Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Year B, RCL
August 5, 2018
North Fork Ministries
The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
Last week we read about the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 from the 5 loaves and 2 fish offered by a small boy on a grassy hillside on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. In this week’s gospel lesson we learn that the 5000 had, unsurprisingly, gotten hungry again and so followed Jesus to Capernaum, looking for a little more of the miracle bread that Jesus had given them.
You know, I love bread. All kinds of bread. Hot yeast rolls dripping with butter. Hearty whole wheat toast with bits of seeds and sprouted grains. My mother’s corn bread – baked in a cast iron skillet with a golden top and the edges nicely browned by sizzling bacon fat. Baguettes, with a perfectly crisp surface encasing a chewy soft interior. And home made Mexcan style corn tortillas, hot from the griddle, like I can’t find anyplace on the North Fork.
My apologies to those of you on a version of the Atkins or Paleo diets, but most of the world can’t afford the rich variety of meats and fish and fresh fruits and vegetables that many of us in the western world have adopted to keep us from adding on excess pounds. Throughout recorded history and still today, most of human kind has relied on grain, millet, rice or bread, in one form or another, to provide the sustenance of life. And for far too many in the world, just keeping their bellies full, is the main objective each day. Many people know true hunger.
It was genuinely hungry people that Jesus was addressing on that shore in Capernaum when he said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
The kind of hunger that we feel in 21st century America is of an altogether different sort. It’s getting close to lunch and you might already notice a slight gnawing in your stomach. Even though you may, like me, have sufficient reserves of fat to provide your body with energy many weeks into the future, our brain still tells us not to miss a single meal. Any craving we feel right now, will soon be satisfied.
But even after we have eaten, we are still hungry - not necessarily for food, but for most anything that will temporarily satisfy the more deep-seated hunger that is a natural part of the human condition. The hunger that all of us feel, the lingering sense of dissatisfaction, the feeling that things are never quite right, the near constant presence of anxiety – is a condition shared among all who have had basic physical needs met, but still long for something more.
We make the mistake of thinking that this hunger we can be satisfied with a new car, or a bigger house, or maybe even a new pair of shoes. Or maybe we have evolved to the point that we realize that material things don’t bring lasting satisfaction, and we make the mistake of thinking that the emptiness we feel inside can be satisfied by religion.
C. S. Lewis described that sensation of emptiness common to humankind as the result of the “God-shaped hole” that lies within each of us. Our hunger is for God alone.
In a sense we are all still on the Paleolithic diet, exhibiting a 21st century version of the same kinds of behavior practiced by the caveman. We still crave status, maybe not by wielding the biggest club in the clan, but by having the most prestigious job, bigger houses, bigger incomes (or for some of you - stable investment income and long term care insurance) because we imagine that those things give us security, the physical security that the caveman craved.
The 5000 that we read about last week weren’t satisfied with the miracle bread they had eaten on the grassy slope. Even though they had eaten their fill, they came seeking after Jesus because they wanted more – more something.
We all want more something. Sometimes I drive by the string of automobile dealerships in Riverhead and think about how much fun it would be to drive around the North Fork in a new convertible. But then I remember how fleeting the satisfaction of the purchase of a new car can be, and it doesn’t seem worth the mortgage payment. But the hunger, the desire, still remains.
These are first world hungers, and if we are to admit it, it is a luxury to be able to experience such desires. But they are hungers nonetheless. Knowledge of the actual starvation of children on the other side of the planet might help us keep our own desires in perspective, but it doesn’t make them go away.
But really I think we have a different problem today. The real problem isn’t how we can satisfy our desires, but, rather, how do we stay hungry? When we live in a land of such abundance, how do we stay hungry for things that really matter? How do we stay hungry for God’s love, for the connection we all crave, whether we know it or not.
How can we stay hungry when we are constantly trying to satisfy our hunger with empty calories – with life’s distractions?
Now you may have noticed that my sermons are often filled with more questions than answers. That’s because I usually think that we miss the mark so far that we don’t even know what questions to ask. But today I want to offer two practical ways in which we can stay hungry for what Jesus called “the true bread of heaven.”
I’ve read that we check our cellphones an average of 221 times a day. I think that at the root of the cell phone addiction we share is a hunger for connection. We think we need to connect with the Internet, with Facebook, with friends, with the latest news release or podcast, but I think that the constant reaching for our phones is really evidence of our desire to connect with something that is more real, with our hunger for God.
Here is the first exercise. Each time your brain tells you that you need to check your phone, instead do this: Close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it out. Do it again. Take a deep breath in and let it out. One more time. Take a breath in and let it out. Then ...if you still need to... check your messages.
The second exercise, one in which we simply acknowledge our hunger for God, we will practice in a few moments, at the Celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus offered his disciples “the bread of God… that gives life to the world.” You will notice that during communion you are offered an almost ridiculously small morsel of bread, and the tiniest sip of wine from the chalice. We’re not just being stingy. This foretaste of heaven that you will receive at communion isn’t meant to satisfy. It is intended to leave you hungry – to leave you hungry for the love and forgiveness that is at the heart of all our cravings. When you take the body and blood of Christ, imagine that it is God’s way of reaching out to you, stimulating your appetite for connection with all that is Divine.
May we always echo the words of those who followed Jesus to Capernaum, “Sir, give us this bread.”