Kelly’s sermon preached on Aug. 1, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Aug 1, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Aug. 1, 2021

Good morning.  I hope you had a good breakfast.  Because today, we are going to talk about being hungry, being willing to admit it, and then we are going to consider how our hunger connects us to God and one another.

Hunger is formative.  It shapes our behavior in powerful ways. If you’ve never been chronically and physiologically hungry for food like the people of Israel in this story from the Exodus, perhaps you know what it means to be hungry in other ways, for other human needs. 

For example, my same-aged friends talk about catching themselves seeking connection on social media- and realizing they are trying to satisfy a hunger that will never be alleviated by scrolling Instagram or Facebook, or TikTok.  They are hungry, not for bread, but for something.  The infamous Johnny Cash wrote a song years ago about that kind of hunger long before social media came aboutIn his signature, broken-hearted way, he sings “I’m tired of seein’ the same old road, tired of carryin’ the same old load…Hungry for something I ain’t got.” And like so many songs that Cash wrote, it connects… because it names a longing we can all relate to.  

To be human is to hunger.  That’s the first point I want to make.

And I think God knows this kind of hunger intimately, for God became human, after all, and even before that, we were created in God’s image.  In Genesis, the reason we are given for the creation of humanity is God’s hunger for relationship.  Perhaps this is why God is so compassionate when the people of Israel complain about their hunger in the wilderness.

To be honest, I think it’s super cool that God rained bread from heaven, but what’s more important to me as I read this story, is the relationship between God and God’s people.  To be honest I often doubt that complaint is the most mature form of communication.  But the Judeo-Christian canon of scriptures consistently validates complaint and lament as a viable way of connecting with God. We see it in the Psalms, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah.  And indeed, in this story from Exodus, God hears their complaint, and responds to them with compassion instead of admonition.  Surely they know now that if they complain and God responds, they are cared for.  Loved.  Believed.  Their needs matter to God, because they matter to God. That is the second point for today: honest admission of our hunger can be a pathway to connection with God.

The Gottman Institute might call Israel’s hungry complaint in Exodus a “bid.” John and Julie Gottman are scientists and therapists who founded a research-driven resource to support families in building healthy relationships with one another.  According to their research, bids are “the fundamental unit of emotional communication,” and they are basically requests to connect. When our bids for connection are received and responded to within a relationship, trust grows, and connection deepens. An example of a bid could be a friend asking you what you’re up to in a way that leads to a deeper conversation, or a child testing a boundary to see if the world is sure.  Responding or turning toward a bid could look like you putting your phone down, and turning to your friend as they approach you. Or lovingly and firmly reinforcing that boundary with a child. In our spiritual lives, a bid to God might look like an honest prayer about our longings and needs. 

We don’t read it today, but earlier in John’s gospel, before Jesus embarks on his public ministry, he fasts for 40 days in the wilderness, making a bid of his own in the midst of his hunger. I imagine Jesus seeking God’s thoughts about questions like this:  What does it mean to be the son of God?  How is God’s kingdom best revealed in this world?  

Then, the tempter comes and says, “If you are the son of God, why not turn these stones into bread?”  You can fix this, and prove yourself.

Jesus eventually responds “man does not live by bread alone, but by the very word of God.” Maybe another way of saying it would have been, “Power and authority is not mine to wield; it is for satisfying the hunger of all people, and satisfying God’s hunger to be in relationship with all people. That is what my ministry is about.”  

So, later on, when he says to his disciples in the passage we read today, “I am the bread of life,” he speaks it in the context of his relationship with God, in the context of Israel’s Exodus history with God and Manna, and in the context of this particular gospel, which identifies Jesus from the beginning as “The Word made flesh.” Rather than preaching the vending machine superhero-God, or the authoritarian puppet God pulling the strings for some abstract good we cannot see, Jesus comes as one of us, and bids for relationship with those of us who know what it means to be hungry. 

We, the church, are the Body of Christ, and we are each made in God’s image, too. We get hungry.  We make bids for mutually beneficial relationships with one another, and we seek to spread the good news of God’s kingdom here in the world in ways that address one another’s hunger. Right now,  I think we are in  a period of great discernment as we emerge from the pandemic slowly and cautiously, and become aware of hunger in ourselves and our neighbors  in new ways.  We might find ourselves asking similar questions as a community: 

What does it mean to be people of God here and now?  How is God’s kingdom best revealed in our pandemic-shaped future? 

Consider these questions while I tell you a story about an innovative ministry that I think is a great example of acknowledging hunger and responding well to bids for connection as Christians:  

 In Asheville, North Carolina there is a cafe called 12 Baskets. People line up about an hour before the cafe opens, and when the doors finally open you are invited to come in and take a seat around a table, often among strangers.  A server comes over to take your order.  There are usually 3 or 4 options on the menu, including a vegan option, and when you’re finished, you simply say thank you, make a donation and go.  The cafe was created by UCC minister Dr. Shannon Spencer, who worried that hungry people on the streets were also hungering for dignity. And, she worried that privileged people were missing out on some important life lessons and wisdom that only hungry people could share with them.  So, she created a new model of service, using food donations from specific sources–hot bars like university cafeterias or whole foods salad bars, whose prepared food must be used within 24 hours. Using these sources for food enabled a menu-model of food distribution that would draw hungry people from all walks of life together.  12 Baskets serves healthy meals that people actually like to eat, Monday-Friday.  Instead of calling it a food ministry, Dr. Spencer called it what it is:  a cafe, and invited people of all socio-economic statuses to eat together, as equals, in community with one another. 

On the day I was there in 2019, I observed privileged people like me struggling to accept this gift with grace.  We lept up to sweep, or to identify ourselves as the helpers in some way, maybe seeking to distance ourselves from the needy ones…or maybe to distance ourselves from our own needs and anxieties.  And when that happened, someone on staff would gently respond to our anxious bid by redirecting us back to the table to simply be hungry, and be fed.  

I know that you are a community that cares about hunger of all kinds, and I know of at least two ways that you’ve created spaces for hungry people to be in relationship with one another in the past: Before the pandemic, you hosted a Spirituality and Mental Health group. It was open to anyone who experiences mental health problems themselves, or is a family member or caregiver for someone who does. 

 And A few summers ago, our youth planned and led a summer camp in the Skagit Valley, and when they arrived, they realized their plans should include teens in the community they had come to serve. So, they invited them to join them on staff as fellow leaders and teachers. 

I get really excited about these examples– because they dismantle the transactional structure of benefactor and recipient, like Jesus did.  

Jesus said,“the bread of God… is that which comes down from heaven… and gives life to the world.”  We are hungry for all people to be known and valued among us. Our hunger for something we ain’t got, as Johnny Cash sings, is a gift, and a clue that can lead us toward God and one another. 

That is the third point in this pointy sermon: when we hide our hunger it isolates us, but when we name it, it connects us.  I do not think it is a coincidence that our primary way of giving thanks together in worship is in the celebration of a meal of broken bread- the Eucharist- a tangible way of being hungry together, being fed by God, and being strengthened to meet the hunger of others in our world with empathy and care. 

 So, as we re-engage with one another, especially here, notice your hunger. Sit with it, and trust that God is eager to connect you to something truly satisfying.  

I want to close with a prayer I learned at Holden Village:

O Lord, for daily bread, we give thanks.  To those who have bread, give a hunger for justice, and to those who hunger, give bread. Amen.

© 2021 Kelly Moody. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.