A Prayer For Every Day

July 22, 2018

Series: July 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Ted Scott

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished praying, his disciples said to him, Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, when you pray, say


hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation.

Note: the Maori version of the Lord’s Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book was also read.


A Prayer for Every Day

 Let’s talk about prayer. And life. And food. I don’t know if you pray or in what way. I’m often surprised, when speaking with groups or individuals about prayer, how many pray or meditate in a consciously prayerful way. The Wednesday class this month is engaged in a series on prayer “out of the box,” with the intent of discovering the varieties of prayer--spoken, unspoken, long, short, in all kinds of situations. Prayers can have words of course, whether many or few. Sometimes no words at all get expressed, just feelings or yearnings, tears or joy. As I speak about prayer, consider what kind of prayer works best or most speaks to your soul.

 For millennia the Lord’s Prayer has been a template for how to pray. You’ve heard and said it a million times. Last spring the Wednesday class spent four sessions on it, and engaged in quite fascinating discussions. I’d like to focus on these few words: “give us this day our daily bread.” Or as the Maori say: “with the bread we need for today, feed us.” It’s preceded by “your kingdom come,” and followed by “forgive us our sins.” What are some things we can learn from these few words of Jesus?

 First, spirituality is intimately concerned with everyday life. Theologian Ellsworth Kalas says that a central element of Jewish spiritual wisdom is practicality. Jesus’ prayer is nothing if not practical. “Give us this day our daily bread” focuses on food, a core element of life, in an era when scarcity was often the norm. Jesus himself was nurtured by the Psalms, which often give thanks to God for supplying material needs. In the 23rd Psalm, for example, in the midst of the “valley of the shadow” we find these words, “you set a table before me.” Kalas points out that arguably 90% of life deals with trivialities--the granular, the humdrum, the little daily details, the concrete realities. We drive along the freeway of life making minor adjustments with the steering wheel, while keeping an eye on other drivers and looking at the ever-changing situation up ahead. We take our place among social groups at work, at church, or online or with friends or even at home, noting who speaks about what, and how, and considering whether and how to speak. In this and other arenas we make moment-to-moment about how to conduct ourselves. We have ongoing and ever changing needs. If spirituality and prayer does not deal with this 90%, Professor Kalas says, then what are we about?

 In his book Sapiens, Yuval Harari says that from the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago until modern times, scarcity for most of humankind has been the norm. The promise of increased abundance didn’t translate to actual abundance for the average person. Harari says that only recently has relative abundance begun to be true for most of humanity.

 When we have relative abundance of food we go for more. For many centuries those with means held banquets as a way of showing off their well-being. French cuisine developed because of the desire by the aristocracy and the kings for new dishes to display at court. Historians know that much of European exploration in the 15th century was to gain direct access to spices from India and what is now Indonesia--spices that made food more interesting. Today think about all the cuisines available in the Bay Area. We define ourselves by what kind of food we eat. The farmers market is a great place to see the great array of foods that interest us. Or turn on a TV cooking show. The late Anthony Bourdain was beloved because he went everywhere and ate anything, with gusto. I need to be careful not to go on too long here, otherwise we’ll all just adjourn and have coffee.

 So food is important even when there is enough. And there are times when it may be less available--and that’s not trivial. Ever wondered where your next meal was coming from; a time when it DID matter? A hot day when a drink of water is mighty welcome? That feeling when your blood sugar level drops? My wife can tell when we are hunting up a restaurant in a foreign city and its taking a too long and my blood sugar sags: I get cranky. Bring on the bread! And thank You God. But most of the time, thankfully, food and drink are there when we need them. We may pray less to God about our daily sustenance as a result. Jesus invites us to remember what we do have, and give thanks explicitly as well as implicitly.

