Our Daily Bread
“Our Daily Bread”
October 29, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Exodus 16:2-4a, 17-23; Mark 6: 30-44
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 16:2-4a, 17-23
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers[b] for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”
Mark 6: 30-44
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled, 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Bread. Bread. Bread. Beautiful bread! Whether it’s bagels, tortillas, naan, a French baguette, a hearty wheat loaf, or a sweet Christmas roll. Bread is a kind of love language, is it not? In all its forms with all its different flours and preparation techniques, bread is one food that is so versatile yet so simple. It spans the world in its universality. And not only that, it also spans the centuries and millennia in its essentialness. Grinding up grain, mixing it with water and then adding heat. A relatively easy process and the product—bread—is the single most ordinary and common food across the eras and across the lands. It’s amazing that one food can do that. Unify us and yet allow for such customization and creativity. And then to also be so amazingly delicious.
I have to confess that long before I knew any other parts of the Lord’s Prayer the line about the most delicious food on earth was the line that I knew by heart. Mumble, mumble, “Give us this day our daily bread” mumble, mumble, mumble. I love Jesus for a lot of reasons, trust me, but the way he uses this ordinary yet delicious food as the poster child of God’s good gifts to us? This—this is right up there with my favorite things about Jesus.
We just heard two stories about bread from the scriptures. Two of the most famous, though there are many to choose from. One story dates from the 12th or 13th century BCE when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt across the desert in the Exodus. And the other more than a thousand years later when Jesus was surrounded by hungry people in the desert who had no food.
Aside from bread, what do these stories have in common?
First they each take place in the desert. What do we know about deserts? They are not naturally places where food grows. This was a food desert and also a literal desert. What else do they have in common? Both stories have a big old group of hungry people. Desert… hungry people….not a great combination, right? So in both of these stories, separated by more than a thousand years, the fact that they both include bread is not an accident. Bread itself might be an ordinary provision, but it’s the way in which this bread is supplied that is extraordinary. In one story, the bread, manna, as it’s called, literally falls from the sky as a gift from God to the hungry people, so that on earth it may be as it is in heaven. In the other story, the disciples want to send the hungry people away and Jesus says, “No, you feed them.” So they scrounge around and between all the people present they come up with… how many loaves of bread? Five. And how many fish? Two. And as Jesus blesses this provision the meal feeds not just a handful of people, but the entire group of thousands.
What’s happening here?
In each story, there’s scarcity and in each story it’s out of that scarcity that God provides abundance. And bread is the symbol for this abundance. When you are hungry, it doesn’t take much to make you feel like you can keep going. And bread is satisfying.
But this is the interesting part of both stories. In each story, even though the gift of bread is given somewhat miraculously, it’s not an unlimited gift. And in each story we see how the people learn that the bread is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. They learn to not take more than they need. They learn not to hoard the precious gift. In the manna story of the Israelites in Exodus, they try to take more than their daily provision but it rots overnight. So they learn, by trial and error, to only take what they need each day with the promise that there will be more tomorrow. In Jesus’ story, we see the people taking only what they need because somehow there are a whopping 12 baskets of leftovers.
These stories are hard to wrap our heads around from a literal perspective. But I think our hearts know what is happening. These aren’t just stories about bread. Just like the Lord’s Prayer is not a prayer only about bread. The tradition built around this specific food is that God provides what we need, when we need it. And when we trust in God’s provision, there will always be enough. Enough for today, and also the assurance of enough for tomorrow.
As much as we love bread, none of this is really about bread, is it? These days when we think about what it is that sustains, it’s usually a little more complicated than a mixture of grain, water and heat. We want to feel like we have enough, but that’s often elusive. We need gas, electricity, clean water, heat, the internet, financial security, retirement savings, a feeling of safety. And when we have those things that we need, sometimes instead of stopping and noticing that everything we’ve been given that sustains us is a gift from God…instead of saying thank you, we start to question. Yes, but do I really have enough, though? Maybe I need more retirement savings or a stronger internet? Maybe the house over my head is not big enough? Maybe my bank account could be bigger/ And so, like those Israelites in the desert, we hear God’s promise of provision for today and we take all of that and then more. Just in case. And we stash it away fearing a future when there might be no provision.
This is the problem, though. When Jesus taught us to pray, he didn’t teach us to pray: Give us this day enough bread to fill my pantry shelves. Give us this day enough bread to make me secure until I retire. Give us this day enough bread so that I’m never hungry again until the day I die. No. It’s a prayer for a daily provision that will be enough, not more, not less.
Enough is such a hard concept for us. Our culture of consumerism teaches us that just having enough … isn’t, well, enough. We could also use more. I can imagine a 2023 version of the story in which we are standing in the desert with Jesus and see this bread and fish go by and we hear the narrative in our head. Fill your pockets! Don’t let this opportunity for abundance pass you by. Take advantage of this situation. Make your future days easier by simply putting some of this extra bread into your pockets. Don’t worry about your neighbors. Let them fend for themselves.
We bristle at this idea of changing this famous story into one of self-reliance and hoarding. But the truth is, if bread is a symbol for God’s gift that sustains us, we more often than not fill our pockets with the gift instead of passing it along to make sure everyone else has enough.
When we look at the blessings around us, do we see them for what they are? The house. The job. The family. The bank account. The air. The food on the table. It’s manna, all of it. Do we think about where it came from, all of it? It might look like the product of our own hard work or our luck. But it’s all manna. It’s all bread. It’s all God’s provision.
And because it’s God’s provision, because it’s God who is distributing the gifts, there will always be enough. Why do we worry? Why do we hoard? God is a faithful provider.
I want you to think right now to the times of the most scarcity in your life. Maybe you were in college or grad school. Maybe you were in between jobs. Maybe you were crippled under debt. Maybe you’re still feeling it now. Did you experience God’s faithfulness in the midst of scarcity? Were there small blessings that sustained you?
Sometimes all we need to do is trust this as we stop trying to fill our pockets with the provision God has given us. Sometimes what we need to do is take the excess we find ourselves with and use it to collaborate with God on helping manna to fall on earth, as it is in heaven. Maybe Jesus is looking at us in a world where not everyone has enough and he’s saying directly to us, like he did to his disciples: “you give them something to eat.” Collaborate with God to make abundance possible for many, not some.
Bread, water, ordinary things made holy by God’s blessing. You, me, ordinary people knit together in community by Jesus. Ordinary, blessed to be a blessing.
Grace and Peace,