Let us pray, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
On Sunday my priest preached a sermon from Ephesians 4 and something from that sermon has sat with me all week. I’d like to share it with you in the context of today’s gospel reading from St. John.
Ephesians 4 is all about unity in the Body of Christ. “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” St. Paul here is describing the perfect community of the Kingdom of God we are all called to live into in our baptism.
Here’s the thing my priest pointed out, though. Though we’re doing our best to live into this reality, we have not yet achieved this reality. Christ reigns, his kingdom has come, but sin and death — though defeated — still exert their power for the moment. If we’re honest, rather than living “in love” within “one body and one spirit” none of us really feel like we belong.
That’s an easy point to make for y’all stuck within these walls. In my months here and at Riverbend, I’ve learned jail is in many ways high school all over again, with even less of the good parts. Unexpectedly thrust into a new environment, you’re working to be accepted and fit in for your very survival.
Let’s be honest though, it’s not just the obvious times when we feel like we don’t belong. I can say there are times when I feel like maybe my family doesn’t like me as much as I’d want them to. At church, I sometimes wonder if people really like me or if they’re just putting up with me because it’s the Christian thing to do. If we are all honest with ourselves, we’re always questioning those around us, wondering if what we see is the reality, afraid that we are not liked, loved, or wanted.
This has sat heavy with me this week. As I’ve reflected on my own life and of those around me, I’ve realized we’re all hungry. I’m hungry to be loved, to be accepted, to be seen, to be known. I think y’all understand what I’m saying.
In today’s gospel, people are flocking to Jesus because he’s recently multiplied a small family’s lunch into enough food for a large village. No doubt if you showed up in a poor neighborhood and turned one family’s little barbeque spread into a feast for the whole block, you’d be pretty popular. These are people on the margins. Ancient miracles of lamps burning longer than they should have, peaceful lions in dens, and fire from Heaven are definitely cool, but being fed a good meal out of nowhere when you’re always on the edge of starvation is a miracle you can really hold on to.
The people taught and served by Jesus are literally hungry. It is no wonder then, that when Jesus tells them, he’s going to give them food, that they think of manna falling from Heaven like in Exodus. They’re thinking God has sent a great prophet, maybe even a Messiah, and he’s going to literally make sure they’re not going to be hungry again, just like he did with Moses. It’s all pretty logical, really.
Jesus isn’t talking about actual food though. He’s talking about himself. You see, even if he were talking about real hunger, food miracles are a short game. Food spoils. Food is digested. No matter how much food Jesus makes in a single day, by the next week, it’ll be inedible. Even if you eat as much as you can for lunch today, you’ll be hungry again tomorrow. Literal food is a temporary satisfaction at best.
The ordinary food for our hunger for love and acceptance is pretty temporary, too. Someone decides to join your table at breakfast; you feel accepted. By lunch, you’re back to hoping someone joins you again. Your girlfriend made you your favorite dinner. You feel loved. It’s been an hour, and she hasn’t responded to your text. Does she even like you? People at church are so nice! It’s great to be a part of a community that loves me as I am. She forgot to shake my hand. I guess they really don’t care about me.
Day in and day out we work for signals of affection. You talk to the right people, go to the right parties, sit at the right table, drive the right car, speak the right way, dress the right way all just to get that temporary hit of someone acknowledging you’re here. All just so for a fleeting moment you can feel that maybe someone really does give a crap about you. And yet, for all the hard work, all the stress, all the pain, and worry, no matter what we think we achieve, it fades. It’s never enough. A friend’s kind words from a few months back mean less if they haven’t been topped off with more words each and every week.
God enters our lives with a forever solution to our addiction. He comes not with a super drug of happiness and acceptance — despite what a lot of people — Facebook — try to sell. He comes with a better way that breaks the system entirely. He comes with the permanent cure; himself.
You see, God starts not by telling us how great we are and getting us on the train to work to earn more and more of his affection and attention. God begins in Genesis by telling us he created us from dust and that we royally screwed things up. We rejected him as the source of our life and being because a creepy critter convinced us to go our own way. When we broke God’s trust, we hid from our responsibility, lied about it, and then blamed it on someone else — Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake. We never even said we were sorry. God’s reaction to all of this was not to end Adam and Eve and destroy his creation, but to immediately put into action a glorious and beautiful plan to set everything right again. A project that would require him to leave his throne and hang out in our mess.
This is the good news. No matter how hard we work, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love or affection. The hunger we feel is not a need for more human affection. It’s not a need to be seen as cool by our peers or more loved by our families. It’s our natural hunger to be at one with the very Source of our life and being.
God gives us the true living bread, the bread that never goes bad and entirely and fully satisfies our hunger. By becoming human in Jesus Christ — forever uniting himself with our condition — God is giving us constant attention, affection, and love.
Freely, without price, without reason or merit, God gives us his full attention. He loves us so much, he became us to save us from ourselves.
We work, work, work day in and day out to get the world’s attention and yet the God of the entire universe stands with arms open, ready to embrace us.
In baptism and at the Table, Jesus invites us to die to the temporary world of likes, stars, and hearts to enter his forever life of love. As you eat the bread and drink the wine from Christ’s table, know he is truly present with you. Through the Holy Spirit we don’t eat spoiling food, but the Bread of Life. Connected to the life and death of Jesus in baptism and Communion we stand beside Jesus before the Father and are truly loved and seen as the children of God we were created to be.
The bread of the earth spoils and decays. The Bread of Life is forever.
“Jesus said to them,” and Jesus says to you, “I am the bread of life whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.