SERMON: GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD
Back in 1918, a traveling salesman named Charles Wilden visited the studio of the photographer Eric Enstrom. Impressed by what he recognized as kindness in the bearded man’s face, Enstrom asked Wilden to pose for a picture.
Eric intended to capture an image that would inspire thankfulness in people who had endured deprivation and hardship during the war. By highlighting simplicity, Wilden’s devout posture, and the humble surroundings, he aimed to evoke the spirit of devotion, thankfulness, and humility. Enstrom later said: “I wanted to take a picture that would show people that even though they had to do without many things because of the war, they still had much to be thankful for.”
On a small table, Enstrom placed a book, some spectacles, a bowl, a loaf of bread, and a knife on the table. Then he had Wilden pose in a manner of prayer… praying with folded hands to his brow before partaking of a meager meal. Enstrom recalled afterward: “To bow his head in prayer seemed to be characteristic of the elderly gentleman, for he struck the pose very easily and naturally.
As soon as the negative was developed, Enstrom was sure he had something special… a picture that seemed to say, “This man doesn’t have much of earthly goods, but he has more than most people because he has a thankful heart.”
From this chance encounter, the world-famous photographic study “Grace” was created, which is well-known and loved throughout the world. (See the front page of the bulletin) Today many “Grace” pictures hang in homes, restaurants, and in churches across America. Prints have also been shipped around the world. The early Grace pictures were printed either in black and white or sepia. Later, Enstrom’s daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, began hand-painting them in oils.
This picture is a visual representation of the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” I see a beautiful simplicity, a deep dependence on God, contentment, and gratitude for what has been received from the Lord.
There is a song by a South African musician: Koos du Plessis, called Simplicity that goes well with the photograph: Simplicity is the joy of life:
It’s just giving and receiving only what is here.
It is gratefully eating every crooked slice of bread
that is love.
The danger with the prayer for bread is that we want to get to this part too soon. We come to prayer, aware of urgent needs or at least wants. It’s tempting to race through the Lord’s Prayer as far as ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ so that we can then take a deep breath and say, ‘Now, when it comes to daily bread, there are some things I simply must have.’ And then off we go to a shopping list. This is to let greed get in the way of grace.”
The Lord’s Prayer’s first three petitions face God, and the next four look to our human needs. We ask differently after acknowledging God as a Parent and surrendering our will! When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we acknowledge God as the provider of all we have. We surrendered to the will of God,” Thy.” We bow in worship and gladly acknowledge that every good gift comes from God’s loving hand. Trusting God…
A little, seemingly insignificant word in this prayer, “daily,” is an essential key to making sense of this petition. It is found in the Greek of both Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the prayer. In Greek, the word is epiousian (epee-ooh-see-on). This word is particularly interesting because it appears nowhere in the Greek language up to this point. Its appearance in Matthew and Luke is the earliest use of the word. Remember, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, leaving early Christians to translate what he said into Greek, the universal language of the Roman Empire at the time. So, very early on in the history of Christianity, someone used epiousian to describe the bread Jesus was inviting us to pray for.
Epi means “on,” “in,” “upon,” or “to.” “Ousios” means “essence,” “being,” or “substance.” So, epiousian would mean “that which is needed for us to be” or “that which is essential.” “Daily” doesn’t fully capture the meaning of this Greek word. “Our daily bread” might better be translated as “the essential bread,” “the bread we need to survive,” or “the bread of subsistence.” This petition in the prayer is better translated as: “Give us today the bread that we need to exist.”
And this dependence is not only restricted to bread as food, though we begin there. “Essential Bread” is correctly understood as those aspects of life that are necessary to be able to live. Some pray for literal food. But daily bread in the prayer is more than the food we eat. “Bread” is both what we eat and what we “need to exist” or “to be.” We depend on God to provide for our essential needs, not just our food.
One cannot help but think about Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” This theory posits that humans are motivated first by our most basic physical needs for Human survival, e.g., air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, and sleep: our daily bread in the physical sense. But we also have higher needs that include, in ascending order, safety and security, acceptance and love, self-esteem, recognition and affirmation, and self-actualization or reaching our full potential. And later in his life, Maslow would add the desire for transcendence: living for a higher purpose, a life filled with meaning.
When Matthew and Luke use the Greek word epiousian to describe the bread Jesus told the disciples to pray for, the essential bread, the bread we need to exist, he was probably also referring to these broader needs Maslow spoke about, the highest of which is the need for meaning and purpose and to connect with God.
Martin Luther famously wrote in his Small Catechism: What does this [Daily Bread] mean? … everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Our Divine Parent knows what we need… In this one petition, we trust God to provide what we need to thrive!
