Sunday, August 9, 2015
John 6:35, 41-51
When’s the last time you’ve been really, truly, hungry? As you might guess, I am hungry almost all of the time these days, eating for two! Some of you know that I failed my first glucose test where they check for gestational diabetes, so I had to go back for another round of tests where you end up fasting for about 16 hours. I was very hungry by the time that was all over! I’ve learned to carry snacks in my purse at all times for those moments when I can’t eat at my regularly scheduled mealtimes or if there’s a lot of food served that pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat. In addition, I’m tracking what I eat to try and eat more healthily for a healthy baby. I’ve been paying more attention to what I eat than I used to!
So, maybe the last time you were hungry was when you got busy and forgot skipped a meal, or you had to fast for a doctor’s test, or you intentionally were dieting or fasting for a spiritual reason. Maybe, as we get closer to lunchtime, you’re feeling hungry right about now! Eating is such a part of our daily routine, like sleeping & drinking, that unless we need to pay attention to our diet more closely, or are without any access to food, we don’t even think much about it beyond grocery shopping, planning what to cook for dinner or what restaurant to go out to. We know we need to eat to live, and we make sure to plan so that we are able to eat food regularly.
But what about spiritual hunger? Can you think of a time when you were spiritually hungry? Spiritual hunger is a lot harder to put our finger on. We don’t necessarily feel a hunger pang for connection with God like we do in our stomachs when they’re empty. We might even enjoy a break once in awhile from the regular weekly church routine. Unlike breathing, sleeping, or eating, connecting with God through worship, prayer, Bible study, and so on isn’t something that we just do daily without thinking about it. So often, it’s after someone else points out our need for God, or that it’s been awhile since they’ve seen us at church, that we realize we kind of miss our faith community, or that we do indeed long for communion or prayer or hearing words from scripture, or whatever it is that feeds our souls.
When I was a missionary in Slovakia, in between college and seminary, I felt really alone for the first few months. My closest American colleague was an hour and a half train ride away. Few people in the church where I was serving spoke English, and we only had three weeks of intensive Slovak language training. I couldn’t express what I was feeling and thinking beyond “I like ice cream” and “What is your favorite color?” kinds of conversation. The worship service, although in Slovak, was comforting to me because like a lot of Lutherans around the world, there was an order that was familiar. It was the same rhythm to the Lord’s prayer, and the creed, which I could say quietly in English. Even some of the hymn tunes were the same. But we only celebrated communion four times a year at this church – the first time was at Christmas, so for months I went without it.
It was around Thanksgiving time, and some American Lutherans in Bratislava, the capital, invited those of us who were much further away for a few days together which included a traditional Thanksgiving meal with pumpkin pie, turkey, and stuffing, all things that were hard to come by in Slovakia. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was – not just for familiar food, but for deeper conversation in my native language – real friends! And then the best part – the ELCA missionary pastor led a short communion service for our group, with the old green book (LBW) liturgy and real bread & wine. It was like I was home again. I hadn’t taken communion in months, or worshipped in English. It was ironic – I was serving as a missionary – planning and working with church activities every day. My prayer life was actually better than it had been during my busy college years because I certainly had time and isolation on my side to connect personally to God. I hadn’t realized how spiritually hungry I was for God to sustain me not just through my individual prayers but also through a community and through food until that Thanksgiving Day. God knew my spiritual hunger deeper than I recognized it in myself, and God gave me just what I needed for that vulnerable time in my life. All I can say is – what a gift that was!
Again this Sunday we hear those powerful words from Jesus, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus, the bread of life, can satisfy our spiritual needs better than anything else we try to fill our lives with. But even more than that, Jesus connects us to God by satisfying our spiritual hunger when we can’t even put our finger on what exactly is wrong, where the disconnect is. Jesus knows what we need even better than we know ourselves. Jesus tells us today that “not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” This perplexes the Jews, because faithful Jews in Jesus’ time believe God is in heaven and never able to be fully seen, but here Jesus is saying that he has seen the Father and through him, we can be connected to the Father in heaven, too. God is walking around in the ordinary body of Jesus, on Earth, from heaven. God eats & drinks with the people, feels hunger, too. Through the body of Jesus, God is willing to give himself for us to be food that lasts forever for us spiritually. This is some pretty intense stuff! Jesus feeds us, body and soul. Our whole lives matter deeply to God.
Can you think of a time when God intervened in your life, to wake you up to your spiritual hunger and feed you with the bread of life from heaven? I’ve heard veterans describe in the middle of battle finding a sense of peace with a strong sense of God’s presence with them, right there, in the moment when they’re most afraid. I listened to grieving families mourning the passing of a loved one who even in the depth of their grief are able to name a particular moment when they knew God was right there with them and their loved one. Shut-ins who are not able to make it to church deeply appreciate communion brought to them, or a short visit from one of you all. Certainly God can meet our need for spiritual nourishment in more mundane ways – a quiet morning walk at sunrise, a run-in with an old friend at the grocery store, a scripture verse or hymn that seemingly just pops in your head. The thing is, unlike regular food, Jesus is always available to us and always present for us. Jesus, unlike bread, doesn’t get moldy, stale, or run out. Jesus’ love for us is free – no need to put “pick up some more Jesus” on our grocery shopping list or wonder whether we’ll need to work a few extra hours to make sure we have enough Jesus on the table! Jesus is present to satisfy our spiritual longings at all times.
Whatever you may be hungry for – a deeper personal connection with God, stronger prayer life, better knowledge of the Bible, etc. it all begins and ends with Jesus, our bread of life. Jesus reveals to us who God is in ways we can understand. We may lose just about everything – our financial stability, our families & friends, our health & mental faculties – but Jesus will remain with us, granting life with him forever. Jesus is what matters most, and we matter most to him – beyond food, beyond family, beyond life itself. It doesn’t matter how small we start in taking spiritual nourishment, whether it’s opening the Bible for five minutes or talking with a fellow Christian about questions you have about faith. You can believe that Jesus will show up to satisfy the deep hunger you have, and show you the way forward with him. Amen.