This month, we have been engaging in a sermon series called “Celebrating Freedom” exploring the ways that we exercise the freedoms we’ve been granted by God. Many of these sermons propose that because we have been freed by the love of Christ, we have responsibilities to God, to our neighbor and to our Christianity. Today, we discuss another way to express our freedom: one that is more difficult for us to think of as a freedom and instead we consider it a chore.
That is… through the gift of Christ, we have the freedom to forgive.
As I have said before (and will say again and again) Forgiveness is a gift that we give not only to the one who has hurt us, but also a gift we give to ourselves. Think of a locked door: If we, as Christians who are forgiven by God, stay in our place on one side of the door, unmoving and stuck, and the one who hurts us stays on the other side (unmoving and stuck)… the relationship cannot heal. Forgiveness is the door we open to releases us from our “stuck-ness” and allows movement on each side. Now: disclaimer -I realize forgiveness is not easy and it is not always possible. But I think if it IS possible, then we should consider it….as a way to free ourselves from the prison of hurt and pain and as a way to unlock the possibilities of good relationships.
So we move to this prayer that is so vital to our Christian lives, one that we (and millions of Christians throughout the world) recite each day, or each Sunday or each time we worship. We will do a bit of bible study today – some textual comparison. So get ready.
The Lord’s Prayer occurs twice in our bible: in the gospel of Luke and the gospel of Matthew. The prayer from our scripture lesson today – Luke, chapter 11 – is in the context of a private conversation between Jesus and his disciples.
11He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Very succinct, isn’t it? Just the basics. In contrast, in the gospel of Matthew chapter 6, the Prayer occurs in the midst of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – a big public gathering with a vast audience:
9“This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.
12Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
What are the differences between Luke and Matthew? What is missing?
One of the lengthy omissions from both versions is called the doxology: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen” The first known use of the doxology as a conclusion for the Lord’s Prayer is found in the Didache, a document written and disseminated around the year 100CE. The Didache is a manual of sorts for Early Christian church leaders with the first written catechism included instructions for Baptism, Holy Communion and general rules for church organization and worship.
First, if you are interested in words as I am, you may notice the use of the imperative in the prayer:
- “Give us…”
- “Forgive us…”
- “Do not bring us to the time of trial..”
What does it mean that we are “commanding” God? Last week Martha was politely chastised for telling Jesus what he should do, and now he is instructing us to demand God do something! One explanation for this is the fulfillment of the covenant between God and God’s people. When we pray we affirm our promises fulfilled and ask God to fulfill His part of the covenant – as we have done this: obeyed your commandments, loved others, and worshipped you, then you should fulfill your part of the deal.
In the petition about bread, we glimpse Jesus’ concern for the poor and his thoughts on “how much is too much” in one phrase: Luke 11, verse 3 says “Give us each day our daily bread.” Here, Luke uses a present tense (unlike the Mattean version and that from the Didache) and therefore Luke emphasizes the continual giving of God. This and the phrase “each day” seems to indicate a petition for God to take care of daily needs. (1)
So Jesus tells us to petition God – each day – for “our daily bread” – that which is necessary to existence for today. Notice that we should not ask God to provide for our yearly needs, enough to store up for the winter, but each day we are to prayer for what we need to survive THAT DAY! This is an amazing concept and one that is understandable in an agrarian society. When the harvest is plentiful, there is enough grain to go around and everyone can afford bread each day. But when the harvest is small, when the crops have been damaged by weather or affected by insects, then to provide everyone “daily bread” gets expensive. And who gets left out of receive their daily bread? The poor. Those without land and crops of their own. Those aliens and immigrants wandering from town to town, looking for work and for help.
In fact, this provision for the poor was written into the Jewish Law and practiced in Jewish communities : each land owner would save a portion of his harvest for those in need. Leviticus 19, verses 9-10 states, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
Give us each day our daily bread. A simple thought – but it requires that we care – not only for ourselves (“Give Me my daily bread”) or those we love (“Give my family our daily bread”) but All of us. Give us OUR daily bread – a thought so simple, yet so compassionate: that each person in this world never go to bed hungry.
This is a vital yet uncomfortable idea for those of us living in the Western world, because we do get our daily bread, our daily rice, our daily ice cream… in fact we waste one third of the food we BUY and 50% of the food thrown away is edible. According to Henrik Harjula, the principal administrator at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the United Kingdom, for example, wastes around 6.7 million tons of purchased and edible food, worth approximately 11.2 billion euros. (2)
We get our daily bread, and then some, but others do not, and so, I echo the words of Leviticus and the words of Jesus and the words of kindergarten teachers everywhere: it is important for us to learn how to share. We need to think of our welfare – our health and well-being as connected with the health and well-being of others. We need to move toward an understanding of US that includes the poor and the alien, those who are on the outskirts of society, those whose provision of daily bread is still questionable.
Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, stated around 365 A.D.: “When someone steals a man’s clothes we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has not shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”
It is as if, with arms overloaded with bread, we pray to God: please provide food for my brother. And Jesus, in Luke’s scripture, assures that God will provide:
9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
These verbs in verses 9 and 10 are in the present tense: “continue to ask, seek, and knock.” Perhaps like a young child badgering his parents until s/he gets what is wanted. (3) Keep on asking – and maybe that doesn’t mean we should badger GOD, but we should ask others as well, allowing God to work through our friends and neighbors. For who among you would, when a child asks for a fish will give him a snake? Or who among us would deny someone bread if asked.
What does bread have to do with forgiveness? When we ask for something from God, through this prayer, we are required to ask what we already have in our possession? Give us bread, we ask of God. And God asks us, why don’t you share yours? Give us forgiveness, we ask God. And God asks us, how will YOU forgive?
Jesus tells us, 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
Let us ask God, the giver of every blessing in our world, for our daily bread and our daily forgiveness, realizing that we ask – not only for ourselves but for others. Let us ask God, knowing that as we ask, we too may need to sacrifice some of what we have in order that others may live. That we too may need to forgive others as we ask for forgiveness from others. Let us Ask God, knowing that God will provide for us. Amen.
- Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke11x1.htm
- “Food Waste Turns Stomachs in Environmental Circles”, found on http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5002347,00.html