************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 125 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 19, 2012
Q & A 125
"Give Us Today Our Daily Bread"
I We Pray for Physical Needs
A Ruth & I were visitors in another church. The sermon was Biblical and very Reformed and the congregation listened attentively. The music and songs had depth. Still, when the service was done something did not feel right. As I thought about our worship experience it occurred to me the problem was with the congregational prayer. The entire prayer, from beginning to end, was solely about spiritual matters. I knew from the bulletin that there were sick people in the congregation. Before the service someone mentioned the high unemployment in the area. There are always local, state, and international concerns in the news. Yet, the pastor was oblivious to all of this. When I asked, I learned most of the pastor's prayers were like this.
B In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us the how of prayer. How are we to pray? Not just about spiritual matters. Though we have a soul or spirit, we are also physical beings with physical needs and concerns. Woe to that church or pastor who ignores the physical at the expense of the spiritual. But the opposite is equally bad. We must never forget that we humans are body and soul.
So, how are we to pray? When you pray, says Jesus, include petitions for daily bread: "Give us today our daily bread." Or, as Q & A 118 of the Catechism says,
WHAT DID GOD COMMAND US TO PRAY FOR?
Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord Himself taught us.
The pastor I mentioned earlier sounds like the historic Roman Catholic Church. For centuries Western Christians prayed, "Our Father in heaven ... Give us today our supernatural bread." They prayed this way because that is what their Latin version of the Bible said. Translated this way, the faithful understood the fourth petition as a request for the benefits of the Eucharist in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
We know better today. Christians of all traditions now acknowledge that Jesus taught us to ask for ordinary bread – not for supernatural or spiritual bread. This fourth petition is not a prayer for the blessings of the Lord's Supper; rather, it is a prayer for daily needs.
C "Give us today our daily bread." I want you to notice this petition follows the petition for obedience:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread ...
This tells us something about our prayer for bread. It tells us that we do not want bread if it will cost us our obedience to God. Think of Abraham in Egypt and Lot choosing the well-watered plain. We know that life, real life, is not having something to put into our mouths, as worldly people think; rather, life, real life, is something we have only if we hear and obey what God says.
The people of Israel failed to learn this truth during forty years in the wilderness; they complained and rebelled because bread and meat and water were more important to them than was obedience. Jesus, however, succeeded where Israel failed. He went hungry for forty days in the desert, refusing to eat the food of disobedience. He determined to put God first. So when the tempter came to Him, He said,
(Mt 4:4) "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
We, too, face the temptation of thinking that daily food has top priority. But God did not place food at the top of the list of necessities for humanity. He put Himself and His Word first. If it is a choice between eating or obedience, we are better off going hungry and being obedient. Loyalty to God, listening to what comes out of His mouth – that has and must have top priority.
Maybe you saw or heard this item on the news.This man knows the lesson of the Lord's Prayer: that obedience to the Lord is far more important than food on the table or money in our bank account.
A man traveling from Las Vegas airport to his home in Colorado found two envelopes of cash amounting to $10,000. Nothing on or inside the envelope indicated to whom it belonged
He man made repeated phone calls to the airport where he found the money. After two weeks he learned from an airport telephone operator that a man from El Paso, Texas reported that he lost his money.
The man who found the money said that he was obliged to return it to the rightful owner because the money was not his. Doing so, he said, would also teach his kids the right thing to do.
Yet, Jesus does teach us to pray for our physical needs. Why? We pray for material things so we can better concentrate on spiritual things. When we no longer have to worry about daily food, work, shelter, and clothing we are free to better serve the Lord. Or, to put it another way, it is easier to hallow God's name, to submit to His kingdom rule, and to do His will when our bellies are full.
II We Pray for All Our Physical Needs
A "Give us today our daily bread." According to the Catechism, when we pray this petition we are asking God to "take care of all our physical needs." We aren't just praying for food; we are also praying for health, medical care, clothing, shelter, transportation, work, business, marriage, family, friends, and anything else that is part of our day-to-day physical life.
B "Give us today our daily bread." Everyone should realize our Lord's emphasis is on our needs and not out wants. We are not praying for riches and luxuries. We don't dare pray for swimming pools, flat-panel TVs, surround sound, and the latest video games. We are not praying for things we can easily do without. We need food but we may not pray for steak and lobster every night. We need transportation but we may not pray for a Dodge Charger. We may need a pickup but we probably don't need an F350 with double cab and extended bed. We may need a house but we don't need a mansion. We may need a job but we don't need one that pays $250,000 per year. We may need clothing but we don't need a $500 dress or a $1000 suit. We need health and strength but we may not pray to become an Olympic champion or a winner in the Tour de France.
C But, now, notice the exact form of how Jesus commands us to pray. "Give us today our daily bread." We pray for "this day." And, we pray for "daily" bread. Meaning what? Meaning we pray for what we need today. We are not to worry about tomorrow's needs. As Jesus tells us, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Mt 6:34). We are to live and pray one day at a time.
D Notice, also, the communal element. We pray for "us" and "our." "Give us today our daily bread." We are never to be selfish and self-centered in our prayers. We are to pray for more than ourselves. We are to pray for what we need as a family, as a community, as a nation, and as a world.
No one is allowed to isolate his or her needs and forget about others. The employer as well as the employee, the rich as well as the poor, must ask "our" Father for "our" bread. Thinking only about self is wrong because we belong to a family – the family of God – in which members help and serve each other.
