We’re going to do something a little different today. In place of a sermon, I’m going to tell you a story.
It takes place in Jerusalem in the year 70. The city is at war with Rome, which is fighting to crush a Jewish uprising.
Jerusalem is under siege, and the Roman army is about to break through the last wall holding it back.
The city is jammed with Jewish rebels and refugees from Galilee, and they’re all starving.
A few of us gathered yesterday at the outdoor chapel for the Blessing of Animals in honor of the feast of St. Francis, which was last week: That saint who understood so very well that nature and Creation are filled with God’s goodness, that Creation is sacred and it’s the first place where we meet God. It was a nice ceremony. It was small. There was a lot of canine energy out there. And it was an opportunity for us to give thanks for those animals, to give thanks for the companionship that our pets provide to us.
So it’s seems ironic to come back 24 hours later and hear the first reading from the Book of Genesis, which tell us very explicitly that animal companionship is not enough. No matter how cute and warm and furry they are, no matter how loyal and devoted they are, our dogs and cats are not enough. We were made for something more.
We were made for relationship with others who can meet us on our own level. God was there with us from the beginning, but God also wants us to have everyday companions made of flesh and bone who can walk with us here on this earth. In that reading, when God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone, that’s the first time in all of the Creation stories that God looks at anything and says it’s not good. It’s not good for us to be alone. We were made for relationship. We were made to be in relationship with others like us.
The Bible is a strange book sometimes. Sometimes the world in which the Bible stories with which we’re so familiar take place—sometimes that world seems so different that it’s hard to relate to those people, and it’s hard to relate to the message.
And then again there are times when I’ll read one of those stories and I’ll be so struck by the similarities, and I’ll say to myself, human nature hasn’t changed all that much in 3500 years. And that’s what really struck me in this week’s story about Moses and the two prophets with the very curious names of Eldad and Medad.
I swear, if I had twins, I’d name them Eldad and Medad. They’re really nice names, actually. Eldad means God has loved, and Medad means Beloved. In the Old Testament, the names of people and places usually mean something that’s important, and these names are all about love, God’s love.
So in this story, God has brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and in the wilderness has provided them with water and plenty of food in the form of manna, and now they’re complaining that it isn’t enough for them. Basically, they’re complaining about change.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do, at least in the second half of my life so far, is the summer that I spent as a chaplain in training at a trauma hospital.
Being a chaplain is different from being a pastor. You share a common humanity with the people you serve, but you don’t necessarily share the same faith. And in our humanity, we all have spiritual needs. They might not be religious needs, but your job as a chaplain is to find out in a fairly short time under difficult circumstances: what does this patient need spiritually, and what do I have to do to make sure that need is met in order to support their healing.
So I served in a stepdown unit where the patients were very sick, most of them had just come down from the ICU, but they weren’t even ready for regular hospital rooms. And as I stood outside the room of each new patient on that ward, I never knew exactly what I was going to encounter when I went through into the room.
You can barely see his head peeking above the piano, but by now, I think most of you have probably noticed that this morning’s musician is not Vaughn. Some of you, many of you know—but maybe not all—that this is my husband, Chris, who usually worships with the Society of Friends on Sunday morning, but has been kind enough to come and play the piano for us.
And so that was an inspiration, knowing that he was going to play the piano, to do something different—as they used to say on Monty Python—“Now for something completely different.” And so we picked some hymns that aren’t in the hymnal, some of which you’ve mentioned liking from past singing of them, and some of which are favorites of mine.
And that first hymn that we sang, “Here I Am, Lord,” it’s based primarily on the story of the calling of the prophet Samuel. In the third chapter of First Samuel, the young Samuel is a protégé of Eli and he’s asleep in the temple. He hears a voice, actually three times, calling him: “Samuel, Samuel.”
He thinks it’s Eli. Eli finally figures out that it’s the Lord, and this is the beginning of Samuel’s call as prophet. But it’s a very interesting hymn because woven in—it’s pretty short—woven in, there’s this whole series of Scripture references, including the one that relates to today’s Gospel: “Finest bread I will provide till their hearts be satisfied. I will give my life to them.”
This is the fifth of five weeks that we’ve been reading our way through the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John. All about the bread of life, living bread, the bread that comes down from heaven. It began with Jesus feeding 5,000 and more with five loaves and two fishes. The crowds were so impressed that they followed him. When they didn’t find him in the same place the next day, they jumped into boats and went across the water l Continue reading
“Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” What a thing to say. Shocking, really.
If I were in charge of the readings we use on Sunday—which in our church I’m not, they’re given to us—there might be a temptation to sort of skip through this whole section. But it’s a very vivid way to say that Jesus himself is the answer to our deepest hunger. It’s an invitation from him to become one with him in a way that is both intimate and life-giving. He says, “Those who eat my flesh abide in me, and I in them.” Abide in me, remain in me. We are in each other.
Every time I read this part of the Gospel, I’m reminded of that saying you are what you eat, you know? It’s actually the title of a diet book from the early 1940s. I doubt that any of us would know the specific details of the diet, but we all know the phrase and we get the point. If you don’t eat well, you can’t be your best self.
Interestingly enough, it also sounds a lot like something Saint Augustine said in an Easter sermon way back around the year 400. He said that when we receive the Eucharist—worthily, with the right intentions—”we become what we receive.” [i] We become the Body of Christ. You are what you eat.
Through the Eucharist, through the living bread that Jesus offers, we are one bread, one body. We become the Body of Christ. We become one with him, and through him with all other believers. I think this talk of living bread, bread from heaven, it’s kind of like poetry. It’s the language of mysteries too deep for ordinary words.
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.
When my kids were little, they attended a faith-based school. It was small. There was no lunch room. The food for snacks and lunch had to be packed at home every day and sent in a lunch box. Human nature being what it is, those lunch boxes sometimes got left at home, or in the car, or on the bus. Then you had a hungry kid and no place to buy food for them. Each of the teachers had a different way of dealing with this possibility, because it did happen.
The kindergarten teacher kept a bowl, and the child who had no lunch box had to take the bowl around to his or her classmates and accept what they wished to give out of their lunch. This happened once when it was Grandparents Day, so my mother was there. She was bothered by the fact that it was voluntary. She felt that no one should be allowed to get away with being selfish, that every child should be made to share some of their lunch. But we all know that acts of generosity are authentic only when they are undertaken of our own free will, so that’s how it went in this classroom. That day and all the days that it happened, the child who forgot the lunch box had enough to eat. Everybody had enough to eat. There was enough. I think of this as a miracle, actually, a human miracle.
Let me explain that. I had a seminary professor who gave us a definition of miracle as an unexpected event that brings us into the presence of God. I really like that. In the case of these kids, it’s unexpected that kids, that anybody, would share their lunch just because some other kid had no lunch. Presumably—although I remember what a challenge it was to pack those lunch boxes—presumably you’d put in there what your kid liked and would eat to get through the day.