Bible Reading From Micah 5:2-5a Matthew 6:31-34
Bethlehem, you are one of the smallest towns in the nation of Judah. But the Lord will choose one of your people to rule the nation— someone whose family goes back to ancient times… Like a shepherd taking care of his sheep, this ruler will lead and care for his people by the power and glorious name of the Lord his God. His people will live securely, and the whole earth will know his true greatness, because he will bring peace. [So] Don’t worry and ask yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?” Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today. (CEV)
Message “The Peace of Provision” Matthew 6:19-34
One church had children’s ministries during worship so when a 5-year old attended a wedding with her grandmother, she had never been in a formal service before. The pastor said, "Let us pray" and she saw everyone bow their head toward the floor. She cried out loud, “Grandma, what are they all looking for?” What are we looking for in our prayers?
Sometimes we jump immediately to our own desires and needs, but in the past weeks we have learned to first pray three requests concerning God's glory: his name, his kingdom, and his will. Having given priority to God's purposes in the world, we now turn to our own needs. The first,
L: Jesus taught us to pray
P: Give us this day our daily bread.
This petition is first, not necessarily because it is the most important, but because it is the most pressing. A deficiency in basic needs, and the anxiety it may create, can distract us from seeking the spiritual and relational needs that we may have. After we have laid these primary needs at the feet of the Father, we may feel freer to focus on other vital issues.
Why should a child of the Heavenly Father even have to ask? Didn’t we just hear that he already knows our needs?
Besides helping us focus better on other things, praying for our daily bread reminds us to recognize that: 1) He cares for us. 2) He provides for us faithfully. 3) We are dependent upon him. 4) We can rely on him. But primarily, he wants us to ask because it draws us into our relationship with him. With this in mind, let’s look at the request and work it backwards.
“Bread” : Basic Needs
First, "bread" speaks of the necessities of life -- primarily physical, but can also be spiritual, mental, or emotional. Implied is a requirement for us to discern between what is a need and what is a want. With the relative wealth of our nation, with peers telling us what we cannot live without, and with advertisers repeatedly insisting that we cannot live happily or well without their particular product – the line between need and want can become blurred, and we strive to surround ourselves with creature comforts and symbols of success, which we too often redefine as needs.
“Bread” : Contentment
Implied in this petition is a contentment with the basics of life. Paul inspires us by his words, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. (Philippians 4:11b-12) In some ways we admire the Thoreau’s of the world who, by choice, can contentedly live very simply.
To give an extreme example, back in the 1700s, John Wesley had just finished buying some pictures for his study and was hanging them in his study when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin dress to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat and found he had didn’t have enough money to do that. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: “Will your Lord say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ You have adorned your walls with the money that might have [protected] this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?” (Wesley was a pretty extreme guy, let’s face it). But he believed that with increasing income, the standard of giving should increase, but not the standard of living. Think about that. One year he earned 30 pounds. He used 28 to live on and gave 2 away. The next year his income doubled to 60 pounds, so he lived on 28, and gave away 32. The next year, his income increased to 120 pounds, lived on 28, and gave 92 to the poor. Wesley became one of the wealthiest preachers of his day, yet he lived on the same basic amount of income as when he started. When he died, there were only a few coins left in his drawers and pockets. Just to give you an idea, to put it today’s terms, his annual income (from royalties, books, and pamphlets and ministry) would have been about 160,000/yr., and he lived like someone who earned 20,000/yr. He took seriously the threat of the love of money. saying “Money never stays with me, it would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart.” Wesley realized God had given him gifts beyond his needs; and so in turn, he dedicated himself to reinvesting God’s gifts into his ministry and in others who were in need.
The economy of Bible days and 18th century England is clearly different than modern America, so I am not saying that this is what we should do, necessarily. But I think it should give us pause to think about how we do apply this “daily bread principle” to our own lives today.
John Wesley may have, at least in part, been convicted and inspired to change his life by this unhappy incident with the chambermaid and the paintings. One pastor put it this way: we tend to dismiss our consciences and end our confessions before we repent, before we begin to share more of our resources with others. How does one pray for "daily bread" when what we really want is “bread pudding”? (Robert Kopp – Praying Like Jesus) Consider what is truly a need and consider how to be content when in plenty or in want.
