Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
After watching sales falling off for three straight months at Kentucky Fried Chicken, Colonel Sanders called the Pope in Rome and asked for a favor. “What can I do?” The Holy Father questioned. “I need you to change the prayer from, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken,’” the Colonel asked. “If you do it, I’ll donate 10 Million Dollars to the Vatican.” The Pope replied, “I am sorry. But that is the Lord’s Prayer and I cannot change the words.” So the Colonel hung up. After another month of dismal sales, the Colonel panicked and called again. “Listen Holy Father. I really need your help. I’ll donate $50 million dollars if you change the words of the daily prayer from ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken.’” And the Pope responded, “It is very tempting, Colonel Sanders. The church could do a lot of good with that much money. It would help us to support many charities. But, again, I must decline. It is the Lord’s Prayer, and I can’t change the words.” So the Colonel gave up again. After two more months of terrible sales, the Colonel was desperate. “This is my final offer, your Holiness. If you change the words of the daily prayer from, ‘Give us our daily bread to ‘Give us this day our daily chicken’ I will donate $100 million to the Vatican.” The Pope replied, “Let me get back to you.” So the next day, the Pope called together all of his bishops and announced, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that KFC is donating $100 million to the Vatican.” They rejoiced at the news. Then one bishop asked about the bad news. The Pope replied, “The bad news is that we lost the Wonder Bread account.”
Of course, it does sound a bit greedy and business-like to pray for your own livelihood and self-interest. But Jesus invites his followers, and indeed, dares them to pray for what they need. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his followers that our heavenly Father cares for the birds of air and provides for them, and that he clothes the flowers of the field in their dazzling apparel which lasts only for a day. Jesus then adds that the same love of God which provides for the birds and the lilies of the field will supply even more for you. Yes, nothing that is necessary for your life is too small or too earthly to put into the heart of prayer.
On Ash Wednesday we began our Lenten journey reflecting on the nature of our prayer life and meditating on the treasure we have been given in the Lord’s Prayer. Over the last three weeks, we have pondered the reasons that we should pray and Jesus’ own invitation that God should be as close and as intimate as a loving Father. We have considered the occasions when we should pray and how we should seek ways to let God’s holy name in heaven be made known on earth. We have reflected on our calling as disciples to proclaim the coming kingdom in words and deeds, and the ways in which we should pray for God to empower us with peace, courage and wisdom to do his will. In these earlier petitions, God is always first, but in this morning’s words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we come to the first true request for ourselves. And we have been offered the assurance in one of scriptures’ most quoted and promise filled verses that this is true, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”
It should be a great comfort to know that you can bring your needs to God in prayer and that they are important to him. Throughout Scripture, we are taught that nothing which concerns your life in any way is too small or insignificant to your heavenly Father. While the specific word in the Lord’s Prayer is bread, all your physical needs are included. In his Explanation to this petition, Martin Luther defined daily bread as, “everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property; a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor; true friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
But there is a quality which Luther believes is important to these words and helps build faith, and that is thankfulness. Luther wrote, “God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God causes us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.” Prayer and thanksgiving begins by giving God time.
Last Sunday in the Star Tribune, it was reported that church membership in America continues to be on the decline, as it has been for many years. Of course, one can blame the “millennials”, but truthfully church membership was in decline even before they were born. Twenty years ago, we blamed the decline on the baby boomers who refused to join clubs and fraternal organizations. Interestingly, one aspect of a spiritual life is not in decline. People are still longing to know the power and intimacy of prayer.
And yet, I hear excuses even from good church members of why they choose not to pray. “Oh, pastor, I don’t need to pray in any ‘formal’ sense. God knows I love him. Or I just can’t find the time to pray. Or my faith isn’t deep enough to get anything out of prayer. Or even I’ve tried learning how to pray, but I just don’t ‘get it’. It’s too hard.
My friends, prayer becomes effective and meaningful in your life when you make prayer a regular part of the fabric of your everyday life. Prayer begins by setting aside a time and space to seek God in holy conversation. God wants to hear from you. He wants to know your thoughts and fears. Yes, God know you. He knows your very being. But he wants you to know yourself by telling your story. “Prayer,” Luther wrote, “is not about overcoming God’s reluctance. It is about laying hold of His willingness.” That is why Jesus taught his followers to pray and encouraged them to ask God to “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Granted, many people don’t know where or how to begin. Now, if you are looking for inspiration for your prayer, begin your holy conversation with a word of scripture, a verse of a favorite hymn, or the words of the Apostles’ Creed, and then start by thanking God for all that he has done. Count and name the blessings you have already received. It will help you see where God’s hand has already been active and involved in your life. With a thankful heart you can turn then to God’s mercy anew. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
And where is your assurance that this your prayers will be heard? That my friends, is to be found in in this morning’s reading from St. John’s gospel. The Pharisee named Nicodemus had come at a midnight hour to question Jesus, but instead of controlling the conversation, Nicodemus was confused. And then Jesus surprised him by drawing upon one of the oddest images from the Old Testament. During the time of Moses and the wandering in the wilderness, when the ancient Israelites were being attacked by poisonous snakes, Moses instructed the people to look up to the bronze serpent on a pole as their instrument of healing. Jesus then told Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be lifted in that same way, so that whoever believes in him would have eternal life.
It was a mysterious encounter. But it was in that promise of eternal life to Nicodemus long ago, that you and I were offered God’s assurance even today that our loving Father will provide all that we need here and now, and even more in the life to come. Eternal life, you see, is not merely a reward for a well spent life, but it begins now when you place your life into God’s loving embrace.
My friends, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that you may believe in him and have eternal life. Do not say or feel that you are not worthy of God’s care, or that your prayer life is not strong enough, or commitment to the church great enough. God did not send his son into the world to condemn, but he sent his son that you might be saved by him. That is how great is love is for you- that he would send his only begotten son to suffer and die for you.
And yet, disappointments cans till strike, and it can seem that your daily brad has been taken from you.
The historian and 19th century philosopher Thomas Carlyle once wrote, “A man lives by believing something, not by debating and arguing about many things.” When he was still a young man he wrote a three volume work entitled, The History of the French Revolution. It was the work that inspired Charles Dickens to write “A Tale of Two Cities.” Carlyle thought that this academic work would bring him fame and fortune, and eventually it did. But just after he had completed the manuscript for the first volume he gave his only copy it to his friend, John Stuart Mill, to critique for him. Mill took the manuscript home and read it that night. He left the pages of the manuscript scattered on his study floor and retired late in the evening. Early the next morning his maid came to his study, found the papers scattered on the floor, and threw them into the fireplace. When Carlyle heard that his manuscript had been burned, he contemplated suicide. He had no other copy. As he sat brooding in his own study with a pistol in his hand, he happened to look out the window and noticed a worker building a wall. As he watched him he observed that he built the wall one rock, one brick at a time. Suddenly it dawned on Carlyle that that’s what he had to do also with the disappointment he had experienced. He had to rebuild his manuscript one page at a time. “A man lives by believing something.”
My friends, that is the purpose of prayer. In small steps of thanksgiving, reflecting on all the blessings God has already shared, you will begin to know and trust him. Yes, one step at a time, one brick at a time, and one concern at a time, you build a trust that he will provide all that you need for daily bread. For living by faith, you have that assurance that our loving Heavenly Father has sent his only son to walk through these valleys of the shadow, so that whoever believes in him should know this truth. And that this same heavenly Father has promised that his gift of eternal life, his grace, his presence, and his love will be sufficient- even for you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.