Sermon for Sunday 25th July: Fish, eggs and daily bread
Luke 11: 1-13
After our whole Church Vison process in the Spring, various groups have
been working to produce St Andrew’s Mission Action Plan, a document that outlines what will be a dynamic process over the next few years. The current version of the Mission Action Plan or MAP was sent out on Thursday through our e newsletter, and some paper copies are available at the back of Church, as well as on display in the foyer, for those who are less comfortable online.
And as is so very often the case when we approach Scripture, the living Word of God, today’s Gospel seems to me to speak strongly about some elements of our MAP, and in particular the paradoxes or balances that are held within it and our corporate life as St Andrew’s.
Where to start? The sayings from today’s Gospel were probably collected by Luke and arranged by theme, rather than representing one single episode of teaching by Jesus. The three are related by themes of prayer, food, and parenthood. And the main theme I want to focus on today is that of food.
Let’s start at the beginning, with Luke’s version of what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, and verse 3. Jesus teaches his disciples, teaches us, to pray ‘Give us each day our daily bread.’ What did that mean to the disciples? And what does it mean to us now? Remember, the disciples lived a precarious existence; having left nets and homes to follow Jesus, they would have known what it was like to be hungry. In a subsistence culture where every person was only one poor harvest away from starvation, the disciples would have known what it meant to worry about where the next meal was coming from. When they prayed ‘Give us each day our daily bread’ it wasn’t about the Eucharist or spiritual nourishment, it was about the very real, ever-present need for physical nourishment, bread, each day, and God’s provision of it.
Now, we lose that, we whose pantries, fridges, freezers and stomachs are full, we miss the urgency of that prayer.
But the Food Foundation, who runs regular surveys, found that in January this year, 8.8 percent of households in the UK had experienced food insecurity. 8.8% of households in this country where that plea for daily bread is very real. And of course, internationally, the need for daily bread is even more profound; worldwide, it is thought that 460 million people are still unable to afford enough food to live a healthy life. Give us each day our daily bread.
So, let’s turn to the next saying, the parable of persistent prayer as it’s sometimes known. But the word persistent here in verse 8 is not a brilliant translation. A better translation would be shameless, ‘because of his shamelessness.’ But who is being shameless here? Is it the man, knocking on the door of his friend, disturbing the whole family’s sleep to try and get some bread for a late night visitor? Well, yes, in our culture that would be shameless. And is that same shame around need that prevents many people today from asking for help. Despite all the Food Bank’s best efforts, there is still somehow stigma or shame about needing to ask for daily bread. It’s not something people do unless it really is the last resort. Parents go hungry, missing meals, in this town in order to feed their children, rather than facing the apparent shame of asking for daily bread.
But in Jesus’ culture, it was not the person asking for food who was being shameless; in that culture, hospitality was paramount, and if someone came knocking at your door asking for bread, it would shame you, your family, and the whole village if you did not leap up to respond. So it was not the one asking who was shameless, but the one who did not respond to need.
So, who does the sleepy friend represent here, for us, today; is it God who is asleep to the injustices of the world, or is it us?
Which brings us to the last of the three sayings. I find it really interesting that in Matthew’s version of this saying, where in verse 13 of Luke we get the words ‘Holy Spirit,’ Matthew says ‘good things.’ God gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask, or God gives good things to those who ask? Here is a really important question for us, a paradox, question of balance. What are we here for as Church? Are we here to help people discover the gift of the Holy Spirit, or are we here to give them good things, real, tangible things, stuff. Fish and eggs. Or is it both, and what is the balance?
Because, people are hungry my friends, people in this town and elsewhere, are hungry. Really hungry. Yes, hungry for God, but it is hard to be hungry for God when your stomach is rumbling. For many, this is about survival not the Spirit. People are hungry, and if today’s readings tell us anything, they tell us that God cares about that. Yes, I know we can’t feed everybody, but we can feed somebody. We need to be shameless in seeking food for others.
What does it say about God if God’s Church isn’t helping the hungry? Yes, the quality of our worship matters, and our MAP reflects that. But so does our response to those who hunger for their daily bread.
This Church is well resourced. We have bread, monetary reserves, and plenty of it. If we can be persuaded to help, how much more is it God’s will to do so? These readings are an indictment and urgent inducement to wake up, get out of bed and answer the door. We do this already through our support for the food bank, the Trussell Trust and Worldvision, but are these merely the crumbs from our table? Where is the balance for us between offering the Spirit versus daily bread? Have we got it right? And if not, what are we going to do about it?