The Lutheran, January 2010
A monthly column by Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson
I often am in worship with people who speak a variety of languages. It is a moving Pentecost-like moment when the congregation responds to the invitation: "Let us each in our own language pray as Jesus taught us."
Words so familiar that they sometimes lose their meaning suddenly come to life. I begin to realize just how bold our petitions are — not only for what we pray but on whose behalf.
Think about these seven words: "Give us this day our daily bread." Trusting in God's generosity we pray with a confident hope that God will be faithful to God's promise to provide all that we need for our daily living.
Just seven simple, common words, but they are remarkably comprehensive. Martin Luther reminds us that Jesus directs us in this prayer to look to God not only for daily nourishment but also for everything else we need for our life — clothing, shelter, health, good neighbors, favorable and just conditions for work in labor and business, good and wise governance, public safety and peace, and protection from dangers and evil.
"Give us this day our daily bread" connects us to all of humanity and to all of God's creation. It causes us to ask, "Who are those who are hungry in our community?" And, "Why is there still hunger in a world of such abundance?" As we pray this petition and consider the questions that arise in our hearts, we gain a better understanding of the global food crisis described in this issue of The Lutheran ("Approaching the global food crisis
"Give us this day our daily bread" also can be a prayer of confession. When we are not just and generous stewards of the bountiful creation God has entrusted to us, this petition can lead to a repentant life that will renew us. By dying each day to our insatiable needs to consume and being raised with Christ, we turn to serve our neighbor who hungers for food, justice, mercy and a meaningful life.
This petition becomes our commitment to respond generously so that no one will go to bed hungry this night. ELCA members have an opportunity for such generosity through a gift to ELCA World Hunger
. We also live out that commitment through congregations that host meals, support food pantries and provide shelter.
The petition also calls us to live out our baptismal vocation as citizens who advocate for justice and peace.
In a Lutheran World Information
article, Timothy Wengert, professor of the history of Christianity at the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia
, draws this conclusion on the fourth petition from Luther's Large Catechism: "Indeed the greatest need of all is to pray for civil authorities and the government, for it is chiefly through them that God provides us daily bread and the comforts of this life. With these words Luther links the purpose and goal of civil authority to the basic right to live without want."
Luther also instructs us that in this petition we are not just asking God for daily bread but for God's bountiful gifts. He writes: "In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving."
"Give Us Today Our Daily Bread" will be the theme of the Lutheran World Federation Assembly
next summer in Stuttgart, Germany. I invite you to explore the resources that are being made available in advance of the gathering, both to participate in the assembly's work and to inform your life of daily prayer and discipleship.
Finally, we return to the one who teaches us to pray these words: Jesus. His promise is clear: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35
). Jesus comes into your life through word and bread and wine, filling you with God's mercy, joining you to all of suffering humanity, and sending you to serve your neighbor with generosity, to work for justice with courage, and care for God's creation with wisdom and hope.
Mark S. Hanson