Daily provision is the norm for living in Bible times. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they collected their manna daily except the day before the Sabbath (and then collected only enough to carry them through the Sabbath). Elijah was fed daily by the ravens when he was in hiding. Later, he used the last of a widow’s oil and flour to make bread for one last meal. Yet there was another last batch day after day after day, it never ran out. Jesus fed the multitudes the day they came out to hear him. We can trust in God’s provision, for as Paul reminds us, if “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Trust in God’s love and ability to provide for us as we need. Jesus gives commentary on this phrase in the Lord’s prayer which is this in essence: Because we can trust in God’s love and has knowledge of our situation, we don’t worry about tomorrow, each day is enough. Some people interpret this as an excuse for laziness. “Don’t worry about tomorrow, we’ll just take it easy, live happy.” But in other places Jesus talks about the wisdom of planning. He is not encouraging us to not dream, not plan, not prepare, not take wise precautions for the future. His call is for us not to be anxious about it, but to move ahead with trust as we align our priorities with his priorities for us, and let him guide us each step of the way. That’s easier said than done so listen to Jesus’ familiar advice on how to do it… (I’ve shortened and paraphrased it for time and easy understanding…)
Don’t store up treasures on earth where moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven. Your heart will always be where your treasure is. Your eyes are like a window for your body. When they are good, you have all the light you need. But when your eyes are bad, everything is dark. You cannot be the slave of two masters! You will be more loyal to one than the other. You cannot serve both God and money. I tell you not to worry about your life, about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Life is more than food or clothing.
“Daily” : Focus on the Caregiver
To illustrate that in modern terms: After the service at the Bluffs Thursday, some of went to the large windows on that third-floor banquet room and looked out over the beautiful landscape of the city of Houghton and Hancock we could see the great majesty and provision God gives in so many ways. In this text (but I didn’t read) Jesus points us to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field to show us how God cares and why we don’t need to be anxious – because if he cares for the birds and the grass that is so much less important than us… then we don’t need to worry. And if we can focus on that, we have all the light that we need because we are focused on the right thing, on our Caregiver.
Now, if, while I was overlooking that landscape, l pulled a couple of dimes out of my pocket and held them right in front of my eyes – and then how much of God’s beautiful landscape and care and provision would I be seeing? Nothing. If we focus on what we lack, or what we want, then we cannot see that God wants to provide, or how able he is to provide it. And everything becomes dark, Jesus says. Just a few stanzas from a piece called “Just for Today”.
- Just for today, I will try to live, through this day only, and not tackle my whole life problem at once.
- Just for today, I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful.
- Just for today, I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires.
- Just for today, I will have a quiet half hour all by myself during which I will try and get a better perspective of my life.
- Just for today, I will recognize God as my Heavenly Father, and that I am His child; and I will think, act, and feel accordingly.
Which leads to the last word: “Our”. What God gives is not for ourselves alone. It is not me and my bread, (or your bread, even) it is our Father, our bread, our forgiveness, our temptation, as someone wrote,
You cannot say the Lord's Prayer and even once say “I”. You cannot say the Lord's Prayer and even once say “My”. Nor can you pray the Lord's Prayer and not pray for one another, for when you ask for daily bread you must include your brother, for others are included in each and every plea. From beginning to the end of it, it does not once say “Me”. (Spiros Zodhiates)
We are all of the same planet, we are all in the same boat – we succeed together, and we fail together, we rejoice together, and we mourn together, we pray for each other, and we also called to action for each other.
“Our” : Connected in his name
So not only are we to trust God, but God also gives to us in trust, and trusts that we will provide for each other when he has given us the resources to do that. How can people pray for God to feed the hungry and then hoard the resources God has given to us to give relief to the hungry? How can I pray for another’s basic needs if I am unwilling to be an instrument for God to help meet those needs (when I am able?) As one denominational confession puts it: "The church gathers to praise God, the church disperses to serve God. (UPCUSA – The Confession of 1967)
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out as the continuing provision of God’s presence and power -- not only to give comfort and inspire individuals alone, but to gather and unite all people as God’s people, and to enable them – enable us – to be God’s physical presence (his representatives) on the earth -- to go out and care and share God’s love -- nearby, to distant places, and to the ends of the earth.
Closing Prayer Our Father, so often we live like sheep without a shepherd. Feeling uncared for and unable to help ourselves. But you raised up your Son Jesus to care for us like a shepherd, providing for our needs, leading us in right paths, restoring our spirits, protecting and comforting us in every circumstance we face, allowing us to dwell securely in your peace – all by the power of your glorious name. And this shepherd, this prince of peace, the bread of the world sent from heaven, has now sent your spirit of peace to us to carry on the work of bringing healing and wholeness to your world. We wait on your Spirit to pour out his power, that we may go forth for you in the name of peace, love, and joy. Amen.
Closing Blessing Now go in the name of the God who does not withhold his love, but faithfully listens to the prayers of those who reverently worship him in awe and call out to him in praise. Go forth in the name God’s heavenly grace. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 670 (vv 1,2,4) Go Forth for God