The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: The One God. Amen.
When we just heard the Gospel read, I am sure it jarred many of our ears. I am sure some of you even wondered what translation we used for today’s Gospel. We are so used to the words “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” that today’s reading of the Lord’s Prayer is jarring. That is because the traditional wording of the Lord’s Prayer that most of us pray each day comes from Matthew, while today’s reading comes from Luke, and Luke’s accounting of the Lord’s Prayer is different from Matthew’s. Yes, there are two different accounts of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels, one in the Gospel of Matthew and the other being in Luke, our Gospel appointed for today.
The theme I would like us to consider today is “bread.” In Luke the verse reads, “Give us each day our bread.” In the translation from the Anchor Bible, the translation is even clearer: “Give us each day our bread for subsistence.” In Jesus’ great prayer one of the major concerns that Jesus has is that of our daily subsistence, having enough bread to eat.
The Lord’s Prayer in and of itself is a remarkable prayer that Jesus prayed. Jesus in that prayer gives us a unique insight into heaven when he prays, “on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words what Jesus is praying for here on earth is that vision of what is happening in heaven. Jesus gives us a glimpse into the Father of which Jesus is the perfect manifestation.
Jesus’ concerns are for the poor, the hungry, the marginalized in society, those who have no bread to eat. These concerns are at the very core of Jesus’ message as Jesus enunciates in his first sermon in Nazareth.
Ever since 2000 when the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals, one of the primary concerns of that mandate has been the eradication of extreme poverty in the global community in which we live. We all know the statistics:
- 852 million people are hungry around the world
- 10 million children die from preventable, poverty-related malnutrition and infections
- Poor nutrition and calorie deficiencies cause nearly one in three people to die prematurely or have disabilities
Such statistics, such numbers, are incomprehensible for me to understand. And yet it is Jesus’ prayer, “Give us each day our bread for subsistence.” Jesus prays that each person, not just Americans or Europeans, but all people have enough bread to eat each day. But we do not need to look beyond the borders of this city, or the towns and cities in this nation, to find and experience people who are hungry, who do not have enough bread to eat each day.
One of the eye opening experiences I recently had was to have a discussion with a retired bishop’s wife who now lives in a prosperous community of 12,000 in western North Carolina. Chris works in an interfaith assistance ministry that specializes in crisis ministry. Not too long ago a young woman and her two young children came into the Interfaith Center looking for food.
Her “live in” who had helped with some of the expenses had left town to hunt for additional work. The mother had worked as a health aid in a home care agency. But the agency for whom she worked had a decrease in clients and hence she lost her job. When the mother came to the Center she was desperate for food, for her children and for herself. Although she received some food stamps, that simply was not enough. This mother lived far below the poverty level. She urgently needed help now.
When Chris wrote and told me about the young mother, she ended her story this way:
We were able to give her five days worth of food for herself and her two children. Since we live in a fairly rural area we often have boxes of produce donated as well as meat and poultry. When the mother realized that she was getting not only canned food, but fresh tomatoes and a turkey—she was thrilled. As I took her into the food pantry she turned to me and gave me a big hug, saying “I hope I can help someone else some day, just like you have helped us.”
Chris’ final comment was, “that made my day!”
Certainly what Chris did that day was to live fully into the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our bread for subsistence.” Chris was Jesus’ hands that day as she gave that young woman some canned goods, fresh tomatoes and a turkey.
Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, made a pastoral visit to that devastated country. While we were in Rwanda we saw some of the most horrific sights that I have even seen in my life. Who could ever forget walking through a church where 5000 bodies were still lying on the floor of the church and in the courtyard of the church.
But the image that will always haunt me from Rwanda is neither Hutu nor Tutsi, instead it is an impoverished pigmy community living alongside a Rwandan hill. I was with Alison from Christian Aid, a British charity, when we stopped to see this community. They had fled at the time of the genocide and their impoverished homes were looted and ransacked. When they returned home everything was gone, including the makeshift walls of their homes. They had nothing left. No housing. No food. No nothing.
A mother, perhaps 15 years old, was feeding her child. All of a sudden the child slapped his mother’s breast and grabbed the other breast. Then the child started to scream. There was no milk in his mother’s breasts. When Alison asked the mother what she needed, her only request was for some milk for her child. The mother did not ask for a car. The mother did not ask for a bicycle. The mother did not ask for a television or a VCR. The mother only wanted some milk for her child. The mother had no food, she was malnourished, her breasts had gone dry. And every pigmy mother whom we saw that day was dry. We are Rwanda when our voice of outrage does not join that child’s scream.
With that child from Rwanda, or the mother from North Carolina, Jesus weeps. Jesus weeps for those who have no food to eat. Jesus weeps when one country grows so much food that it rots on the vine or in storage because it is not economically viable to ship it to places where food is needed because of drought and famine. Jesus weeps. Jesus weeps because we do not live into his prayer everyday to make sure that all in God’s creation have bread for subsistence.
Last month Dr. Al Bartlett, Senior Advisor for Child Survival at USAID, made an address on the Day of the African Child. In his speech he thanked Congresswoman Betty McCollum for being a real Champion for children and for the Kofi Annans and Nelson Mandelas, the Graca Michels and the Ellen Johnson Sirleafs of the future. Bartlett spoke about the major threats to children and what can be done to break the vicious cycle of hunger and death.
He ended his address with these chilling words:
Of course there’s another way for the global community to deal with the challenges to Africa’s children: as often happens after “Days” and Declarations, we can forget them. It takes no resources and no effort on our part to let a baby with pneumonia die without getting antibiotics. Letting a little girl remain undernourished, or letting her mother die in childbirth, require no work and no spending by any of us.
We do not, as Christians, have the option to forget them. To do so would be to ignore the mandate that Jesus has entrusted to us. Let me go so far as to say that it is a sin to let a baby die with pneumonia without getting any antibiotics. Or letting a little girl remain undernourished when God’s earth has abundantly produced so much food, but we do not have the will to get or give the food to people who need it. My brothers and sisters, that is the greatest sin.
When one hears a story from the pigmy community in Rwanda or a story much closer to home in North Carolina, we become aware of the incredible opportunities we have to do something. Here in Washington, or wherever your home is, be it in Mississippi, up-state New York, Montana, Nevada or Georgia, you can do something. You can make sure that a hungry person in your community will have something to eat.
There is a program here in Washington in which the Diocese of Washington and the National Cathedral participates. That program is called Martha’s Table. You might want to copy this model in your community because this is an easy way for you to make sure the hungry receive food. Martha’s Table has a mobile soup kitchen that operates 365 days of the year, serving 3000 sandwiches, 65 gallons of soup and 65 gallons of beverages each and every day. More than 300 children and youth are provided daily with nutritious meals along with supervised learning and literacy activities. Every day elementary students to retirees, members of churches, synagogues and mosques, civic groups and employees of law offices and businesses, join together to make the sandwiches that are distributed throughout Washington in the mobile soup kitchens.
Each of us in our respective communities can also become involved in some way. We do not have to go to Rwanda or to western North Carolina. Those who are hungry are all around us.
The cadre of volunteers at Martha’s Table take Jesus’ prayers seriously. Chris takes Jesus’ prayer seriously. Allison from Christian Aid takes Jesus’ prayer seriously. How seriously do we take Jesus’ prayer “Give us each day our bread for subsistence”?
“All of a sudden the child slapped his mother’s breast and grabbed the other breast.”
“When she realized she was getting fresh tomatoes and a turkey—she was thrilled…‘I hope I can help someone else someday, just like you have helped us.’”
In the Name of God. Amen.