What are you most hungry for? That’s really what we’re here to wrestle with this morning. What kind of bread are you shopping for?
Many people are looking for the kind of bread that we store away in wallets, barns, and banks – sometimes we call it dough, and the fact that it’s not yet baked hints at its inability to nourish and satisfy. Others yearn for the warm and fragrant loaves that sometimes get served at our holy meals. A friend whose parish uses bread like that tells of a child who said to his mother “Mommy, mommy, that’s the best body of Christ I ever had!” Kids get it, and they’re often more honest about it than adults – those little white things are a poor excuse for real bread.
Human beings have to have real bread, food that will fill and satisfy bodies. Hunger for that kind of bread is essential to life – and it’s hard to feed the soul if the body is always hungry. Yet sometimes that kind of hunger gets warped into addiction.
A recent TV series documented the lives of several morbidly obese people. One young woman had ballooned to more than 650 pounds before she found a physician who would do bariatric surgery. It’s a long story of several years, but as the pounds came off she began to explore her own frenetic, addictive eating, mixed with self-loathing, and began to discover the road to healing. She had to begin to make peace with her emotional hungers and the demons of her childhood – literally, the people who abused her – before she could begin to deal with her physical hunger.
There are many kinds of hunger, and the destructive ones are usually substitutes for the kind of bread Jesus talks about. King David was hungry for a kind of food that didn’t belong to him. His lust for Bathsheba didn’t satisfy, and it unleashed a torrent of pain and disaster for a whole lot of people.
We’re all here this morning because we’re hungry for something. This community of friends of Jesus often meets the hungry world by feeding hungry bodies – through soup kitchens and food pantries. We also answer hungry souls through Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, and communities like this one that invite people into deeper relationships with God and neighbor.
What are you hungry for? Most of us want to be valued as human beings, as a person whose life is important to somebody. We want to know that we matter. Perhaps our deepest hunger is to know that we are well loved, and if that hunger begins to be satisfied, we begin to recognize that everybody else has the same hunger to be loved. I met somebody in a nursing home years ago whose sweatshirt said on the front, “Jesus loves you” and on the back, “but I’m his favorite.” Well, we are all God’s favorites.
When we begin to know that, our hunger begins to be satisfied. Yet we get pulled away from that satisfaction all the time, by our own behavior and by our own fear and the fear of people around us.
We’re not fed when legislators and politicians settle for air-bread and vitriol, instead of doing the hard work of collaboration, the far more satisfying work that makes common cause for the common good that will help feed the deep hunger of communities.
Even the Olympics disappoint. Badminton players are disqualified for throwing matches. Taunts are thrown rather than encouragement. It’s not new behavior. After the 1908 Olympic Games were over, a bishop from Pennsylvania preached about the difficulties in a sermon he gave in London. Those Olympic Games were filled with nationalism, with insults perceived in how flags were displayed or not, how they were carried, and particularly in how the various events were judged. All the judges were English, and there were plenty of complaints about biased rulings. England won 146 medals, the Americans took 47, and Sweden was third with 25. Bishop Ethelbert Talbot had this to say about the rivalry and partisanship:
“The only safety after all lies in the lesson of the real Olympia – that the Games themselves are better than the race and the prize. St. Paul tells us how insignificant is the prize. Our prize is not corruptible, but incorruptible, and though only one may wear the laurel wreath, all may share the equal joy of the contest. All encouragement, therefore, be given to the exhilarating – I might also say soul-saving – interest that comes in active and fair and clean athletic sports.”
Out of that challenge came the higher spirit of the modern Olympics – that the goal ought to be joy in the competition, rather than national chauvinism or an expectation that winning will ultimately satisfy anybody’s hunger.
What are we most hungry for? Food? Joy? Justice? Meaning? Love? What satisfies those hungers?
Sometimes our hungers go awry. To be more accurate, they go awry frequently. We seek satisfaction in things that will never fill us, or we decide that one thing will satisfy all our hungers. All of us know something about never-ending hungers, whether for alcohol, drugs, or food – or the slightly more subtle cravings for image, identity, or position that we feed by working too hard or shopping too much or trying to control everybody and everything around us.
When Jesus says he’s the bread that satisfies those hungers, he’s saying, “you belong here, where I am, in the heart of God. Come, be my friend, learn that you are loved in spite of what you do or don’t do, that you are loved simply because you are.” Most of us find it pretty difficult to believe that we don’t have to do a whole lot of heroic things, or believe six impossible things before breakfast, yet we only need to let go and know that we are simply loved. Come and sit by me, says Jesus, come and receive, let that love fill you.
Jesus began his ministry by hearing that he was beloved and God was well pleased with him – before he’d done anything that looked like salvation or being a messiah. He began his work hearing what salvation is all about – God loves you, me, us, more than any one of us can imagine – that heavenly voice at his baptism that said, “you are my beloved and in you I am well pleased.” God says the same to each one of us. If we can let go of our anxious feeding behavior long enough to let that sink in, we will discover that fear and emptiness begin to dissipate. There is enough, we are OK, peace is here. Listen to that heavenly voice, “you are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.” Let that word fill you, and be satisfied.