I have no stories for you this morning, no childhood memories or rigorous exegesis.
What I have today is just a very simple question:
What are you hungry for?
Like any question, of course, it leads to other questions:
If all of your physical and financial needs were met, what might you still be longing for? What are the things you want and need that no amount of money can buy?
What are you longing for?
What would give you peace or hope, love or joy, clarity or meaning, purpose or satisfaction, health or vitality, community or relationship, or whatever it is that seems to always elude you?
Or, if you’re not hungry or longing for anything—if that kind of language doesn’t work for you—what would make you whole?
I’m going to pause for a moment here to let you think, to let you notice what feelings these questions bring up in you.
How often do we really think about these questions? How often do we get in touch with the longings of our hearts and souls?
How much of everything we do—and almost all the things we buy—are unconscious efforts to avoid confronting the bigger questions, thinking about how we really are? How much of our difficulties and struggles come from looking in all the wrong places for the things we don’t even realize we need?
Please understand me here: This is not criticism, but awareness. There is no judgment of our human nature, only invitation to be be more gloriously human, more in sync with the Divine One who made us in their image.
If you remember our lesson from last week, crowds of people had begun following Jesus because they had seen or heard about the signs he was doing. Because they were hungry—sometimes literally, almost always spiritually and emotionally.
Jesus saw their hunger and had compassion on them. He began by feeding them. He started with just five loaves of bread and two fish, but more than 5,000 people ate all they wanted and still there were 12 baskets of leftovers.
Well, that was amazing—some would say miraculous—and it only made the people hunger for more. And so they tracked him down again.
The people were starving, really. Many of them had all but given up on having some degree of freedom and independence. They had given up on seeing justice roll down like waters. They had given up on their Roman occupiers treating them with dignity, and they had given up on their religious leaders treating them as partners.
Which is to say: They had all but given up on God, at least the God their ancestors had known: a Deliverer who would liberate them; a Creator who would walk with them in the cool of the morning; a Divine Parent who would teach them to walk and call them by name; the Shepherd who would give them all they needed and invite them to rest when the journey got tough; a Home that would always be there for them.
It’s no wonder they were hungry. Hungry for validation, for someone who would see them and actually care about their welfare. They were hungry for rescue—some great prophet, a rebel leader, a new king, or the Messiah himself—to change the world and their lives, to give them a future with hope.
But, lacking that, they would settle for bread. For healing. For the next new and shiny thing. For signs that pointed to a power that could be wielded in their favor. For something—almost anything—to take their minds off their troubles, if only for a little while.
But Jesus loved them.
Jesus loves us, and so he wants more for us than that. Jesus wants even more for us than bread or money, fleeting happiness or health restored.
What Jesus wants us to know and enjoy is the fullness of life. Life abundant. Human life as it was meant to be.
Which is to say: Life with God. Life in God.
Which, Jesus knows, will not always be easy, will not always be exciting or full of signs and wonders.
Life in God, Jesus knows, will likely get us into trouble. Good trouble.
I don’t know: Maybe it’s just me.
Does any of this resonate with you? In these days in which so many of us are attached to our devices, do we ever allow ourselves to feel the longings of our hearts? When we are overwhelmed by the injustices and dangers of the world and desperate to make a difference, do we, in our hunger for what is real and true and just, settle for petition-signing and politicking?
It is not an either-or, of course. We don’t have to choose between contemplation and action, between the things that feed our souls and the things that will change the world.
And there is no shame in being hungry: It proves that we’re alive, that we were made for more than this.
There is nothing wrong with wanting: The Holy One longs to make us whole.
For God so loves the world.
And so Jesus finds himself in something of a bind, a situation many parents are familiar with: He loves the people and wants to comfort them and meet their needs, and . . . he knows they need so much more than a handout or a sign.
Jesus knows the people have come to him not to find life but simply to score a free lunch. He knows they want to make him king so that he will deliver them from oppression, as Moses did, and help them dream of greatness, as David did.
But Jesus knows something they seem to have forgotten: That no matter how often he feeds them, no matter how delicious the meal, they will still get hungry again. And again.
What he wants for them and for us is something longer lasting than a Happy Meal, someone longer lasting than another troublemaking leader the powers-that-be will crush and kill, something deeper and wider and truer than the latest political or social cause, something more universal than our own good experience.
Because we know what self-centered, individualistic, fast-food living gets us:
It gets us people who refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks and entire systems that refuse to consider the well-being of others. It produces cultural pressure on athletes and others to perform for our pleasure rather than honor the needs of their own bodies and souls. It results in a climate that is changing even faster than we feared, and a political environment in which some people and systems are so hungry for power that they will do anything to get it.
Living only for ourselves gets us a world that can leave us feeling anxious and afraid, hungry for what is real but so desperate for relief that we will settle for far less.
What are we hungry for this morning?
A worship service that will make us feel good? Just one day when we can stop thinking about all the problems in the world? For things to be the way they used to be? For someone to notice us and love us? Hope?
Speaking of the human condition and of God, Saint Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Our souls are hungry until they’re fed with the Holy.
Jesus said, “You want bread? I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever trusts in me will never be thirsty.”
It sounds preposterous, I know, but how many of us have ever tried it? How many of us have made a home in God’s heart?
In our hunger, we fixate on the gift we want, but Jesus calls us to the Giver.
While we’re looking for the very best-tasting bread we can find—checking out all the customer reviews and offering our own critiques—Jesus offers us nothing less than the steadfast love and outrageous goodness of God. Jesus invites us to know the peace that passes understanding, to open our hearts to the new thing the Spirit of God is doing right now, to trust God with our lives and the life of the world.
So I’ll ask again:
What are you hungry for this morning?