Bread For Today, Hope For Tomorrow

Bread for Today, Hope for Tomorrow

Matthew 6:7-13

Listen to Bread For Today, Hope for Tomorrow

Cloud of Witnesses

                I have never seen a food drive like the one I witnessed in High School. It must have been my Junior or Senior year of High School.  So around 2000 or 2001. Harrisonburg High School was having a canned food drive.  The school had turned it into a competition between home rooms. I don’t remember what the prize was. But I remember that I wanted my home room to win it. So I had the bright idea of raiding my mother’s canned food pantry. My mom is really big into making soup so I knew it would be well stocked. So I went home, got a full sized trash bag, and filled it with as many cans as I could carry.  I loaded the bag into the beat up 1986 Toyota Camry and headed for school.  I am guessing there were fifty or more cans in the trash bag. I dragged the trash bag full of cans through the halls and to my home room. My teacher was surprised but very pleased.

My mom wasn’t exactly happy.

But it was for a good cause so she forgave me…. eventually……

Let’s just say there was no soup for me for a while.

My other classmates, inspired by my example, for better or worse, started raiding their parent’s pantries as well. And soon our class was in the lead in the canned food drive.  We thought we were going to win.

But then something strange happened.

The idea caught on throughout the school. In every home room students began to bring in bags, and bags, of canned food. We started competing with each other, trying to outdo each other in doing good. Frankly, things got a little out of control. By the end of it the school had donated thousands of dollars worth of canned food. And my home room didn’t end up winning the prize.  But that didn’t really matter to me. I was amazed that my one action had sparked a fire of generosity in that school. A type of generosity that I have rarely seen since.

We had begun a food drive hoping to provide for those we did not know who needed bread for today.

We ended up with more food than we knew what to do with.

We sought bread for today. We ended up with hope for tomorrow.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day 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.”

We pray this prayer every Sunday. Even if you are not a regular church goer you have probably learned this prayer. If you don’t know it by heart you can probably follow along.  It was the first prayer that I began to pray as I began to learn about Jesus in college. Even before I believed Jesus is God. Even before I believed he rose from the dead I prayed this prayer.  I had prayed this prayer so many times and I had read so much about it in seminary, that I thought I knew what the Lord’s prayer meant. But then I read a book by a minister named Don Williams, entitled Start Here: Kingdom Essentials For Christians . Williams revealed something to me about the Lord’s prayer that was so shocking I had to check the original Greek to make sure it was true. And indeed, the original language allowed for the translation he proposed. Williams argues that instead of translating this prayer as, “give us this day our daily bread,” we should translate that part of the prayer, “give us tomorrow’s bread today.”

I am not a language scholar. But I have researched this translation, and though it is not used often, it is a valid translation of the original language. Now you may be thinking to yourself.

“Well Pastor Will doesn’t that change the entire meaning of that part of the prayer? Give us tomorrow’s bread today? What does that even mean?” That is what I thought. And that is probably why most translators choose the traditional translation, because they think, “Give us tomorrow’s bread today,” sounds silly and nonsensical.

The image of God giving bread harkens back to the book of Exodus. When God freed His people from slavery under Pharaoh, the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because they would not listen to God. During that time God guided them by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day (Exodus 13:21). As they wandered in the wilderness the LORD provided bread from heaven to feed His people. The scriptures tell us that the bread came in the morning with the dew. When the dew had gone a fine, flake like substance was left. The people of Israel asked, “manna?” which in Hebrew means, “what is it?”. “What is it?” also happens to be the same question every child asks their parents at the dinner table as they refuse to try new food.

This bread from heaven would last only for a day before it would melt under the sun, stink, and become infested with worms.  Except for the Sabbath day. The day before the day of rest the people of Israel would gather twice as much manna, so they would not have to work on the Sabbath.

So perhaps the translation, “Give us tomorrow’s bread today” isn’t as far fetched as it may seem at first. Perhaps Jesus also believed in bread for today and hope for tomorrow.  On the night that he was betrayed, our Lord reinterpreted the sacred feast of Passover to apply to himself. He compared his body to bread and his blood to wine (Matthew 26:17-30). In John he specifically calls himself the bread of life (John 6:35). In that passage he references God giving manna in the wilderness. The Israelites had asked themselves, “What is it?” Perhaps they should have asked themselves, “Who is it?” For Jesus says that bread was a sign of Him. He was the one who kept them alive in the wilderness. And he is the one who gives eternal life.

Many who gathered around Jesus when he first said this prayer needed bread for today. They were poor. They lived day to day. A bad harvest and they might starve to death.  Bread was not a luxury. It was life itself. They needed bread to survive. But perhaps Jesus wanted his disciples not just to survive but to thrive. Maybe he was also referring to the earlier part of the prayer where we pray for the Holiness of our Father’s name to be made known, for His Kingdom to Come on Earth as it is in Heaven. The Kingdom is short hand for God’s rule. We are asking for God’s rule to be made known on Earth as it is in heaven. The Kingdom is referring to the return of Christ, and His final victory over death. Perhaps when Jesus taught his disciples to pray for tomorrow’s bread today he was referring to the double portion that the Israelites gathered for the Sabbath day. The portion that lasted them for two days and not just for one. The portion that did not melt, stink, and become infested with worms. Perhaps he was giving his disciples hope that though they struggle now, one day his disciples would find rest, and perhaps they could even experience that rest in that moment. For Jesus calls to all who are willing to come. He says, “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will rest for your souls.” ( Matthew 11:28).

