My friends in Christ, today’s Gospel is a continuation of the Gospel we heard last week. Remember, Jesus fed 5000 on the east side of the Sea of Tiberias. Our lesson today continues the following morning, in Capernaum, on the northwest side of the sea.
As I birthed this sermon, I prayed for God to give me the words to say what God wants me to say, and to keep me out of the way when I speak them. Writing comes naturally to me, but sermon writing is difficult. The whole paradigm is different and sometimes words do not come. I pray for them and I ask God to relieve me of my hunger. In this almost simple way, hunger hurts.
As we look at the world around us, we don’t have to look far to see hunger. It comes in many forms. Hunger for safety. Hunger for shelter. Hunger for financial security. Hunger for gold and silver and bronze. Hunger for good healthcare. Hunger for peace.
My friends in Christ, hunger hurts.
I come from poor. Growing up in hardscrabble northeastern Minnesota, my folks did the best they could with what they had to give my sister and me the best they could provide.
Some of my fondest memories are when mom would take us to the Woolworth store, our local five and dime. Back in the 1960s, Woolworth stores were the Walmart of the time and in my youthful exuberance they enchanted me. I didn’t always get what I wanted, but I so looked forward to those visits. I remember seeing a GI Joe doll there. I wanted that doll. It was a favorite toy for boys then, probably the first time a doll had been popular with boys. I used to think about that GI Joe and wonder if I would ever have one. I remember returning to the store one Saturday, and they were all gone. In my young mind, hunger hurt.
I became a teenager and, as many teens do, I discovered alcohol. I loved the feeling it gave me and I loved how it made me forget. Sadly, even at that age, I was a blackout drinker. I was hungry for something, and alcohol sated that hunger. This ornery, sober deacon knows now that I was hungry for much more than anything alcohol could have provided. In my teenage mind, hunger hurt. When I walked into my first AA meeting, I told them that I wanted what they had. Much like the people in this story, when I made an honest third step, I asked God, “give me this sobriety always.”
The people in this story were hungry. They were hurting. They knew of the manna mentioned in Exodus and Numbers. That manna did not provide lasting satisfaction and neither did the loaves and fishes we heard about last week. They wanted more, and that’s why they followed him to Capernaum.
When Jesus speaks to the people, he tells them “Do not work for the food that perishes, but look for the food that endures for eternal life.” The people would have understood what he meant. In that time, the grain could not be separated from the germ. Bread became moldy very fast and had to be made fresh, every morning. Jesus reminded them that he was the bread of life. He could sate their hunger. He can sate our hunger. It’s no accident, my dear friends in Christ, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem…the word Bethlehem means “City of Bread.”
I ask myself the same question I ask myself every time I preach. What does this lesson mean to us…today…in Independence, Missouri, at Trinity Church, in the year 2012?
The hunger that Jesus satisfies for us takes us beyond ourselves. It awakens in us other hungers: for peace, justice, loving kindness, and a humble walk with our God. No matter how often we feast at God’s table, these hungers never leave us.
It grieves me that we won’t have Eucharist today. That feast sates us. Christ gives himself as food for us. We are allowing our lives to be reshaped by Christ into his own body for the world, and to show Christ’s love to the world. That’s what it means to be a Christian. We cry out like the people in this Gospel, “Sir, give us this bread always.” We become bread like his bread, all of this not by getting something, but by giving everything as Christ has given to us. We come hungry for life and we leave hungry to give life, life full of Jesus, the bread of life. AMEN