Daily Bread (and a few fish – a throwback sermon)

[Note: Pastor Ehrhard is away this weekend at the LCMS national convention in Milwaukee. The following is a sermon from his sermon archives.]

Trinity 7
Mark 8:1-9
14 July, 2013
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

3.

Right smack in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer is the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  It’s a bit out of place, since it’s flanked on both sides by spiritual petitions (though the previous petition does ask that God’s will be done on earth as well as it is in heaven).  The Lord’s Prayer is poetic, and in Jewish poetry, the most important thing is often found in the middle.  The petition for daily bread functions as sort of a hinge in the Lord’s prayer, a transition from praying that divine, heavenly things be done to praying for divine, earthly things to be done for and among us.

Daily bread is what Jesus was concerned about out in the wilderness with the great crowd following Him.  In those days, when there was again a great crowd, and they did not have a thing to eat, He called the disciples to Himself and said to them, “I am having compassion on the crowd, because they remain with Me now for three days and they do not have a thing to eat.  And if I send them away hungry to their own homes, they will become faint on the road; and some of them have come from far away” (vv 1-3).

That day in the face of a great and hungry crowd, Jesus shows us what it means to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  First of all it means that we don’t have to pray for daily bread at all.  God certainly gives daily bread to all people without our prayers.  The crowds weren’t begging Jesus for food, they didn’t even bring up the subject.  It’s Jesus who first brings up the subject.

Have you even been so involved in a project, or so engrossed in a novel, or so busy at play that you forgot to eat?  Finally, when your attention breaks, you realized just how hungry you were.  The 4,000 plus who were following Jesus for three days were so caught up in His preaching that they didn’t bother to go get more food.  They may have packed a picnic lunch, or enough for a day, but their provisions had begun to run out.  Yet, they were so compelled by the Word of God, food was a low priority.

Would that the Word of God held such a high priority among us!  But today it seems as though the preaching of the Gospel must always serve our schedules for everything else.  Will I be able to make it to breakfast in time?  Will the Methodists let out early so I can’t get a seat over at The 50’s Place?  I’ve got to go grocery shopping, and this communion is taking too long.  My whole day’s going to be messed up.  If they change the service time, I’m just going to stop coming.

For three days straight the crowds followed Jesus; every agenda item on their calendars got changed to low priority so that they could hear the Word of God.  And Jesus noticed that they were hungry.  No, notice is too soft of a word.  He had compassion on them.  Mark uses that great word that means more than compassion.  Jesus felt it in His own gut that the crowds needed food.  His stomach was twisted because their stomachs were empty.  It’s a compassion that leads to action—He had to do something about it.

The same is true with you.  Before you even know what you need, the Lord is already having compassion on you because you do not have it.  God certainly gives daily bread to all people without our prayers.  He does so because of His great compassion.  He does not desire to send you away to become faint.  He may let your stomach rumble for a time, but He won’t let it to the point where it will harm you.

What does this mean for you?  Have you ever prayed for something—I mean really prayed for something that you wanted?  Did it seem like your prayers were falling on deaf ears?  Did you think God didn’t care, or that your prayers weren’t good enough?  The key to understanding prayer is that God knows your need before you even pray—but what’s more, He has compassion because of your need, He’s moved to action.  Before you prayed for that thing that you really, really wanted, your heavenly Father was already at work to provide for your need—and sometimes in a way better than what you asked for.

2.

4,000 men got daily bread in today’s Gospel.  Among them were probably some Pharisees or some scoundrels or some enemies of Jesus.  But they ate as well.  That’s the way the Lord works with daily bread: He gives it without our prayers, even to all evil people.  Christians aren’t too fond of this; God’s lavishness awakens jealousy and resentment in Christians who see that the wicked are often more blessed with physical things than themselves.

But it is a good thing that God gives daily bread even to all evil people.  Because if He didn’t, you wouldn’t have any bread on your table.  What’s that you say?  You’re not an evil person?  Jesus might have something different to say:  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him (Luke 7:11 ESV), says Jesus.

Compassion.  Despite the fact that you are a rebellious and ungrateful creature, the Father still gives you daily bread because the alternative would turn His divine guts inside out.  He cannot stand to see His creation wither in need.

But daily bread serves something else, something other than your own belly.  God gives daily bread even to all evil people because He’s also in the business of making evil people into good people.  The gifts of daily bread are to support you in your body so that you might also receive the spiritual bread of heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, His Word, His forgiveness.

1.

Why do we pray for daily bread?  We pray that [God] would lead us to realize [all] this, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.  How often to you pray before meals?  How often do you give thanks after your meals (the catechism teaches you to pray both before and after eating)?  Or, how often do you pray before and after going shopping for clothes?  Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, including clothing and shoes.

We really aren’t that thankful for our daily bread.  That’s why the petition is included.  You also need to pray that you would not only receive the things you need in support of your body, but also that the Lord would cause you to realize that these gifts come from Him and that you would be thankful for them.  In other words, the petition for daily bread is that the Lord would also provide you with the spiritual Bread that redeems your body.

Back to the wilderness of today’s Gospel.  The 4,000 all had bellies full of daily bread—and some left over, besides.  But they also received something else that day.  The Word of God.  And He instructed the crowd to recline upon the ground.  And after taking the seven loaves and giving thanks, He broke them and began to give to His disciples, so that they might serve.  And they served the crowd.  And having a few small fish, after also blessing them, He said to serve these also (vv 6-7).

Jesus Himself gave thanks for the bread and blessed the fish.  He spoke good words over them.  As the bread and flesh filled their mouths, the Word of God filled their ears.  He does the same for you.  He provides you with daily bread—through you may shop at a store, or plant your own garden, it comes from God nonetheless—but He also gives you His Word, in the preaching of the Church.  He gives thanks for you, He blesses you.

These all come together in the Holy Sacrament.  The Supper is the unique gift of God that connects daily bread to spiritual bread, baked grains to the Word of God.  And though the few crumbs of bread and sip of wine that you receive in the sacrament will only support your body for a few minutes (how many calories can be in communion anyway?), the Word and promise and blessing and thanksgiving of the Son of God is enough to sustain your whole self for eternity.

Rejoice and give thanks.  Your Lord is compassionate, He gives you daily bread even when you forget to ask for it, even when you receive it without thanksgiving.  But He also gives you the spiritual bread that turns your heart, makes you good, and sustains not only your body but your whole life.

The Lord Multiplies Daily Bread to You To Support the Needs of Your Body

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA