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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Midweek Lent 2011 + Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Week 3: “Providing Daily Bread” Fourth Petition, the Lord’s Prayer
Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Exodus 16:9-30; Matthew 6:25-34

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

22,000 children under the age of five will die today of hunger, according to UNICEF. One every four seconds. Considered on a broader scale, that’s equivalent to an earthquake like the one in Haiti last year occurring every 10 days. And that’s just children under five. In 2009, 8 million children worldwide died before their fifth birthday. 4 million newborns worldwide are dying in the first month of life. 1 billion children are currently deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development. Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. 2.5 billion people in the world – over one third of our people – lack access to improved sanitation(1). And according to the World Bank, almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day (2). The numbers are staggering, and beyond our capacity even to grasp.

Martin Luther says that daily bread consists of “everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house,” but also including things like “upright and faithful rulers, [and] good government.” Clearly he would say that over half our planet’s people do not get their daily bread on a regular basis.

I’m sure these numbers aren’t new to most of us. We’ve heard the bleak statistics before, and not only do we struggle to grasp them fully, we tend to become numb to the sheer cruelty and horror the dry numbers can conceal. But in a world where we spend astronomically more for military defense than we do for ending hunger and poverty, I wonder how any of us who live in our comfortable lives, who rarely if ever miss a meal, who take sanitation for granted, and who have more wealth than most of the world, I wonder how we can bring ourselves to pray this petition. How do we pray, “Give us today our daily bread” with any sense of honesty or integrity? How do we hear Jesus’ words to us that we not be anxious for what we will eat or wear without acute embarrassment?

Perhaps what we need to do is remember the petitions which came before: that we have asked God to help us live in God’s rule and reign, and do God’s will. Because in that context, a prayer for daily bread can be for us a plea for God to change us in such ways that we become part of God’s providing daily bread for all.

Our problem is that because we fail to do God’s will, and so to live under God’s rule, we become so self-absorbed we think we’ve got all the problems.

We hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 and think, “well, that’s going to be hard – I’m so anxious about so many things, how can I trust God to provide?”

The people of Israel in the wilderness had seen God’s saving acts again and again. Prior to today’s reading, in their hunger they complained to God, as if God had done nothing for them up to now. And once again, God provided. But then, like us, they couldn’t just take that with grace. Afraid they might run out in future, they disobeyed God and hoarded. Manna was given sufficient for the day – and Moses clearly told the people not to save up extra. But of course, people did – and it went foul. And we’re persisting in that behavior and lack of faith.

Because that’s what this all is – a lack of faith. We live in the richest country in the world, with resources beyond belief, where we can throw anything into the ground and it will grow. We’ve had only a handful of attacks by enemies on our nation in the past two centuries – in fact, you’d have to go back to the War of 1812 to find the last time war was waged on our soil by outside enemies, apart from surprise attacks like Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

We live in safety, with all we need – and yet we hoard wealth, we build walls to protect what we have, we live as if we don’t know where our next meal will come from. We are taught to pray “give us today our daily bread,” and we live as if we need to provide for the next 20 years’ needs or more.

And children, meanwhile, continue to die. Or live desperate malnourished lives. If anyone should lack faith in God’s ability to provide daily bread, it should be the half of the world’s people who live in utter poverty, not we who live as we do.

Which means we want to pay attention to Luther’s words in his Large Catechism, and pray this petition in a different way.

Luther gladly proclaims God provides all we need. But then he gives this warning: “How much trouble there is now in the world simply on account of false coinage, yes, on account of daily exploitation and usury in public business, commerce, and labor on the part of those who wantonly oppress the poor and deprive them of their daily bread! This we must put up with, of course; but let those who do these things beware lest they lose the common intercession of the church, and let them take care lest this petition of the Lord’s Prayer be turned against them.” (3)

We pray this prayer in part to remind ourselves that all we have is from God, and we have all we need. We pray it that we might learn to put aside anxiety over our future, over what we have, and trust God to provide all.

But we pray this with Luther’s words in mind, for a greater good: that we might be a part of God’s daily bread for all people. This petition reminds us that it is God’s intent for all God’s people to have all they need for life.

It is, in fact, God’s will. And if others are starving, living in squalor, drinking polluted water or none at all, while we luxuriate – then it is our job, our service, to change that. If we truly wish to live in God’s kingdom and follow God’s will, this is it.

Simply, we cannot pray this petition today without confessing our sin, asking forgiveness, and seeking God’s grace to make a difference for others. We were blessed, through no merit of our own, to be born into the best garden on the planet, with more safety and peace than anyone else in the world has ever known. We cannot pray this petition imagining that that’s all we need to know.

God’s good will is that all have all their daily bread.

Today we learn to pray that we be a part of that providing, that we do whatever we can to bring about an end to poverty and hunger on this planet. We pray that those horrible numbers do not cause our eyes to glaze over and our minds to wander, but urge us to action as much as if the children dying were our next door neighbors.

Because they are. They are our sisters and brothers. And they need daily bread. And so we pray, “Lord, have mercy. And help us do your will.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen

1 “The State of the World’s Children,” 2010 report, .
2 Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, “The developing world is poorer than we thought, but no less successful in the fight against poverty,” World Bank, August 2008
3 Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord : The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (451–452). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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