|Sermon by: The Rev. Michael Merriman
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
March 19, 2017
Third Sunday in Lent
Give us today our daily bread.
Your clergy in our Lenten Sermons are focusing on the Lord’s Prayer, and today we’ve read this phrase: Give us today our daily bread. A simple and direct petition, don’t you think? Well, perhaps not so simple.
But first: one of my teachers when I was in seminary in New York City taught us this. When you are on a crowded subway or bus, or other places with crowds of people, say the first two word of the prayer to yourself, “our Father.” Our, not my. Only then can you understand all the rest of this prayer. It is addressed to Our Father and that means we’re praying it on behalf of the entire human race. So, when we prayer give us today our daily bread, we’re praying for all and every human being to have the food and drink and material goods they need, not simply asking it for ourselves.
Give us today our daily bread.
An expert on preaching I studied with once told our class of aspiring preacher, “If you start a sermon talking about the meanings and translations of biblical words the biblical passage your sermon is based on, you’re sunk before you start.” I’m going to ignore those wise words today, however.
In the original Greek in which the New Testament was written, the two Gospels that contain the Lord’s prayer, have something that I think is weird. The Greek word in that phrase that we translate as “daily,” or as “bread for today,” or as “today’s bread” is a word that exists nowhere else in all of the Bible or in all of ancient Greek literature, either sacred or secular. When the writers of Matthew and Luke wrote down the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, they had a translation of Jesus original words in his daily language, Aramaic, before them, and whoever first put Jesus’ prayer into Greek seems to have had to made up a special word to express something that was new to Greek language. (We don’t have Jesus original words in Aramaic, so we don’t know what lay behind Matthew and Luke’s Greed version.
Ever since, translators have struggled to find ways to express that word, usually settling for “daily” in English. However, this mysterious word can mean “today’s bread for tomorrow” “our necessary bread” or (my favorite from the Roman Catholic English Bible), “our supersubtantial bread.”
Is Jesus teaching us to pray for, and thus depend upon, God being the source of what we need to get us through today? Or what we need to get us to tomorrow? And in that case, does tomorrow just mean ‘Monday?” or tomorrow as the future? or even tomorrow as the fullness of time now and into eternity? Or do we pray for what we need that is beyond our physical needs, what we need spiritually?
Well, no one has ever settled these possibilities. But here’s something we learn as we read the Scriptures. We learn that God is the source of not only the material stuff that enables us and all creatures to live, God also is the source of what we humans need to live fully as we were created to be and to live not only into the future but also beyond the future into eternal life.
We see that when Jesus sees a crowd of hungry people and he feeds them with real physical food. Note: he doesn’t start telling them spiritual things. First, he fed their immediate physical hunger, their empty stomachs, with real substantial food. Then, he went ahead and revealed that he, Emmanuel, God with us, is the Bread of Heaven, of which one may eat and live forever. Jesus and the Samaritan woman begin their conversation speaking of physical water, H2O, because he was thirsty, but from there he goes on to speak of “living water” that will spring up into eternal life.
First, that daily bread is what we need and what God is the source of; the physical, material stuff that we need to live today and each today that comes after. And also, what we need is the “supersubstantial bread” and the “living water.” Both are Christ dwelling in us, which enable us to live into the life that will never end.
When Jesus tells the Samaritan Woman, who the Eastern Orthodox Christians call St. Phontini, that he can give her water that lasts, she first thinks he’s speaking only of H20, but soon she discovers that the living water is a new life – St. Photini, who is a person of tragic circumstances, bounced from one man to another (almost certainly in that culture not by choice, but because of unfaithful men), and due to that unable to be in a social relationship with her community (indicated by the fact that she came to draw water at Noon, an hour when no one else in her village would be there). She found that living water which is Jesus’ gift of his Spirit to her gave her a new meaning and made her an apostle to carry the Gospel into her village and share the news of Christ to others. (Ancient Christian tradition says that Photini when on to be an evangelist for Christ the remainder or her life, finally suffering martyrdom for Christ by being thrown down a deep well. But that’s another sermon, back today’s sermon.)
Give us today our daily bread, then is a much larger and extensive petition. We express it as we give thanks for the food and drink on our dining tables, God is the source of our daily needs. We express it when the priest leads us in giving thanks over bread a wine for all of God saving and redeeming work and then share no just daily bread, but the Bread of Heaven, the Body of Christ.
But also, our prayer is not just for ourselves, or for our family and household, or for our fellow Christians. It is prayed by us for all human beings, all people. We pray for daily bread and shelter and health and work, for all people. And in that prayer, we commit ourselves to be certain that not only our churches but also our larger societies; business, education, art, entertainments, and, yes, our governments see that all people have Our Daily Bread.
And also, we are praying that all people may recognize in Jesus the Bread of Heaven, the Living Water, that all people may have our bread for eternal life, so as we say these simple words, we’re committing ourselves to reveal Jesus by word and example in the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
Our prayer is for us: and remember we pray this Our Father prayer for all the “us’s” in the world. Our families and all the families of the earth, our fellow Christians and people of faith regardless of religion, all people in our time and on behalf of all those in every time and place, the living and even the departed. Our Father…give us today our daily bread for now and for tomorrow and for all time and beyond all time into the eternal life which you have made us for.
Bread of Heaven, Living Water – life eternal springing up in us.