Did you eat breakfast this morning? I hope so. Hunger can make people snarky. People used to come to church hungry, required to fast starting at midnight before receiving communion. That may be why 1928 Prayer Book people didn’t pass the peace – they were irritable. That’s changed today. We’re learning it’s not just physical hunger, but also people can be starving spiritually.
Jesus cares about our hungers. He’s just miraculously fed 5000 hungry souls with basically nothing. We need to be fed. I wish we could attract people like Jesus did and fill this place, but I don’t do magic, miracles or praise bands. Jesus actually runs from the masses, which suggests – Jesus may be less impressed with numbers, power, or possessions than we are.
Jesus’ groupies track him down, pretending false surprise when they find him: “Rabbi when did you come here?” Jesus has their number, though. He knows miracles aren’t enough to satisfy their need and hunger.
“Folks,” Jesus says, “Work for food that endures for eternal life.” “Okay, great – where do we get it?” Jesus’ answer is slippery and unclear. I have preached in African-American churches, and I love the responsiveness to preaching. I never worry anyone would nap off during my sermon. All are involved – letting you know when they agree; letting you know when you drift off course, “Come on, Rev. Make it plain. Bring it on down.” There’s an aliveness, participation, a spirit to that. And Jesus, “Don’t work for food that perishes.” Really, what food won’t perish? I have never heard a religiously inclined politician or candidate for office quote Jesus on that one. “What must we do to get this bread? Give us a sign Jesus and we’ll believe you.” Did they miss the previous sign – bread and fish for five thousand? Hello, good and faithful servants.
Jesus realizes they nor we, are on his wave-length. They are faithful, trying to follow God. They partly get it. They’re hungry for something. Jesus knows hunger is a good gift of God, rightly used. God’s children got hungry and snarky when food was scarce in the wilderness. Moses calls in an order of bread from heaven. They credit Moses with saving them, not God. How easy to forget from where all blessings flow. We crave. We want. We get, even take. That’s how we do – striving for what God’s already given, and failing to see the needs of others.
We hunger for many things – fame, wealth, to have a better life, find meaning, be enough, to be secure. Hunger and thirst for lesser things will obscure what God gives. Attempts to satisfy these hungers, dreams, and egos can turn harmful to us and others – even turn evil. St. Augustine once said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Our hungers work the same way. We get all messed up when we allow bread and possessions that perish to replace God in the center of our lives. We grow anxious and snarky, never realizing the grace we’re given. That’s God’s work, grace, the gift that invites us to rest our restless spirits in him. We can do nothing except open our hands and receive living bread, Jesus’ life poured into us. Do they get it? “Well, sign us up, and keep that bread coming.” Make it real plain, Jesus. “I am that bread. Come to me and you’ll never hunger or thirst again.”
Why are you here? I hope a hunger brings you. People often keep searching for something they can’t name – something more and beyond, something right in front of us we don’t see. We live in both a physical realm, and in a spiritual realm which is so counterintuitive. We are infected by an anxious, frantic spirit of scarcity – never having enough or being enough – so frightened that someone may get a “free lunch.” So the world says work to gain, possess, and hold onto, as if it all won’t eventually perish. All we need to do is let go, hold up our hands and open hearts to receive what God gives. In the very ordinary, material aspects of life – like hunger for more, bread, and wine – the divine comes to us. As Will Willimon says, “The spiritual is incarnational, tied to the stuff of this life.” At a table God gives life in bread and wine – a sacrament we call, “thanks.”
Some go to church, “to be fed” for another week, as I remember it said. They mean the sermon better tell them how to live better, be better adjusted, be plain, have some jokes, and be entertaining. “Give us this bread always, feed us.” Jesus does – “I am the bread of life. Come to me.” He doesn’t ask us to do anything. We strive for God, hoping we become good enough, know enough. Just come, experience Jesus – “take, eat, drink this all of you.” Only then can we begin to receive the gift of God’s work – a gift, the bread of eternal life, grace, mercy and love – take, eat, ingest. Know where mercy always waits.
It’s all about God – and God’s work. God knows us only as His beloved, not though our eyes, as we are prone to judge and treat one another. It’s gift – and our work is to receive this gift with great joy and ingest it into our lives – and live God’s love for us and others. It’s Christ himself who invites us to meet him here. Come as you are. Bring the hungers gnawing at you. You are enough – trust that. Just imagine it and receive it, be filled with the living bread of God’s love, and share it. We die to life in one world, to begin life in another, while we’re still here. It’s just that easy – and yet for some reason, it’s also that hard.