There are many ways to be hungry, my friends.
And they ALL hurt.
The organization Bread For the World estimates that 12 million children and 19 million adults in the U.S. go hungry each day and cannot afford the food they need to maintain physical health.
For those of you who may not know, I am the Deacon-In-Charge of In The Garden Ministry housed at Trinity Church on Capitol Square. We are gratified that Saint John’s is one of seven partners of the In The Garden ministry. We are a community consisting of homeless, minimally-housed and low-income friends gathering every Sunday afternoon for worship, sharing and a good meal. About a third of our community live ‘on the land’, and some of them do not have the resources to purchase their own food. We occasionally see families with small children who haven’t eaten (on Sundays there are not the soup kitchens serving that normally serve during the week). If you have ever encountered hungry child ‘up close and personal’, you will never forget it. All these people know hunger because they live with the physical hurt of hunger every day.
For thousands of years, bread has been the symbol of necessary food and the sustenance of life. It is easy to understand why. It is nutritious, providing carbohydrates, starch and protein to the body. It is easy to make and, in some form or other, is a part of every culture. Bread is essential. Our problem in this overdeveloped nation tends to be that we get too much to eat. How ironic, that in a nation with TWO TV channels devoted entirely to food, obesity for children and adults is a growing national problem.
- And yet we have millions going hungry each day?
And yet, people are dropping dead in the Sudan for want of food?
For most people in the world, most of the time, the problem is that they have too little to eat. They may subsist on only one meal a day, often times less than that.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
And the only thing that can remedy that hunger is bread. . . physical bread. And bread is more than nutrition. It’s comfort. The texture, the weight, the taste, all combine to make bread both the staff of life and the number one comfort food.
But, not only do the people who come to In The Garden hurt with physical hunger, some of them also suffer from spiritual hunger. They have never had – or have long since forgotten – any spiritual training or experiences in their lives. They may have been raised in churches that preached either guilt or sin, and so left any semblance of church long ago to avoid the condemnation of those ‘holier than thou’. They are sad and depressed, angry and bitter, or conflicted and confused – or all of the above. They have not known love – if ever – for a long time. And they have forgotten how to love. They need a hug, a smile, someone to treat them with kindness and respect; and then it takes a long time to heal. But this is the spiritual hunger that we try to feed at In The Garden, as well as their physical one.
But you don’t have to be homeless to be spiritually hungry. Some of the wealthiest people in the world are bereft of the spiritual food that feeds our souls. And all of us, at one time of another, suffer from spiritual hunger.
What we really hunger and thirst for is something much deeper than ordinary food and drink. We sometimes stuff ourselves, trying to fill the hole inside of us with food, clothes, gadgets and frantic activities, as if we could eat or buy something that would satisfy us. But we could binge at every meal and buy all of Easton Mall and still be hungry for something more. The hunger which we long for is much more difficult to satisfy than the hunger for bread.
John tells us the people seeking Jesus were looking for one thing, but finding another. Jesus was — and is — more fulfilling than earthly food, but the people then could not see it, and many today cannot.
We are to come to Jesus and never hunger or thirst again. But Jesus also admonishes us, saying:
- “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:27)
We are greedy; when we binge, we want more and more. Ordinary food and material goods becomes normal every day; we want something more. Jesus talks about a food that will last, a sustenance that nourishes and strengthens for eternal life, and not just for this life.
Jesus has told us:
- “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
Even though Jesus keeps talking about Himself as a kind of living bread which would sustain an eternal life, He keeps returning, refrain-like, to talk about leading people to life eternal. When Jesus talks of a bread that will last, He is not envisioning some ‘wonder bread’ or something earthly, He is speaking of our assurance that there is eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
Jesus’ greatest gift to us then, is not the ‘daily bread’ that most of us are given so generously. It is not the security and freedom of our lives in this blessed nation, full of sparkling trinkets and adventures. As wonderful as all of that is, it is Him, His teachings, His example and His undying love that leads to eternal life. The food and the clothing, the cars and computers, our jewelry and real estate and all the other physical gifts we earn or receive are temporary. They spoil and ‘perish away’ with all the other things of the world. Jesus reminds us not to throw away our lives – physical or spiritual – chasing after “food that spoils!”
If we want eternal life, we must eat the food ONLY God can give. We need to believe that Jesus was the One sent down from heaven, by God, to show us the way to eternal life. This good news of Jesus’ life and teachings is enacted in the Lord’s Supper – where bread and wine become our way of connecting again and again with Christ, the Son of God. We are to then go live out that example and that connection.
Those of you who have received communion from me, know that I say “Receive what you are, the Body of Christ”. Because, in that wafer is the promise Jesus gave us of eternal life in the Kingdom. . . That wafer is the reminder that we together ARE the body of Christ, here to continue His work, and spread His message to the entire world. The spiritual food that we are all yearning for is symbolized in this Eucharist. Feasting together on the message and life of Jesus and going forth together to live that message, we will know joy beyond measure and find the peace and love that will fill us forever.
Every miracle that Jesus did was a sign pointing to something. To create food for thousands of people was a sign pointing people to see who Jesus was — the Son of God, whose bounty is limitless.
Jesus doesn’t offer us worldly success or riches. He offers us a heavenly feast. He doesn’t claim to make us feel good about our chances for earning salvation. He insists that He himself is
- ‘the way’ (John 14:6)
—that his blessings can’t be earned, but are received as a gift.
