Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:35, 41-51
Are you feeling hungry?
The sun is starting to set, the day is drawing to a close, and lunch was so very, very long ago. Maybe you're ready for dinner. Perhaps, after this service is over, you will get up and eat a meal that you've been thinking about for some time. Fresh pizza with your favorite toppings, or to be fair, the mix of toppings that most every member of your family will tolerate. Roasted chicken with steamed vegetables, with herbal seasonings floating through the air of your kitchen. Or exotic spices from your favorite dish from Finland, Peru, or Thailand.
The sun is rising on another new day. Some of you may wait until after church to get up and eat a big, Sunday-morning brunch or lunch. Scrambled eggs or fresh omelets, Belgian waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream, fresh fruits and roasted meats carved right in front of you. Or maybe you will head home, like my family has done, to fix some of Dad's famous submarine sandwiches on fresh slices of French bread.
Are you feeling hungry now?
But later in the day, sometimes, after dinner, comes dessert. Just last weekend, I'd seen a billboard for McDonald's new "premium" sundaes. Four new post-meal indulgences to delight your mouth and bring your dining experience to a pleasant end: Oreo cookie, chocolate chip cookie, apple pie à la mode, or the decadent hot-fudge brownie sundae. I felt like I had to try one of these sundaes. I hungered for it. So I got up and went for a meal at McDonald's and ate. And it was good. I felt fed. Well fed, even. But the next morning, I got up - and felt hungry again.
We get up and eat. Every day. But although we are blessed to be able to eat every day, we still feel hunger. And we still die.
But we don't just feel hunger for food. It would seem that we're never quite satisfied with the life that we have. We hunger for possibilities. A nicer car, a cooler cell phone, the perfect pair of shoes. A better job, or a bigger house for the kids. Relief from debt and bills. Freedom from disease or disability. Peace of mind in a world that is plagued by terror and war. Are you feeling hungry?
Perhaps you've previously heard of this episode in Elijah's life from today's Old Testament reading. Elijah has run away, out into the wilderness, in despair. He even left his servant behind, going another day's journey away until his sits down under a broom tree and gives up. But what has made this prophet of God run away, and why does he despair? In the chapter just before our text today, God had just demonstrated His power through Elijah. At Mt. Carmel, God had sent down fire from heaven and brought up rain from the sea. Elijah himself had just slaughtered the 450 prophets of Baal, and then ran faster than a chariot! But now, he is afraid. The queen has called for Elijah's death, and he runs in fear. He has given up. And so, as he sits there, under that sad, little shrub tree, Elijah feels hungry - for a sense of purpose, for hope that he was not the last man who followed the true God.
Are you feeling hungry? Like Elijah, you and I often are not hungry for that which we should hunger. We try to find fulfillment outside of God and His Word. We look to ourselves to provide and, in doing so, walk away from God. Even having heard and experienced His love for us, even having tasted it, we still walk away. And we go hungry.
But God calls us back. The Gospel text that we'd just read continues our journey though John, chapter 6. Last week, as Pastor Meehan pointed out, Jesus called himself the bread of life, which came down from heaven. And now, Jesus teaches us about hunger - about the good hunger. In this short section of John's gospel account and the verses that immediately precede it, we learn what we might call Jesus' "mission statement:" to do the will of the Father who sent him. To save and feed us, the people who have walked away from the Father and followed the desires of our sin-filled hearts. To find the lost and give them eternal life.
But since we are lost, how can we come to know the Father? How can we learn from the Father and hunger for His Word? We can because the Father gives us the hunger. He Himself calls us, draws us to His Son, Jesus, by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. He teaches us about Himself through Christ, the only One who has seen - and sees - the Father. Jesus, because he is God, reveals God to us. He teaches us and feeds our hunger with himself, the bread of life.
And because death needed to be fed, because our sin calls for our death, Jesus gave himself up to the cross. Death swallowed him up. But it could not hold him. On that first Easter Sunday, Jesus rose, breaking death's power, bringing eternal life to those whom the Father has given to him. To you and me. To all those - in this congregation, in this city, in this world - who are called to the Gospel, called to this Good News in Jesus Christ. God has called you to hunger for His Word. Our Father gives you the hunger to learn, the hunger to grow, and the hunger to share His Son with your world.
And God feeds us. After Elijah had fallen asleep in his despair, God sent an angel, calling to him, "Get up and eat." Eating the food and drink that God provided, Elijah falls back asleep. And the call comes again: "Get up and eat." The man of God got up and ate and drank, and then went on for forty days and nights, strengthened by that bread and water.
Jesus, the bread of life, is present for us now. He is present in His Word. And he is present at His table in Holy Communion. Here, God strengthens us for our journey through life, so that we will not hunger and will not thirst for that most important gift: deliverance from eternal death and separation from God. God has given us, you and me, eternal life - this is a reality in the here-and-now! Through Jesus, He has reconnected us to Himself. He gives purpose and direction. He gives hope. He gives peace that the world cannot touch. We are fed - well fed - by the God who gives Himself for us.
Are you feeling hungry? Get up, and eat.