Rev. Susan’s Sermon for Pentecost 10 – August 1, 2021
Here’s an idea:
What if someone offered you the possibility of never being hungry again? Ever. Would you do it, take that offer? Imagine that: no cravings, no salivating over your favorite dish, no need for a mid-afternoon snack, no falling to the temptation of a sugary dessert. It begs the question if you would even enjoy eating –if you were never hungry.
I can’t quite imagine it, but that is exactly what we hear in the gospel when Jesus asserts: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The gospel story started with the miraculous feeding involving the loaves and the fishes. Jesus was able, somehow, to feed thousands. Today’s passage takes place in the days that follow.
What’s left of the crowds –some apparently went on with their lives– are still pressing in on Jesus. They are aware of being in the presence of someone special, but don’t seem quite able to make sense of what they’ve experienced. To hear them say it, having been made aware of his power, they want more. A word, proof, reassurance, a sign, another miracle, something.
That suggests that those who were fed were hungry again. Think about that, they were no longer satisfied. How can that be? One would think that they would still be basking in the afterglow of the miracle!
Jesus pushes back, revealing the real reason why they come looking for him: some are in search of a quick-fix magician, some want a king to fight their battles, some want to be close to power, to be near someone who could be so influential. In truth, some can’t even articulate their desire, but they sure think he can deliver.
None of them, though, seem to think that their hunger is about their relationship to God. Jesus refers to that when he challenges those who were fed by the loaves and fishes, that is, those who were already part of a miracle, to focus their labor on “bread that does not perish,” There is no substitute for trust in their creator.
What makes us so hungry? Why can we ever be satisfied? In other words, whatever we hunger for is the reason why we seek Jesus. I suppose each one of us gets to answer that question. As one commentator put it, “What is it about us? We are a hungry species: we are always hungry for what we do not have, restless to be where we are not, and dissatisfied with what we once thought would satisfy us. We are indeed the sons and daughters of the Israelites, grandchildren of those who followed Jesus looking for bread that would satisfy.” (Susan Lodge-Calvert)
Part of the issue is that there are so many ways in which we hunger. We know there’s physical hunger, mental or psychological hunger but there is also spiritual hunger. Trying to figure this out takes some work –that’s part of the labor Jesus’ refers to.
While, there’s no shame in being hungry –and who hasn’t downed a donut in a fit of anxiety– but hunger best understood as either desire or denial, frequently trips us up: either we can’t get enough or, even when it should be enough, it isn’t satisfying. We spend time and effort seeking answers, solutions, solace from Jesus without putting in the work.
So I ask the question again? If someone offered you the possibility of never being hungry again, how would you respond?
Perhaps it’s worth considering what you are hungry for? In your heart of hearts, what do you want? Again, the answer will be different for each of us. Some want peace, some safety, some acceptance, some renewal, some reassurance… the list goes on. Here’s the thing: God is not a vending machine. God is not a genie. Jesus doesn’t have a magic wand.
Rather, Jesus provides a handy short-cut for us: what we really want is life –and thankfully, that’s what God wants for us also, life and life abundant. Imagine that! Such good news!
Any one of our hungers should be understood not as something to be fixed, but as a pathway to God; as a bridge, as a way to connect with intimacy and vulnerability to our Creator trusting in his love. Like any child approaches a parent in the search for safety, shelter, comfort and indeed, food, our hunger can bring us into the presence of God.
But, and here’s the catch, there’s work involved. Yup, the life that we are called to isn’t one of feasting on bon-bons while lounging on a couch. Our labor involves believing that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and that he addresses, takes care of our hunger by inviting us to live differently. Finally, this Bread is enough to live on.
This is a new spin on the old adage “you are what you eat.” When we allow what consumes us to be at the center of our lives and relationships, that’s what we become: divided, fearful, resentful, deprived. Jesus invites the crowds to go below the surface, to recognize the deep hungers that lie beneath all our strivings. This invitation helps us become what we eat in a new and different way as we feast on the bread of heaven.
If we can accept the bread of life Jesus offers, we indeed become the body of Christ in the world.
That is what Paul is talking about to the Ephesians. “each of us [is] given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
Looking at it this way, hunger takes on a whole different quality. Whatever you hunger for is met with grace and purpose through Christ. We are equipped –read fed– to find what we need as we meet the needs of others. If we do this, indeed we will never be hungry again!
There is a meal blessing that I’ve used on occasion that I think says it best: “Dear Lord, Give food to those who are hungry and hunger for you to those who have food.”
In Jesus’ Name.