The Bread: A Meditation on Matthew 6:7-15

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation,  but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
My sister sent me a funny video the other day of a little girl, maybe of about 1 ½ or so, dressed in her footy pajamas. The video is being filmed by her mom, who catches her rounding the corner into the living room carrying a full armload of bread. Yes, bread. And part of what made the video extra funny is that it appeared as though this little one must have held the loaf bag in one arm, and then just quickly pulled the plastic bag off with the other hand, leaving her with a nearly complete—though rather squashed—loaf of bread. Each piece leaning upon the next, held in place by one tiny arm, as she scampered in past her mom, did a little dance, and then laughed the most gleeful laugh! “What do you have? Where’d you get all that?! Is that bread?” the mom asks, as the little girl leans over into her bread bouquet and takes a giant bite, “Girl loves her bread!” she says, as the video clip ends.

It was poignantly sweet in that it reminded me of Abby as a little girl, who used to love to do the same thing. The bread box in the kitchen of our first house was right at her baby-sized eye level, and she delighted in sneaking in to the kitchen, quietly opening the bread box, and making off with rolls or bread or whatever else she found, squealing with happiness when Frank or I would pretend to try to catch her, her new-walker, unstable legs causing her to wobble and weave as she “escaped” our grasp. Memories like that one feed my heart, the way that off-limits doughy roll fed her little body all those years ago.

Little children just seem to “get it”, don’t they? In everything they do, they live in the moment. Tired? They sleep (okay, and sometimes throw tantrums, but usually sleep). Sad? They cry. Angry? They scream. Happy? They laugh uncontrollably. Hungry? They eat. They live fully into their days and into their emotions. They take in all of life and respond to all of it with every part of their being.

What do you do when you feel tired? When you’re sad….angry….happy? Do all those emotions ever just muddle together? Like mixed-up watercolors running together in a muddy wash of paint? What do you do when you feel those emotions? It’s so different now, than it was when we were little ones or, for many of us, even than it was when we had little ones. Time changes how we experience things, and the world tells us so much about how we “can” and “should” respond that we forget what it was like to be a little child like the one in that video, laughing and giggling and running around with a loaf of fresh bread, freely taking giant bites and laughing without a care in the world.

What feeds your hunger now?

In our passage this morning, we are talking about that very thing—-what feeds our hunger, in the form of Matthew’s Jesus teaching about what we have come to recognize as The Lord’s Prayer. We say this every week, and yet how often have you stopped to reflect on what these words really mean and how they fill and sustain you like so much living Bread of heaven?

The Gospel of Matthew is written for the people of the “church”—for Matthew, the teachings of Jesus continue to bear witness to the salvific power of God as they are lived out in a community of faith. These words are the words that fed the disciples and feed us even still, as they are called to give, fast, and pray….in short, as they are called completely to faithful living in the sight of God.

In contrast to many of the prayers that we are used to, this one feels so brief. And yet, a gift of its brevity is that the disciples never take their focus from God—there is no place for being distracted from their purpose. Everything about this prayer focuses our attention on the imminent reign of God.

Have we lost that in our practice of worship in our modern era? In our quest to gain knowledge and wisdom and understanding, have we replaced knowing God with knowing ABOUT God? Have we let the agenda of “church” supplant the agenda of the Spirit? Are we so intent on conscientiously attending to the details of congregational life that, in our dedication to “being faithful” and to “being knowledgeable” and to “being good disciples”, we’ve forgotten what it feels like to stand in the awesome presence of the life-giving Spirit and respond with our whole selves—-as though we were that toddler with her loaf of bread? Have we relegated “faith” to meaning “intellectual understanding”, rather than opening ourselves to the glorious work of the Divine?

We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, but somewhere along the way, in our effort to discern and distinguish, we became detached. We started to look at our worship lives as though we were observing them from someplace beyond ourselves. We’ve gotten so good at describing what faith does and how faith works that we’ve forgotten what true faith IS. True faith is eating freely from that Bread. That Bread of Heaven. True faith is running freely towards the Spirit, full of laughter and merriment and unbridled joy. True faith is living our emotions with reckless abandon, caught up in childlike wonder at the Throne of Grace. True faith has gotten bound up by doctrine and decision in every age, from Jesus speaking to the church in Matthew to Jesus speaking to the church today. We know what faith does. We need to live what faith IS.

And thus, Jesus gives us this prayer: bidding us to seek God’s kingdom on earth; bidding us to seek our daily bread, both physically and spiritually; bidding us to recognize our debts, our temptations….the places where our hearts our hardened. Bidding us to forgive—to seek it and to give it. We want so much to hang on, when doing so does little more than damage us and our relationships with others. We forget—too quickly—how we’ve been forgiven. We forget, when we lose patience with others, how much patience God has had with US. How do we let go of that which hurts us most? How do we turn our gaze outward again, focusing on the ways in which Jesus feeds us and sustains us?

In this season of Lent, perhaps all we need is contained right here in these words that Christ Jesus himself taught us. This prayer—-like Jesus’ death and resurrection and our remembrance through The Lord’s Supper—brings us freely to the grace-filled power of forgiveness. Maybe that is what has muddled our emotions and dimmed our spirits in all these years as we’ve aged. Maybe that is what has taken the child-like glee from our smiles and the unbridled beauty of innocence from our laughter. Maybe our inability to freely forgive and know ourselves as needing forgiveness from someone else has stunted our growth. Maybe we need more bread. Maybe, like that little girl in the story I told earlier, maybe we need to grab the whole loaf, run off with it tight in our grasp, eat freely of its nourishment, and laugh as we did when God first created us. Yes, maybe we need more Bread. Maybe, by continually praying that God’s name is holy, that God’s kingdom will come, that God’s will will be done, that God will provide our daily bread, we will come to see that it is true for us. That when we open ourselves, when we let go, when we ask for forgiveness and offer it, we will see the coming reign of God at work.

This prayer weaves our lives together, not only with Jesus’, but with one another. It takes faith from being something we can describe in an intellectual way to something we experience first-hand. In a way that we can’t describe—only live—with fistfuls of bread and twinkling eyes, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit. In a few moments, we will find ourselves at the Table of the Lord together. How will you prepare?

As we come to the Table on this first Sunday of Lent, the author of our Lenten devotional journey reminds us, “When we gather at the Table of the Lord, our relationship with Christ dictates our relationships with each other. United in Christ we look back and remember the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and we anticipate his coming again. That anticipation calls for readiness to meet him face-to-face at any moment. Not drunk and divided, fractured and fatigued, but unified in love, outdoing one another in service, rejoicing that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but Christ is all and in all.

When we eat the bread that is Christ’s body, we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come, when all tribes and nations gather together, worshiping and singing alleluia together. How often, when we celebrate Communion, do we remember that the whole communion of saints celebrates with us? How often do we honor Christ’s saving death until he comes again by reconciling with those who come to the Table with us, those still far off, and those we made feel unwelcome?….[we are called on] to examine ourselves, confess our sin, repent, and repair our relationships so that we do not eat in an unworthy manner, taking for granted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ…” (p. 38)

How will this prayer work on your heart in a new way this Lenten season? How will you work to freely forgive as you have been freely forgiven? What will you open up within yourself to allow yourself the freedom and uninhibited joy of taking the Bread of Life by the handful? God is doing a new thing. His grace is amazing. Amen.