generous and providential God has always been.

            It also is a reminder of how life comes to us: daily.  The Greek word translated “daily” is an interesting one.  “Epiousion” is the word, and it appeared nowhere else in any Greek text.  Origen in the second century, decided that Matthew must have made up the word.  Then, in the twentieth century, they found an ancient papyrus, a shopping list, with this word referring to the things needed for the day.  Life comes in day-tight compartments.  “Let the day’s own care be sufficient for the day,” Jesus said, “tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”

            I often return to the difficult, but important lesson Connie learned after her first husband, Jim Harrison, died suddenly and without warning, at age forty-nine.  “I don’t worry anymore,” she said, “I worried about all the wrong things.  The things I worried about never happened, and the things that I never gave a bit of thought to did.”

            The word “daily” also reminds us how often we should pray for our needs to be met by God.  I read an article this weekend in the Wall Street Journal on the joys of eating a whole pint of ice cream in one sitting.  “It feels so good to get to the bottom of the tub,” said one ice cream binger.  We even make “diet ice cream” so people can stuff themselves with it, and only take in four hundred calories.  (I think we still call that gluttony, and gluttony is still is listed among the seven deadly sins!)  My New Testament teacher Bruce Metzger said, “Jesus didn’t say, ‘Give us this day our daily cake!’”

            We rightly pray for God to meet our needs, so that when they are met, we can praise God, “from whom all blessings flow,” and we can then be generous with the great abundance with which we have been blessed.  “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” said Jesus.

            Thomas Chalmers spoke once about what every person needs: Someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.  Every time we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for all that we need, and acknowledging that Jesus fulfills our deepest needs, and nourishes our healthiest hunger and thirst.  “You’ll never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you’ve got,” said Steve Brown many years ago.

            Finally, Jesus did not instruct us to pray, “Give me this day my daily bread.”  His was a communal prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  This is a prayer for the world, and for all God’s children to be fed, housed and healthy.  It is a prayer for us to live together in peace and justice.

            Wednesday night about one hundred folks gathered to make twenty thousand meals for Rise Against Hunger.  First Presbyterian Church, Nashville has now prepared over one hundred seventy thousand meals to feed the hungry of the world.  I loved the scene – folks in their seventies and children in preschool – all working together to put together meals that will be shipped around the world to feed starving families.  I imagined God smiling upon us, as we were doing His will.  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

                                                                                    Amen.

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