Monday, November 03, 2008

Supply Lines

(This is the fifth in a series titled 'A Declaration of Dependence: The Lord's Prayer.')

Matthew 6:9-13

I love bread. I like all kinds of bread, from French baguettes to Italian focaccia—from really good California sourdough to a nice slice of Wonder bread. The worst thing that ever happened to my enjoyment of bread was the Atkins diet—the low-carb diet. The last thing I ever needed was to have a hint of guilt to spoil my enjoyment of a good cinnamon twist or some Rye toast.

My love for bread goes back to my childhood. My Italian grandmother used to make bread every week. When I was little she used to let me help—I had a little single-serving bread pan, and she would give me a lump of dough to make my own mini-loaf of bread. When it came out she would make a fuss over it like I had done this amazing thing. She’d hide the 6 large loaves she made and call my grandfather in from the garden to show him the little bun I made. When she got older she would have me do the kneading—she’d stand next to me and tell me what to do, and she’d toss flour onto the big table so the dough wouldn’t stick.

What I remember most about those days at my grandma’s house was the smell of the baking bread. It was strong—but if you were indoors for a long time it would seem to fade. But if you went outside for even a minute and came back into the house, it would seem just as strong as ever.

My grandmother died in 1995, and I haven’t made bread since. But every so often I go into someone’s house, or by a bakery, and I get that smell again, just as strong as ever. The aroma of baking bread reminds me of my Italian grandparents, but it also reminds me of what it was like to be filled in their presence—filled with food, loved unconditionally, and completely satisfied.

We’ve been talking about the Lord’s Prayer as the heart of our faith—it expresses what we believe about God and ourselves, and reminds us of the call on each of our lives to live according to the values of the Kingdom, of Christ’ reign over all things and all places and all people.

We’ve already prayed:

Our Father, the one that truly exists,
Your name is above all other names.
Bring your Kingdom,
Help us make this world the way you made it to be in the first place.

And so we come to the text for today: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Sustain us for the journey. Feed all of us, O God. Show us how we can help.

In the reading from Exodus today we saw the way God provided manna to his people who were wandering in the desert for 40 years. It was like bread—it actually says later that it tasted like wafers made with honey, which sounds kind of nice. They were commanded to take some for everyone—even if they couldn’t get it themselves—but they were also commanded not to hoard it. God would provide their daily bread, if they would just trust him to do it.

It may seem like a strange time to talk about God’s provision for us. The financial crisis has hit many people in this room very hard. There are shrill, frightened voices coming out of our TVs and radios saying that a terrible recession is unavoidable.

It may seem like a strange time to talk about having faith in God’s care for us—in God’s concern for us—in the way God provides for our needs. Does God really care about us?

Now in this election year, and in honor of the last two presidents, I’m going to focus on a small word—actually the smallest word in our text this morning: Us.

‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Sustain us for the journey. Feed all of us, O God. Show us how we can help.

Who’s us? Which us is Jesus talking about—and asking us to pray about—in the Lord’s Prayer?

Instead of me laboring through some long, complicated response to that question, let me give you a hint about how simple the answer really is: ‘Us’ means everyone. That’s it, that’s as specific an interpretation of this passage as an honest preacher can give you. ‘Us’ means everyone. Uh-oh.

Take a minute to think about what a radical statement that is. Does God really care for us? Yes. It’s just that the ‘us’ God had in mind includes more people than we normally think about when we pray his prayer.

We’ve been saying that the Lord’s Prayer takes us in wherever we are—broken, wounded, depleted—that it takes us in and replenishes us—that it renews us and sends us out into service again. The point of that is that we are a part of the process—a part of the very blessing—that we are asking for in the prayer.

Because we know that there are people all over the world who don’t have enough to eat. We know that there are people in this city—maybe even at this church—who are wondering how they’ll provide for themselves—for their families—during these difficult times. It’s too easy to see hunger and deprivation as abstractions—as things that happen to ‘the other guy’—but if the economic forecasts are right, these issues of need and provision are about to get a lot more real to all of us. What do we do about that? What do we say?

‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Sustain us for the journey. Feed all of us, O God. Show us how we can help.

It’s important to read ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ as a two-way street.

First, it’s a recognition that in some mysterious way we rely on God to provide for our needs. We acknowledge that all good things come from him, and that we ought to remember him when things are good, rather that only when we’re facing some kind of disaster or suffering. People of faith used to call this Providence.

But the second part of this is what calls each one of us to action. Why? Because we all get our provisions in different measures. Some people get a lot, while others get very little—or nothing. Before we dive into that, we need to step back and review a crucial point of theology.

However it came about, Christians believe that God is the one who created the heavens and the earth and everyone and everything in it. We may wrestle or debate over the how and the when, but for people of faith the ‘who’ is not in question.

Because I believe that—because I believe that God is the origin of every thing and every person on this earth—I can say this: God didn’t go to the trouble of making anyone who was doomed to starve to death. If he did then we should all go home and get an early start on our Sunday afternoon plans.

God didn’t make anyone to starve to death. The problem is not production—the problem is distribution. Does that make sense? The problem is not production—the problem is distribution.

Military organizations give an enormous amount of thought to their supply lines or logistics. The five principles of logistics accepted by NATO are foresight, economy, flexibility, simplicity, and co-operation. That’s a good definition for our role in this verse from the Lord’s Prayer.

So what are we called to do? Give us this day our daily bread could just as easily mean: ‘Give all of us—give everyone their bread—even if you give it through me.’ Help me to serve with ‘foresight, economy, flexibility, simplicity, and co-operation.’

In the end we shouldn’t need the government to share the wealth. What we need is people who pray the Lord’s Prayer—and mean it—to share the wealth.

We come to the Table this morning in need of the life sustaining nourishment that God promises. But it’s not just our own hunger we ask for—we come to the Table to be restored, replenished, and renewed for service. We come to experience this blessing in the way God intended it: so that we would turn right around and become a blessing to all the nations—a blessing to the rest of what we mean by ‘us’.

And so our stewardship theme continues. You heard about some of our fellowship ministries last week, and today we remember the way our music programs lead and inspire our worship together. Don’t miss next Sunday, as we talk about what this church hopes to accomplish in Christ’s name for the needy in this area. Don’t miss it. Bring friends. Come ready to be inspired.

For today we come to the table as people who are thankful for God’s Providence, and eager to share that blessing with others. That’s what the Lord’s Prayer is all about. Let’s stand and pray the prayer together as we prepare our hearts for Communion.

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