A sermon for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

So why did you come to church this morning? What is it that you hoped to find here? What is it that you’re hungry for?

Maybe some of you didn’t have time for breakfast and you really are hungry, looking forward to the coffee hour. That usually gets me at about 10 of 11, even though I did eat breakfast. But probably, nearly everyone here—I would imagine—is hungry for something. There are some things missing in your life that you’re still yearning for.

For some of us it might be meaningful work, work that is good and work just to support ourselves. For some of us it might be a spiritual hunger for something more. For some of us it might be yearning for a greater sense of peace and security in these times that seem so uncertain and difficult. It might be as simple as good health. But nearly everybody is hungry for something.

So what is it that you’re hungry for?

A couple of weeks ago I was going somewhere south of here and I found myself in the new Whole Foods Market in Spring House. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. Even if you’ve been in a Whole Foods before, this is something else. This is the new world. I was looking for some tea, that’s what I was doing in there. The days of the long, straight grocery aisles are gone, so in order to find what you’re looking for you have to sort of turn this way and that to get through the store. And every time you turn a corner you come across some display of prepared food that looks just incredibly delicious. Artisanal pizza, and baked goods, and hot stuff and a salad bar, and desserts.

It was mid-morning. I mean I’d had breakfast, it wasn’t lunch time, and I started to think, “I better actually stop and try some of this stuff,” which I think is what was intended. That place is designed to make you think you’re hungry for what they’re selling, even if you’re not.

But, as I went through the market what happened was I started to feel sick, it was just too much. It was way, way too much. I didn’t end up eating anything, though luckily I did find the tea. But what a contrast that is to the kind of abundance you’ll see if you ever drop by the Food Larder at the Britain Baptist Church, which is not too far from here. Now, it’s a little bit smaller than Whole Foods Market. Their idea of abundance is that they have enough pasta, and sauce, and peanut butter to be able to give families one day a month when they can take a bag and fill it themselves from those shelves, which is sort of the dignified way to do it. That’s their idea of abundance, because some people in our world really are hungry.

So, Jesus was talking about hunger in this morning’s gospel and he asked them what they’re doing there, why these people have all come after him. It’s the day after the feeding miracle that we heard about last week, when he turned five loaves and two fishes into enough to feed 5,000 people and more, and still have 12 baskets of fragments leftover when they’d all been fed.

He asked them why they’d come after him, what they’re looking for. It’s John’s classic way of telling a story. There’s a miracle, there’s a sign. The sign is a sign that shows Jesus’ power, and then there’s this little dialogue which is always kind of confused, and then in the end Jesus explains it all.

This week is the dialogue, which does sound kind of confused, and if you try to work your way through it you might almost think that Jesus is telling them that it’s wrong to be hungry for bread. But that really isn’t it. After all, he’s the one who knew that they were hungry even before they did, and who provided the bread that satisfied that hunger, the literal, physical bread.

He’s not really criticizing them for being hungry for bread, but he’s asking them to think about what it is that they’re really hungry for, what it is that they really need, what they’re after. Because, as we know, there’s more to life than bread. It isn’t just about bread. There are other kinds of hunger, and he’s saying that he’s the answer to feeding those other kinds of hunger, and that if you don’t know what it is you’re hungry for, you’re going to spend your life looking to feed that hunger in ways that just aren’t the right way to do it.

Addiction is a disease but it’s also a kind of hunger, a kind of thirst. That that old song, “Looking For Love in all the Wrong Places,” looking for things that fill that heart-shaped hole, that void in us that was made to be filled by God. In our society, the quest for material things, that my life will be complete if only I have that one new sparkly thing. Then I’ll be okay. And I’m susceptible to that, too. I don’t care so much about the big screen TV, but give me that new camera that just came out and I’ll be happy, stuff like that.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but recognize that for what it is, because that is not the thing that’s going to satisfy your hunger ultimately.

There was a time in my life when I really struggled with faith, in my 20s. I didn’t go to church much in my 20s. I found all this religion stuff really pretty hard to believe, pretty hard to make sense of. I was going after it with my brain, not my heart, and I wasn’t getting it. Eventually it came to me that I was feeling this hunger, and it was a hunger that could only be satisfied by the bread and the wine that we find here in church, and I came back.

That’s what Jesus is talking about. He’s talking about that hunger, and he’s offering himself as nourishment, as the answer to feeding that hunger. He’s saying to the people, “This is what you need,” and they’re saying to him, “What do we have to do to get that?” And he says, “All you have to do is believe.”

We have to understand the English language doesn’t always capture all of the sort of nuances of the words in the New Testament, or the Old for that matter. When he says believe, believe in John is more than just checking off the boxes, signing off on each line in the Nicene Creed. it’s trust. It’s a relationship with God, with Jesus, in trust. That’s what he’s asking for. When I learned that this bread and wine was the thing that would feed me even if I didn’t understand it, if I trusted that to be the answer, that’s when I came back.

When I was preparing last week to preach I came across a quote that I thought was just really perfect, very short, so I can even remember it without notes. The quote is: “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Well, sister and brothers, I’m here to tell you that the bread you are looking for is right here.

Amen.