When the focus of our prayer is ourselves, do you realize what we are actually praying? We are praying, "Give me this day my daily bread." Keep in mind what Paul says,
(1Tim 2:1) I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone ...There you have it. Pray for everyone. Not just me, myself, and I. Not just the people I know and love. I am to pray for the physical needs of the family beside me in the pew. I am to pray for the physical needs of co-workers. I am to pray for the physical needs of people listed in the bulletin and on the prayer chain.
III Why We Pray This Petition
A "Give us today our daily bread." Why is this petition included in what we pray to our Father in heaven? Because God is the Provider of bread for His people throughout the history of redemption. For instance, God sent Joseph to Egypt in order that food may be provided for Jacob and his family. When Israel was in the wilderness on the way to the Promise Land, God provided manna, quail, and water. When Elijah was escaping King Ahab, God appointed ravens to feed him with bread. Later, at the home of the Widow at Zarephath, God again provided for Elijah's physical needs when He did not permit the jar of flour to be used up and the jug of oil to run dry. And, when a discouraged Elijah ran off to Mount Horeb, begging for death, God sent him an angel, who offered him a meal. When Satan finished tempting Jesus, God sent angels to minister to the Son. Twice, Jesus fed thousands of people with a couple of loaves and a few fish. As the Catechism puts it, God "is the only source of everything good."
Consider, also, the words of our Scripture reading for this evening. The psalmist lists creatures great and small: beasts of the field, wild donkeys, birds of the air, cattle, man, wild goats, coneys, beasts of the forest, lions, sea creatures, the leviathan. Remember what he says about all these creatures:
(Ps 104:27-28) These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. (28) When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.Telling us what? Telling us, reminding us, that God is the source of everything good.
So, to this God we bring our petition for bread and all our other physical needs.
B "Give us today our daily bread." According to the Catechism, we pray this petition so that we come to know "that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing."
We may not think so, but we need God's blessing so we are to pray for God's blessing.
At the time of Jesus, most people spent most of their time obtaining clothes, shelter, and a daily supply of food. When people prayed, "Our Father in heaven ... Give us today our daily bread," they were just getting by from day-to-day. In numerous countries, even today, most people's worries concern their "daily bread." That is true, too, for many of the poor in Visalia and Tulare County.
But in most of North America, Western Europe, and a few other places, the daily food that the rest of the world worries about when they go to bed at night is taken for granted. In fact, most of us have items in our monthly budget that are far greater than the amount we spend on food and clothing. And, we have the wealth to enjoy luxuries unheard of and undreamed of by previous generations.
Yet, as the recent economic meltdown has shown us, the situation in any of our homes can change almost overnight. We can lose our job, we can lose our home, we can lose our stock-market investments and retirement income. Just like that, we can become homeless and hungry. Suddenly the prayer for bread and other needs become real and heart-felt, doesn't it?
I was talking with a couple of our dairymen this past week. I also looked at milk and cheese prices on the internet. It looks like things are heading south for the dairy industry again. A couple of dairymen told me they are already losing a couple of dollars per hundred-weight of milk. One man sighed and said it will be a hand-to-mouth existence again. Suddenly the prayer for bread and other needs become real and heart-felt, doesn't it?
"Give us today our daily bread." We can work and work hard. We can plan. We can make sales call after sales call. We can obtain advanced degrees and attend seminars and make ourselves an invaluable employee. We can make wise investment decisions. We can cut expenses. We can watch the bottom line. We can sweat and worry and cry. But above all what we need is God's blessing. So, we pray for His blessing.
C "Give us today our daily bread." This prayer is to take the place of worry. You know what Jesus said:
(Mt 6:25-31) Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (26) Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (27) Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? (28) "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. (29) Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. (30) If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (31) So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'"Give us today our daily bread." Pray instead of worry. Because we know "neither our work and worry" but only God's blessing counts for anything.
IV Prayer for Daily Bread, Work, and Sharing
A "Give us today our daily bread." As is the case with every one of the petitions, we not only say this one with our lips but must also live it with our lives. For instance, if we pray sincerely for the honor of God's name, then we must live for His honor and glory. If we pray sincerely for the coming of the Kingdom, then we must submit to it more and more. If we pray sincerely for the doing of His will, then we must obey His will in all things. Similarly, if we pray for daily bread, then we must work for bread.
God is very much opposed to all laziness. In the book of Proverbs we read,
(Prov 20:4) A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.And, to a converted thief in the Ephesian church Paul said,
(Prov 10:4) Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.
(Eph 4:28) He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Prayer for bread does not eliminate work for bread but demands it.
B "Give us today our daily bread." If we pray for the daily bread of "us" and "our," then we must also be willing to share. To pray, "Our Father in heaven ... Give us today our daily bread," obligates sharing on the part of those with more than they need.
The Bible views the sharing of food and clothing as evidence of faith. It sees the refusal to share these gifts as a clear sign that a person's faith is dead:
(James 2:15-17) Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. (16) If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (17) In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.And, the Bible makes clear that this sharing is not confined just to the needy brother or sister in the Lord. Even in Old Testament times "love" was not to be reserved only for fellow Israelites but was also to be extended to "strangers and sojourners." In the New Testament, Christian love is to be extended to everyone in need.
I would like to end the same way we have ended every other sermon on the Lord's Prayer. Open your Psalter Hymnal to page 922. I will begin the prayer and say the petition. You respond with the rest of the Catechism's answer ...
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