This petition is linked to the Israelite’s experience in the wilderness when they were taught to rely upon God for their bread, their manna, on a daily basis (Exodus chapter 16). Human beings are daily dependent upon God for our well-being. The point is that we depend daily on God for our bread, our very lives. If this dependence is understood correctly, it is life-transforming.
In Matthew 6:25-35, Jesus urges us to this truth that God looks after the birds and lilies. Our anxiety about survival grows the less we trust that God will provide. This is an easy sentence to say but so difficult to embody. That is why we need to repeat this prayer daily to live in this trust and dependence on God.
It is evident in this prayer and in the passage in Matthew that we receive what is necessary for today. The invitation is to be receptive to what God is giving now at this moment for today. Many times, we feel a form of lack because we are not sure if we will receive what we need for tomorrow. Hourglass metaphor: Focus on the grain of sand flowing through now! If you try to make a list of all the needs you have for the future, you will feel tremendous anxiety.
I have to work through this experience many times in weeks when I am responsible for the sermon. I worry, how will I ever make a whole sermon on “hallowed be Thy name”? Then I need to trust that God will provide as I work and pray… And God provides day by day…
Let’s focus on another way that God answers this prayer. In our modern lives, the problem often is not too little bread but far too much. That makes grasping this aspect of the Lord’s prayer difficult. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do so as one with food in the cupboard. We don’t worry about where our next meal will come from. But many pray this prayer for whom this petition is, quite literally, a request for God to help them to have enough to eat.
Throughout most of human history, and in much of the world today, hunger, the threat of famine, was and is all too real. Even the statistics in the USA for people living with food insecurity are shocking. 10% live with food insecurity! I am shocked to see how frequently our food pantry needs replenishment. The prayer may be uttered with some desperation for many millions of people.
But for those who have enough, we must dwell on these words and recognize that the ease with which we feed ourselves is God’s answer to the prayers for daily bread; part of my responsibility is to pray for and help those who still suffer.
Giving to the poor is not a helpful hint for living, but an essential rule in God’s kingdom, the Kingdom we pray will come on earth as it is in heaven. But as we seek to meet the needs of others, we find that we are blessed! As Francis of Assisi wrote, “It is in giving that we receive.” It sounds countercultural in our materialistic society, but the happiest people I know are the most generous people.
So, when we who have more than enough and pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for those who struggle, and, when we have more than enough, we are praying, “Use me and others so that all of us may eat.”
But remember, our call to help is not just about the need for bread or food! The whole range of essential needs needs to be addressed. We are called when we pray, “Give us our daily bread.”
Throughout Scripture and ancient culture, bread is a metaphor for far more than food. Jesus said in John 6:33 that the “true bread from heaven” came not from Moses but from God. “The bread of God,” he tells them, “is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then Jesus says something most remarkable and, for many, perplexing: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (V. 35)
This dramatic statement may hold the key to understanding the deeper meaning of our prayer for daily bread. The bread is an expression of Christ’s presence and the life he wishes to give us, sustain us, strengthen us, and nourish our souls.
When Jesus told us to pray for our epiousian bread–our essential, substantial bread, existential bread, the bread that sustains our souls, the bread we need to survive–he was inviting the hungry to pray for physical bread, inviting those who have enough to pray for those who don’t and be moved to share. He taught us to ask for and receive the bread that satisfies our souls. Jesus knew that we could have all the bread we wanted yet be spiritually starved, just as we can have all the wealth we could hope for yet still be impoverished.
The Lord‘s Prayer embraces the greatest and smallest things in its tremendous span.
The Lord’s Prayer is a total prayer. And its seven petitions are like the rainbow colors of the spectrum into which light divides when it is retracted in a prism. The whole light of life is captured in this rainbow of seven petitions. Nobody can ever say that it sends him away empty-handed or does not consider their needs.
The Lord’s Prayer can be spoken at the cradle and the grave. It can rise from the altars of grand cathedrals and the dark places on earth of those who “eat their bread with tears.” It can be prayed at weddings and on the gallows. And the fact is that it has been prayed in all these places. All seven colors of our life are contained in it, so never is there a time when we are left alone.
O Lord, my Heavenly Father, give me this my daily bread. Lord, I pray for your great provision over my daily physical needs. Help me to trust in your provision each and every day. Ease my anxiety and worry and help me to trust in you. Align my heart and my prayer requests with your will, Lord. Hear my prayers, O Lord, as I bring to you my most significant worries, fears, needs, decisions, and cares for others. Lord, hear these prayers and move in my life and the lives of those I pray for. For you are great and mighty and loving and know exactly what we need. Lord, give us this day our daily bread and help me trust that you know best for my life. Amen.