So, practicality in prayer...food and being thankful. Another teaching is that prayer is about more than you or me; it’s about us. Jesus says “we.” There’s hidden hunger all around us of course: as much as one in four children in California are food insecure and need that meal at school. You may know the estimate that as much as 2 billion of the world’s population are chronically hungry. Our hot lunch program is a weekly reminder that right here in Marin people are worried about getting their daily bread. Or that person on the street corner with a sign. Jesus uses the word “our,” “our daily bread.” He emphasizes that we are embedded in a human community, all of whom need sustenance. Wellbeing is not just you and me or our families and friends, but extends to the society around us. As the poet John Donne says, we are not islands, each separated and alone, but are part of what he calls “the main.” So, practice praying and caring about the sustenance of others even as or if you may not feel a need to pray for your own.

 Third, it’s OK at ask. We live in a time of human mastery, in which some folks feel it’s inappropriate to ask the Divine for anything. We have brains and hands and hearts, let us get on with making the world a better place including providing food and other necessaries to ourselves and others without bothering God. The Bible does say “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But Jesus also teaches us in this prayer to ask: We are in relationship with God. God is not far but near; we can express whatever, including our needs, to God. Not our wants, our needs.

 How might we keep this prayer relevant when we are not hungry or worried about our next meal? What can be the renewed meaning of “bread” for us? Jesus teaches that it’s not only OK to ask, but it’s OK to seek what provides deep security. Theologian Kalas suggests that a source of relevance is that we think of this as “the Prayer for Security.” Your security, my security.

 Consider all we’ve done in so-called advanced societies to make ourselves feel more secure. We’ve accepted the rule of law—well mostly. We have things like medical coverage for very poor people, unemployment benefits, food stamps for the hungry--at least sort of. We have government agencies tasked with keeping our food supply safe, or seeing that our enemies do not subvert our freedom. We have police armed and patrolling so that we do not have to do so ourselves. And a military tasked with protecting us from foreign enemies. We recycle so as to put less in landfill and reduce plastic in the ocean. Yes I’m aware that all these areas are being disputed and views vary. In these and a lot of other ways we at least arguably strive for greater safety and security.

 Now, a question: Given all of this societal effort, does not security seem to be elusive? How much do you worry about your safety or those whom you love or even those elsewhere when you hear about being in unsafe conditions? Recently when my wife and I went abroad, the phrase we heard most from friends was “travel safe.” Our society lives under a nagging low-level threat from terrorism and gun violence. We watch our for our children’s safety. In the midst of these concerns, Jesus puts his finger on where deepest security comes from: relationship. In the midst of our world as it is, in all its glory and difficulty, God is still present. In the details of life, in community, our church, family and friendships, in our soul-deep desire for secure relationship, in our need for enough, God is present. Thus this prayer “give us this day our daily bread” becomes more meaningful. Bread being the symbol of that which sustains us in our lives and keeps us fundamentally secure. Our security doesn’t really begin with actual bread, it begins with an orderly and sustaining world and planet, a Spirit that is intertwined with my life, your life, that lives in and around us.

 In these few words, Jesus teaches us: Turn to God; ask God for that sense of fundamental connectedness and security that is otherwise so elusive. Requesting our Creator that we have the means and the sustenance to sustain our being is entirely right.

 The Lords Prayer would not be a great prayer if it didn’t concern itself with the concrete concerns of every day. Life is great and beautiful and noble and wrenching and it is made up of thousands of common ordinary every day details. Life is driving in freeway traffic, a ringing telephone, a wrong number, email you need to send, spam to deal with, making plans for the weekend, health issues, concerns about security. Life is everything in which you are immersed. In the midst of that everything, do what you can. And at any time ask for what you need. Share your concern and your desire with our compassionate and present God.

 Let me close by reading again the Maori version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Eternal Spirit,

Earth-maker, Pain bearer, Life-giver,

Source of all that is and that shall be,

Father and Mother of us all,

Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe;

The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world;

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings;

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom

sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.

From trial too great to endure, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,

now and forever.