In the name of the God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen
I’m going to start by asking you a question: What do you hunger for?
We are at the point in the lectionary where for the next four or five weeks we are talking about the theme of bread, and how Jesus is the living bread.
Last week’s Gospel reading was about the story of Jesus, when he fed a large group of people on the hillside – you may know the story as “the feeding of the five thousand”. Each of the gospel writers tell the story in slightly different ways, giving different numbers for the people gathered there and so on, but the essence of the story, the bit that matters at the moment, is that Jesus fed a huge crowd of people with just a few loaves and a few fish. Not only that, but when he asked the disciples to go and collect the leftovers when the crowd had moved on, they gathered up 12 baskets AFTER the people had finished eating. I can imagine the scene a bit like after a music festival has finished, where the teams of cleaners go in to pick up the rubbish, but what the disciples gather up, is not rubbish; it is fish and bread left over from the feast provided by Jesus. And the lesson here is that nothing is wasted, and there is more left than we can imagine is possible when Jesus feeds people.
And this week’s readings kind of follow on from that story. Our gospel reading is almost like the “what happens next” after the crowd dispersed and Jesus goes on his way with his disciples. Jesus and his friends go out to the other side of the lake at Capernaum, and the crowd find him there also. Jesus tells them “you only came looking for me because I fed you last time!” – or words to that effect. He says “Don’t work for the food that perishes but for a different kind of food”. What do you think he meant by that?
Before I answer that, let me work my way back a bit, and let’s have a look at the first reading today, the reading from Exodus. Here we have another crowd of people, who are all hungry and wanting to be fed, and quite frankly, are getting a bit annoyed with their leader.
You may recognise that feeling of when you are a bit empty, a bit peckish, tummy rumbling, and you get a bit cranky, moany, complaining, or to use a new word “hangry”. There was an advert wasn’t there about not being yourself when you’re hungry…
And the Israelites, who had just been rescued by God from Pharoah in Egypt – all those years as slaves, now they are free – and what do they do? They moan…. a lot.
You can hear their grumbling through the text – “Why did he (meaning Moses), why did he bring us out here. To kill us with hunger??” “We were better off when we had meat and bread back there”… And on it goes.
They moaned and they complained….. They were hungry.
But what were they hungry for??
On one level, yes they were hungry for food, the physical stuff that went in their tummies and made them full and satisfied; but there was a different hunger at play too. They were hungry for a sign from God that he hadn’t abandoned them, that he was indeed continuing to rescue them, to save them, to lead them to safety. They were hungry for the knowledge that God was close by, and hadn’t abandoned them at all.
But their spiritual hunger, because that’s what it was, was not expressed in those ways. It came out in other ways.
“I’m tired; I’m cold; why are we here; can’t we go back to what we knew before – even though it was killing us; who does he think he is? (meaning Moses)” and so on.
You might recognise in yourself some of the complaints against the world, and those who are leading us through the pandemic – “they don’t know what they’re doing; they don’t care about us; I need…”
But let’s go back to the other crowd, the crowd who followed Jesus round the lake at Capernaum.
We don’t get told exactly what they said to him, but we can tell from Jesus’ response that they must have been saying similar things to the Israelites. To me, it looked like they were mithering him and asking for more food.
Jesus’ response was to tell them that they were looking at him for one type of food, when really they should be looking to him for another.
And so we have two crowds of people, both hungry for real food, the bread, meat, fish etc that nourishes their bellies and fills them up; and also hungry for spiritual food, the knowledge that the Lord is close by, that they will be fed by a food that will never perish, never go off, never run out – the love and grace of the Lord, sustaining them through this life and into the next.
I wonder what else they were hungry for?
Which brings me to the question I began with – what do you hunger for? What is it that you are pursuing in order to fill yourself up?
I gave you a little list didn’t I – love, success, money, status and so on, and I wonder what those things look like to you.
Let’s check out “success”. For the athletes competing at the Olympics at the moment, we could say that success to them might be a gold medal round their neck.