Every blessing in our lives truly comes from God. Jesus warns us:
- “Do not work for food that spoils, but food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)
Jesus’ words hit home with his disciples and the people of Galilee. They realized that they needed God’s eternal blessings more than his earthly ones. And so they asked Jesus:
- “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28)
Now, they were looking to Jesus as a spiritual advisor — a heavenly version of “Dear Abby.” We want to say:
- “OK, Jesus, tell me what rules to follow and what paths to take. I’ll work hard! I’ll earn that heavenly banquet you were talking about! Just show me the way God wants me to go!”
But Jesus is not a spiritual advisor. He didn’t come into this world to give us new laws to keep, but rather to clarify and explain the rules and actions that will give us joy and peace and meaning for now and eternity. He came to be a Savior — OUR Savior.
- “The work of God,” Jesus explained, “is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)
Jesus didn’t come to show us how we could convince God that we are sorry for our shortcoming and wrongs or how to atone for our mistakes. In fact, He tells us over and over that we ourselves cannot do any of those things. Jesus tells us that he came not to SELL us eternal life, but to show us with His life and death what eternal life is and will be – how never to hunger and thirst.
- “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
Jesus is talking here about the deepest and most fundamental need of every human being, which is to be in an ongoing and trusting relationship to Christ and all creation. In a famous prayer, St. Augustine once said to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”.
As physical food gives life and energy to our bodies, so being in communion with God and his people sustains us in our spiritual life.
Following Jesus is what brings us into this ‘right relationship’ with God. He is the one whose life reveals God to us; He is the one who taught us the way to live as God’s children. He is ‘the bread of life’; if we come to him, believe in him, and live as best we can His example, our spiritual hunger and thirst will be satisfied.
Jesus came to do what we cannot do for ourselves. He came to show love like the Good Samaritan—to put God first, his neighbor second, and ourselves last. Even though He was fully God, He humbled himself, even to the point of dying a painful and humiliating death on a cross. We could have done nothing to save ourselves from sin and death without Jesus’ example of love and forgiveness. Everyone who believes in that promise and strives to follow in His way will be blessed with that eternal heavenly blessing found in Revelation 7:16:
- “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst… God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death.”
So we are invited to come to Him, to study His word, and follow His teaching, and put our trust in Him. The call of Jesus to us in today’s Gospel reading is an evangelistic call.
- Have you tasted of the bread of life?
Or are you still ‘working for the bread that perishes’?
Do not allow yourself to seek only spoiled earthly bread, but come to Jesus and receive the best and finest 100% whole wheat, the top of the line, the ‘staff of life’ that will keep you going forever! Jesus fed the crowds and the disciples. He did this, not just because they were hungry, but also to show them how to feed themselves and others. Jesus knew that his followers would be the ones who would continue His work.
So how are we doing on this, folks?
People are starving to death, literally and figuratively – in Sudan. . . in Yemen . . . in Syria . . . in Appalachia. . . in Columbus Ohio . . . – while often we do everything in our power to make it someone else’s problem, often blaming those very ones who are hungry.
When the people asked Jesus:
- “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:27)
Saint Paul answered that question in Ephesians 4:1:
- live a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.
Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for living out his faith; he implored people to live a life of love, a life in which all gifts were used and no one person was more valued than another. In other words, we are called to live lives that build one another up, and value each person as a wonderful gift from God. We are not called to sit back and watch violence, hatred, and injustice destroy our cities, our world, our culture.
It’s a radical thing we are called to do in the Christian faith. We are instructed to :
- feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:35-36)
We, as the body of Christ and as individuals, call upon one another to care for others,; to share our earthly goods; to support the church, food bank, missions and/or missionaries; and to work for social justice in our cities, state and world. It is not light work or easy work, but the church and her people are often the last refuge for those who are sad, angry, alone, sick, and worried about whether they will be able to survive one more month. We are a refuge for the elderly and the sick, those who may be alone, for children who have lost their parents, for the disabled who need a helping hand and acceptance, for the abused, addicted, the lost, the strayed.
Each of us must undertake this work, not only out of the goodness of our hearts, but as builders of the Kingdom of God here on earth. And at the same time, we must care and feed each other with love, hope, joy, compassion, and community. For through this work we come to emulate Christ, and to know the heart of Jesus, who is the ‘bread for eternal life’.
So this morning, as we prepare for Communion, let us think on this meal that we share with one another, and with Christians around the world, and savor it as a great reminder and symbol of the eternal life given freely to us. It is God’s table and all are welcome to partake of its life-saving grace. And all must go away with a renewed determination to love and serve one another.
Let us pray:
O God our God, what can we possibly say?
We are alternately hopeless and joyous, weary and renewed.
Our spirits sag under the endless onslaught of chaos, of discord, of violence, of dehumanization.
Our spirits are depleted too by their own betraying habits of disagreement, of hostility, of distrust, of resentment.
What can we possibly say, except that you are God and you know the truth of these things?
In our wildest dreams, we would be more like you: abundant in grace and unafraid in love, peaceful and patient.
In our everyday lives, we have seen it: the gift of bread, of mercy, of beauty, of healing.
What can we possibly say, except thank you?
For all that is, for all that has been, for all that still will be, O God our God, be above all and in all and through all, we pray. Amen.*
* Rachel Hackenberg, Sighing
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH 2 August 2015