There was a couple at the first church I served back in New York State – very nice folks – and the wife, Diane, was an excellent cook. In fact, she was such a good cook that every year at our church’s annual talent auction – she would donate two German dinners to be auctioned off. People would pay a high price for these dinners for the chance to come to Diane and David’s home and eat the food she would prepare. She would serve many courses and she would set the table with their finest dishes and silverware.
When Chad and I were first married they invited us over for one of these dinners and I was struck by how much care she put into the meal! The food was so beautifully presented in addition to being delicious and nourishing. Their home was warm and welcoming. I loved how she took these particular gifts Diane and David had for cooking and providing hospitality and used them to show love to the people in their life. When you left their home, you felt not only full but cared for.
Now looking back I have even more appreciation for the gift she gave. I didn’t realize then, because I didn’t have children yet then, so I couldn’t realize how particularly amazing it was that they would regularly have people over to their home for these elaborate meals – and they had a four year-old and a newborn at the time. Extraordinary!
Well, we all know people who show love through food, right? It’s a beautiful thing and it is shown in all sorts of ways. The hotdish brought over to a house when there has been a death in the family. The meal provided by the ladies of the church after a funeral. Some extra boxes and cans of food bought at the grocery store and then delivered to the food pantry – we know what it means to experience giving and receiving love through food.
So it isn’t strange at all that when Jesus tries to tell us what he means for us and for our lives he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
During Lent, each Wednesday a group of pastors in the area are all switching pulpits each week and preaching on the different “I Am” statements of Jesus. If you remember, in the gospel of John there were seven different “I am” statements that Jesus said – “I am the Light of the World”, “I am the true Vine”, “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am the Gate”, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and “I am the Bread of Life”.
Each of these are beautiful symbols and each of these tell us something different about Jesus.
This past Wednesday night I preached at Eksjo – we ate chili and crackers and then we gathered upstairs in the sanctuary. In my sermon, I preached about how Jesus said he was the bread of life and he used that illustration right after performing the miracle of turning a few loaves of bread into enough to feed thousands. I preached about how Jesus nourishes our bodies and souls through his body and blood and as long as we are fed with his word, we will be truly full.
It was a fine sermon. Finely constructed, finely delivered – fine. Sure. But ever since I preached it, there has been a troubling question that keeps drifting back to me. It’s a troubling question that steals away the crumbs of peace in neatly summing up Jesus as the bread of life who fills us full.
It’s one of those questions that people of faith often pretend not to have, and yet we do. The question is this: if Jesus is the bread of life, why are there so many starving places? I don’t just mean people who are hungry. I don’t mean the kind of hunger you feel in your stomach, but the kind you feel in your heart.
Because even though we gather here and confess that Jesus is our bread of life, even though those of us who gather here love him and love the church and confess Jesus is the Lord of our lives – sometimes the truth is that we feel hungry, even starving for something we cannot name.
And how can we help it? This world is full of starving places. We see brokenness all around, children who have been abused, addictions that ruin lives and homes, questions that have no answers, healing that doesn’t come.
And it seems to me we are so hungry for peace, for answers, for healing. What has this bread of life done to fill our hunger? The hungry places of this world don’t just disappear the moment we believe in Jesus Christ and the cross.
And that’s not all – you know what else is troubling? That there is this hushed fear that we hardly dare think – but there it is, humming beneath the surface of our days – the doubt, the distrust, the truth that sometimes we need help even really believing in Jesus and in what he taught us. If this isn’t true, then, how else can we explain the fact that we don’t live like we really believe in this gospel?
Just a few examples: Jesus says, “Do for others as you want them to do for you.” And yet, I wonder who among us has not reasoned that we were too busy or too broke or too whatever to help someone who came to us asking for help.
Jesus says, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven.” And yet, the last time I checked, most of us not only have the things we need, but plenty of extra things filling out our houses and garages.
Jesus says, “the one who is least among you is the greatest,” yet whose call would you return quicker – your favorite celebrity, or that annoying neighbor down the road who keeps borrowing your tools and not returning them?
If we really stop to think about it, this gospel is so troubling. It asks impossible things of us. It becomes easiest to just smile and pretend we are feeling full of the bread of life when we aren’t and compare our less than holy actions to others instead of to the standard God holds for us.
Yet, the vision that captures my attention is this: how would it feel if we chose instead to be really truthful in our faith or lack of it. If instead of smiling and talking about how full we feel, fed by the bread of life, if we could look at each other and admit that we still feel hungry sometimes, and that is scary.
And I think about how great it would be if we could be honest and talk about the ways we tend to twist and manipulate the gospel to fit the way we are living and how we don’t really live like people who have had any kind of revolution happen in our hearts.
I think if we could do that, it would be quite wonderful.
Because when we begin to admit those desperately flawed things about ourselves – that is when we finally catch a glimpse of how desperately we need a Savior.
We are a gathering of broken people who make selfish choices – we worry and distrust even the God who knit us together, and it takes so dreadfully little to turn our eyes and thoughts and hearts away from him and his will and toward shiny things, or a little cash, or a juicy piece of gossip.
This is us. Martin Luther would say it is only when we can acknowledge the truth about our sinfulness that we should dare come to the altar rail for communion.
We don’t share in this sacrament because it is a nice thing to do or because we want to pay tribute to what Jesus did for us – we receive his body and blood because we are starving for the bread of life. So we come as beggars to his table and know that just as we are – full of doubts and flaws and questions, lacking in so many ways, and he sets out his best for us. The finest feast, the warmest welcome – every time we come. Not because we are good, but because he is good.
Those hungry places are there in our hearts and in our world, it’s true – but they aren’t places God is absent. If we don’t see him or feel him there yet, it’s because our vision is cloudy, not God’s. Those hungry places are simply where God’s glory and provision are yet to be shown – either to us or through us. We can trust the bread of life will be enough for us. Always. Keep turning to Jesus to feed the hunger you feel, keep being fed on the Word of God and this sacrament of Grace we share. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.