Wednesday, November 23, 2022
(Wednesday, November 27, 2019)
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
watch this service online (readings start around 12:58; sermon starts around 19:38)
When I was growing up, I always found this time of year to be the most magical and exciting time. I loved all the trappings of the holidays: all the lights and glitter, all the excitement of Christmas stuff starting to hit the shelves everywhere. I loved all the feasting: getting to gorge myself on green bean casserole and stuffing and pumpkin pie and candy and all the other rich foods that many families cook up this time of year. And of course I looked forward with excitement to getting presents – the more plasticky and garishly colored, the better.
But I have found as I’ve gotten older that the charm of this time of year has a tendency to fade a bit with time. The excitement just isn’t quite the same as an adult. I still enjoy the feasting, but some of those rich foods now give me heartburn – and sometimes worse… And if you happen to be one of the people responsible for making sure that that feast finds its way onto the table for everyone else to enjoy, you probably tend to feel much more stressed out than excited about the holidays.
It’s all still lovely – the lights, the glitter, the toys. But I just find myself hungering for something more. Now that I am all grown up and living alone, I often find myself hungering for time spent connecting with others, for time spent with my family – which was something I totally took for granted when I was a kid. I hunger for love and connection and meaning. I hunger for more. And if you find that your expectations for the holidays tend to get overtaken by stress and family drama, by consumerism and commercialism, by the pressure of expectations, I can imagine that, on some level, you might be hungering for something more too – hungering for something that actually satisfies.
In our gospel reading for this evening, this is exactly what Jesus is trying to urge his listeners to do: to hunger for something more. Just a day earlier, Jesus had fed over 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, with basketloads left over. But, naturally, those people wake up the next day hungry again. So they set out looking for Jesus, and finally find him all the way on the other side of the sea.
And the scene when they find him always cracks me up. The people in this crowd try to play it off so cool. They have literally been combing the seaside, looking for Jesus, but when they find him, they’re just like, “Oh wow, hey, Rabbi – fancy meeting you here! Small world, amirite?” But of course Jesus instantly sees through this and is just like, “Guys. Come on. I know you’re all just here for the bread.” And he says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes – I just fed you yesterday, and here you are again, already hungry. But work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. I have so much more to offer you.”
In other words, don’t try to satisfy yourself with what is temporary or cheap. And, by the same token, don’t feel like something’s wrong with you when these things fail to satisfy you. Don’t sell your soul’s hunger short. Be hungry for something more.
The crowds complain to Jesus that their ancestors got to eat manna in the wilderness – “Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat!” they say. It’s interesting to read this passage side by side with our first reading from Deuteronomy, which actually talks about that bread from heaven. In this reading, we see those same ancestors talking about what they have received from God, giving thanks as God has taught them to do. But you’ll notice that, among the many things they give thanks for, manna isn’t mentioned even once, though it was certainly one of the good gifts that God gave to them.
Instead, in their thanksgiving, they recognize that God has fed them in a much deeper way. God fed their deep hunger for a place to belong, their hunger for justice, their hunger for liberation from slavery, their hunger for hope and for deeper connection with God. God saw their deep need and answered it. Of course, God did indeed feed them also with manna, but they recognized that God had fed their hunger for so much more.
Our lives are pretty different from the lives of those wandering Israelites who were once enslaved in Egypt; they’re also pretty different from the life of an average first century Galilean peasant following Jesus around the Judean countryside. Most of us don’t go around begging God for bread from heaven, because we can comfortably expect that our daily needs will be met.
But that comfort can sometimes numb us to the fact that we still have deep need. We still have deeper hungers. Not unlike the Israelites, we also hunger for a sense of belonging. We hunger for justice. We hunger for liberation from slavery to sin. We hunger for hope and for deeper connection with God and with our neighbor. We hunger for life that overcomes death.
We are hungry. Our souls are rumbling with that hunger. We are hungry for something more than bread, for more than manna, for more than pumpkin pie and lights and glitter that fade with time. We hunger for more.
And the good news for us tonight is that Jesus sets before us a feast. His invitation to join him here at the table is only the beginning of the feast to come. Because today, Jesus reminds us that he came to satisfy our deepest hungers. He came to remind us of our hunger for the bread of life – and he came to satisfy it. He came to feed us with the food that endures for eternal life.
So come to the table, for Christ invites you.
Come to the table and feast on the bread of life.
Come to this table – and bring all of your hunger with you.
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