The Kingdom also refers to the Kingdom of God that is within us (Luke 17:21) being made known in the world. It is Jesus disciples making known the glory of God through our prayers and through our good works (Matthew 5:16). It refers to the mission that God has called us to, to proclaim the good news of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).  God is more than willing to provide for us in miraculous ways if we desire to make his glory known.  For He is a God who provides bread for today, and hope for tomorrow.

George Mueller believed that God provided bread for today and hope for tomorrow. George Mueller was a British evangelist. In 1832 Muller moved to Bristol, England. He began to work with orphans. Muller never asked directly for donations. Instead, he would pray that God would provide. He and his wife started out by housing thirty homeless girls. By 1870 their orphanage had expanded to care for over 1,722 children.  In one well document case one morning Muller had three hundred children to feed breakfast to but there was no food to be found. In faith, Muller sat the children down to eat.  It is reported that he simply prayed, “ Dear God, we thank you for what you are going to give us to eat. Amen”  There was a loud noise as three hundred children pulled their chairs out and sat down to eat a meal that had yet to appear. As soon as they sat down there was a knock on the door. Muller opened the door to find a baker there with fresh bread. The baker said,

“I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking that somehow you would need bread this morning and that I was supposed to get up and bake it for you. So I got up at two o’clock and made three batches for you. I hope you can use it.” (Benge, 167). Then there was another knock. It was a milkman. The wheel to his cart had broken and he had to lighten his load to move his merchandise. So he had to get rid of ten full cans of milk. And he was wondering if Muller’s orphans needed the milk? God provided for Muller’s ministry. For Muller believed in bread for today and hope for tomorrow.

On December, 8th, 1944, in a renovated century old building, St. Mary’s Home for Infants opened its doors in Norfolk, VA.  Catholic Nuns from the order of the Daughters of Wisdom began caring for the children in 1946 and they managed the home for many years. Sister Mary June Morin, the last Daughter of Wisdom at St. Mary’s, retired in 2011, after 51 years of service. But she continued to volunteer at St. Mary’s until she passed away in 2014.

In the 1950’s St. Mary’s began to care for children with disabilities. In the 1980’s St. Mary’s became what it is today, a nonsectarian nonprofit that provides around the clock care for children with disabilities. St. Mary’s began by caring for a dozen children. Now they care for over a hundred children and young adults with physical and intellectual disabilities around the clock.  Mary Hecht, our current Clerk of Session, which is the person who keeps records for our church board meetings, has worked at St. Mary’s for most of her life. She invited me to their “It’s Fall Y’all” fundraiser. There was amazing Barbeque and Oysters. Hundreds of people were there. Baker’s Crust donated something like $15,000 worth. They raised $50,000.

Our session, the governing board of our church, had our leadership retreat at St. Mary’s. My mom, who facilitates leadership training for state and local governments for a living, helped me facilitate the retreat. Thankfully she has forgiven me for stealing all her canned goods so many years ago. As we toured the building, and saw how the Lord provided for the most vulnerable we were humbled. As we discussed what we loved about Calvin and the future of our church a sense of hope began to build. We saw our heart to reach out and comfort those who were grieving. We saw our heart to say as Jesus said let the children come to us and do not hinder them for to such belongs the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:14). We saw a church that comforts the grieving and has a heart for children. We began to see, we began to hope, we began to believe in bread for today and hope for tomorrow.

Now you may be saying, “those are all great stories Pastor Will.  But where does the rubber hit the road in my life? You don’t know what I am going through! How is God going to provide for our church? How is God going to provide for my family? How is God going to provide for me? It is not like God sends wads of cash in the mail!!!! Get real Pastor Will.”

It’s funny you should think that because I have actually received a random wad of cash in the mail. It happened after I had first moved out to rural Indiana, to a church not even half this size. I must have been two months into my ministry when I received an envelope in the mail with no return address. The envelope contained a wad of cash. I think it was around $258 dollars. The note was addressed to me. The person knew I was a pastor and they said the Lord told them to send me the money because the Lord said I would need it. I struggled to think how this person knew me? I had barely been in the state for two months. I guessed they must have saw me preach at my presbytery examination a month before. A presbytery is like our denomination’s local government. To be ordained you must go to Presbytery, preach, and be examined in front of a couple of hundred people. It is usually nerve racking. But the Lord gave me the grace to hit it out of the park that time.

At first I was rather bewildered by the money. I was getting paid well. I didn’t think I needed the money. So I stuck it in my office drawer and went to my preschool board meeting that was scheduled for that afternoon. During that meeting we discussed a family that needed a scholarship for that month for their child. The amount was almost exactly what I had been given in the mail. I jumped out of my seat and shouted with joy. The other two board members were rather bewildered as I ran out of the room. I ran across the church, back to my office, grabbed the money, and brought it to the board, as if I was a man who had found a pearl of great price.  God doesn’t always send cash in the mail but He can if he wants to. The Key is if we are committed to seeing His Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in heaven. The key is if our prayers are not about me but about us, the body of believers, the church, and God’s Love for the World.

Last week was All Saints Day. We didn’t have time to celebrate that occasion last week but we do this week. We remember all the loved ones we have lost. We remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that have run the race and seen that the LORD is faithful and He does provide.

Those who came before us were under no allusions that life was easy. It can be filled with pain and tragedy. We are reminded of that by the mass murder in a Sutherland Springs, Texas last week.  This has been a hard year for our nation. Full of natural disasters and man made tragedies. Maybe it has been a hard year for you as well in your personal life. Maybe your life has been filled with family tragedy.  But let us not lose hope for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. As the writer of Hebrews says, “ Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and it is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Our Father, who art in heaven Hallowed be thy name. Would you bring your Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven? For we believe as your Son believed in bread for today and hope for tomorrow.

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