They have trained hard, worked hard, given up so much to pursue Olympic success… but for the most part, those athletes will come away empty handed. There is only one gold medal awarded for each event, and in some sports, there are dozens and dozens of competitors who take part. So for those who don’t win gold, could we say that they are successful too? Do they themselves count winning silver or bronze any less successful, or are they satisfied with a top three finish?
Some would say no, that a gold medal is the ultimate symbol of success, and without one, they are not successful. But success comes in many forms. For example, the people who planned the route of the marathon are not going to win a gold medal for their work, but they are successful at doing what they are called to do because they planned the correct length of the route, mixed up the amount of hills and slopes so it wasn’t too difficult but was difficult enough for the runners etc.
So, success can be different things to different people, and I want you to think about what it is to you. In which area of your life do you hunger for success?
Is it to be wealthy? Have a big house with a nice garden? To be in a “good” relationship? Be financially secure?
Or is it to be successful in sharing with others the good news about Jesus; to show people how he has transformed your life, how his love is there for all people, and just what it means to know him and to accept him in your heart? How much do you hunger for that type of success?
What about status? Is that something you hunger for? To be recognised for being higher, better, or more significant than other people? To be top dog, so to speak?
We know that there are people who do hunger for that, who push themselves forward so others recognise their status in society. Who are desperate to have their faces in the press, to be known as a celebrity for whatever reason. Those who pursue politics, not for the good it does for the way we as a society live, but for the recognition and the rewards that it brings them.
But we know people too whose hunger for status is different from all of that.
Moses, from our Exodus reading, wasn’t hungry to lead those people out of slavery and into the wilderness, far from it. His hunger was to know the Lord, and to do what the Lord asked of him. His hunger took him all the way up mountains, across deserts and into battle time and again – how does your hunger for the Lord compare to his?
The people who Jesus spoke to at the lake – their hunger was also to know the Lord more. They followed Jesus, they questioned him, they asked him “how do we get to know God more?” “What do we do to perform the works of God?”
Those might well be questions you ask yourself too. The hunger that those people had then, is the same hunger we, too, feel today when we seek the Lord in all we do.
Status as God’s children is far greater than any status we can imagine or invent in our society. Are you hungry to be known as a child of God?
And if so, what to do about satisfying that hunger? That deep seated desire to be known as a child of God, to be drawn ever closer to him?
Jesus gives us the answer. He says:
I am the bread….. of life……
You may have heard of Jesus saying this before, it might be something you are very familiar with, or it might be that you are hearing this for the first time today.
And so I just want to pause a moment as we think about that…
Jesus is the bread – the stuff that satisfies our hunger spiritually, but he’s not just any old bread, he is the bread of life. Not the bread of dreams, not the bread of storytelling, not the bread of anything else, he is the bread of LIFE.
By coming to Jesus for our sustenance, for our daily bread, for our spiritual food, we are gaining life. Life in all its glory, in this world and the next.
So, how does that sit with you? The knowledge that when you turn to Jesus to satisfy your spiritual hunger, you are being fed with life itself?
The Israelites were hungry – and when they turned to the Lord, he fed them with quail in the evening and manna in the morning; and they drew closer to him because they turned to him for help
The crowd at Capernaum were hungry – and when they turned to Jesus, he fed them with bread and fish; and they drew closer to him because they turned to him for more
The people of Blackley, of Manchester, the UK, the world are hungry –They too are hungry for peace; justice; love; grace; how are you going to help them turn to Jesus so that they too can be fed? Fed with the bread of life, so they can live and be filled with his peace, his justice, his grace and his love.
We are unified in the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are gifted so many things because we turn to him, because we hunger for the bread that only he can offer. But as we learned last week – when Jesus is involved in feeding people, there is infinitely more spilled over than we can ever imagine, and there is so much more to share than we can ever know.
So turn to Jesus, feast on him. He is the bread of life and I promise you will not hunger nor thirst.