Today we continue our journey exploring what it means to pray the Lord’s Prayer. I remind you of the three things I asked you to consider as we started this series: 1) pray the prayer each day at least until we conclude the series; 2) make notes about any new understandings you have about the prayer so they can be incorporated into your prayer time; and 3) share your prayer experiences and questions with the rest of us on the sermon blog.
Just in case you haven’t been around these past weeks since we started the series, or for those of you who might have catching up on much needed sleep during the sermons, I began by saying that the opening line of the prayer – “Our Father, who art in heaven” – is a reminder that the God to whom we pray is one as close and intimate as a loving parent, but whose nature is beyond the limits of our minds to conceive. In the petition – “Hallowed be thy name” – we are reminded that all prayer is God-directed, not human need directed, and when we pray we recognize that we are called to honor and respect the name of God. Last Sunday, when we got to the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” I suggested that this is the central petition of the prayer and that all of the other petitions of the prayer must be understood as part of this one petition. I also said that the fundamental meaning of “the kingdom of God” is whenever and wherever God’s will is done on earth.
That brings us to today’s petition: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” I think I am right in suggesting that for most people this has been a prayer for daily sustenance, a prayer asking God to provide us with the basic necessities of life each day. One of you told me your daughter loves this petition because she loves bread. Another of you paraphrased it as, “Give us this day, our daily Red.” Has the prayer meant something like that to you? Understood in this way, it evokes the image of God’s provision of manna for the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness after their liberation from slavery in Egypt. There, according to the text we read from the book of Exodus this morning, God provided Quail and manna, a fine flaky bread-like substance that settled on the ground each night like dew. There was enough for each day, not enough to horde and sell on the market, just enough for each family to get through that day. Is this petition a prayer that God similarly provide just enough for us today?
If the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the coming of God’s reign on earth, what does this petition mean? After all, we have just been warned in Matthew's introduction to the Prayer: "In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them: your Heavenly Parent knows what you need before you ask. So you should pray like this...."
Doesn't it strike you a little strange, that just a few lines later in that prayer, we should be taught to ask for our daily needs? Besides that, this line presents a particular problem in translation. Epiousios, one of the key words -- the one translated as "daily" here – occurs not just twice in the Bible but just twice in all of Greek literature, and both of the uses are in this prayer. In the second century one of the early church fathers suggested that Jesus or the Gospel writers created the word.
How does one decide what a given word means? You look in the dictionary, right? But how do the people who write dictionaries know what a word means. They know by the way the word is used. But if you have a word that is used in just this one place in all of literature, then what do you do? What you do then is look at the different syllables of the word and try to guess what was meant, but you cannot be sure. It is usually translated "daily” suggesting a petition for meeting our need for daily sustenance. But the line may best be translated as "give us the bread of the coming day." (You may have a note in your Bible at home giving this as an alternate translation.)
In the Old and New Testament the coming of God’s reign on earth is often pictured as a great banquet with abundant food. Perhaps this is not a petition for ordinary daily sustenance as we have supposed. If the fundamental petition of the prayer is for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, then perhaps this line means something like, "Give us today a taste of the messianic banquet," or "Give us today a taste of God’s reign on earth."
Last week I told you that my own quest to better understand this prayer began with a Lay Leader’s sermon one Sunday in Staten Island, New York. She was preaching a sermon on the Beatitudes in the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, just across the page of my Bible from Lord’s Prayer in chapter 6. It is what she said about one of the Beatitudes that caught my attention: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (chapter 5, verse 6) “Righteousness” is one of those old words, like “kingdom”, which lends itself to misunderstanding. This woman used a translation – I can’t remember which one – that had this line read, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail, for they will be filled.” I don’t recall what happened next, but my mind went immediately to today’s petition of the Lord’s prayer, and I thought: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see God’s will done today on earth as it is in heaven, for they will be filled.” Suddenly the whole prayer had a sense of urgency that I had not experienced before.
Do you remember a time when you were a child and your mom or dad was making cookies? As the dough was mixed, you couldn’t wait to stick your finger into the bowl to get a taste even before the cookies had been formed or baked? The taste would keep us going until the cookies got out of the oven. I think Jesus wanted his followers to have such a desire to see God’s reign on earth that this petition is an urgent request for a “taste” right now in this day. We are not simply to long to see right prevail eventually, but that we be granted a foretaste today; that we be granted a taste of mercy, justice and righteousness today. Far from moving from a prayer for the kingdom to a prayer for daily food, this petition gives the prayer a sense of urgency. Try this:
"Give us today a taste of your kingdom, your reign on earth -- a hungry child being fed, a homeless family getting a home – which will help us remember that when your will is done on earth as it is in heaven hunger and homelessness will be no more.
“Give us a taste of your kingdom, your reign on earth – an abused child brought to a safe place – that will help us remember that when your will is done on earth as it is in heaven “child abuse” and “wife battering” will no longer be words in our vocabularies. Let us in THIS DAY have a taste -- and be a part of -- that which IS coming."
When this is our prayer every day, our eyes are open to see the “tastes” of goodness, mercy and justice all around us. The “tastes” will keep us going until the “cookies” are out of the oven.
Does this mean that this prayer is not a prayer for daily food? No, but I think it puts that petition in a whole new context. When we started this series of sermons, one of you sent me these words that I had seen years ago. I suspect that many of you are already familiar with the words. It goes like this:
You can’t say the Lord’s prayer in first person –
You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "I."
You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "My."
Nor can you pray the Lord's Prayer and not pray for one another,
And when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother [and sister].
For others are included ... in each and every plea,
From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say "Me."
When we pray this petition, “Give US this day, OUR daily bread,” we are praying in a world there is enough food to feed everyone, but where 854 million people are malnourished, and where 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes every day. We are praying this prayer in a nation where as many as 13 million children under the age of twelve have difficulty getting enough food for normal physical and mental development. But we are also praying this prayer in a world where the number of overfed people now almost rivals the number of underfed.
What does it mean to pray this prayer to the God who is the loving parent of us all? When we pray this prayer, we are praying for God’s reign to come, that God’s will be done on earth. When we pray this petition, we are praying for just a glimpse, a taste, of that day when some of us will not eat so much that our health is threatened and when all of God’s children will be fed enough that they can grow into healthy adults, a day when senior citizens will not have to choose between food and medications or heat in the winter. When we pray this prayer, we are asking that we actually “hunger and thirst” for that day to come, and that we receive just a “taste” today of that day which is coming. And if the Beatitude from chapter 5 is right we are promised that those who have such “hunger and thirst,” and are eager for a “taste today,” will “be filled.”
I think that may be close to the meaning of the petition, "Give us this day our daily bread." We’ll never know for sure. What do you think? Keep on praying!
 “International Facts on Hunger and Poverty,” Bread for the World Institute. See website at lhttp://www.bread.org/learn/hunger-basics/hunger-facts-international.html
 World Watch Paper # 150:” Underfed and Overfed: The Global Epidemic of Malnutrition,” 2007 World Watch Institute at http://www.worldwatch.org/node/840.