+ A sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 13B / Ordinary 18B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 5, 2018 +
Texts: Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; John 6:24-35
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever been on a road trip, driving through the middle of nowhere and realized how hungry you are?
Maybe tensions run high, maybe conversations run short until you find some food!
I know it can be that way for me.
I remember a particularly long overnight ride in a 15-passenger van during seminary when somewhere down the Pennsylvania turnpike, the pervading hunger in the car turned to hanger – you know, that feeling when you’re so hungry you get angry.
A debate broke out whether we should stop at McDonald’s – stop to get anything – or keep going – we were only about an hour away from our destination and already had a restaurant picked out there for breakfast.
But I tell ya, friendships were strained, future pastors seethed and grumbled, and chaos reigned – until we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, ate an exceptionally delicious meal, and all was forgiven.
It’s like that commercial says: “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.”
As the Israelites embarked on their own long journey into the wilderness, they were escaping from the bondage they left behind in Egypt – slavery, exploitation, captivity – and embarking into the liberation that God had brought them.
But along the way, they realized how hungry they were and the jubilation and singing from just verses prior to this lesson quickly turned to complaining and grumbling against God and their leaders Moses and Aaron.
And maybe because of their hunger, they looked back to the days in Egypt, the days in slavery, and wondered if it was actually better then.
They started to look back with rose-colored glasses and they began to long for those “good old days” when they sat and ate their fill of meat and bread – but those days didn’t really exist.
They were slaves!
A poor and oppressed people. They weren’t feasting.
But now in their hunger, they longed for the lies of the person in power who exploited their labor and subjugated their people for centuries.
They looked back to their imagined past like a mirage rather looking ahead to their future.
And as their hunger turned to hanger, they ended up complaining about the same God who liberated them from slavery.
They ended up in chaos.
And in the middle of this chaos, God hears their cries.
God doesn’t get mad, but knows what they need.
God reminds the people that they are not alone and provides the food that they crave.
God hears them and provides what they need.
Rather than the Pharaoh who turned a deaf ear to the anguished cries of his slaves, the Israelites can now put their trust in a God who hears the people and provides abundantly.
This God is not a tyrant like Pharaoh who ignores the people and benefits himself and his cronies – this is a God who hears and responds, who provides and loves.
This is a God who gives a sign to the people that they will never be alone.
Each evening, God sends birds to the people for meat, and each morning rains down manna from heaven, bread for the day.
It was only ever enough for the day – if you tried to store it up it would spoil.
But each day, God remembered the Israelites, remembered God’s people, and sent them their daily bread.
And more than the food alone, more than the daily meat and manna, God responds to the deep, spiritual hunger that the Israelites have.
The uncertainty of this new liberation, of who they can trust after centuries of oppression, of who will guide them to their new home, who will provide for them.
God reminds them that they are not alone or forgotten, but are the beloved children of God.
God promises to be with the Israelites on the journey, provide for them food along the way, and never to abandon them – and all they have to do is trust and believe.
When the people come to Jesus on the shore of the lake, they are looking for food, yes, but I think that they too are looking for a filling of this spiritual hunger, of an assurance that their God is still with them.
I think they are hungering for a ruler who does not exploit them like the Romans, but embraces and loves them like only God can.
This is the same crowd who just the day before was fed by five loaves of bread and two fish by a miraculous sign that sparked their imagination.
It filled their bellies with food and their mind with wonder.
And while their bellies are hungry again, I think they have a deeper hunger.
A deeper wondering if this man really is different.
If this man who performed such an amazing sign really is the one who will change things, who will make their lives better, who will triumph over the Empire, who will make God’s love known to each of them.
So they went to find this Jesus again, eager to see if this all is for real, if he is the one, if he can provide their daily bread in the way no one else can.
Now for many of us, we don’t have to deal with a real hunger.
Sure we get hungry before our meals, or hangry on road trips, but many of us have not had to truly wonder where that next meal was coming from or if it would arrive.
We have been sure that we would have enough to eat.
But more than the physical hunger, I think many of us today are still plagued by this spiritual hunger.
The hunger that has us looking for something more than we can buy, something more than the world can offer on its own.
It’s the hunger of knowing that the would is not how it should be, but it remains broken and distorted – still ruled by leaders who care so much for their own well-being and enrichment that they ignore the cries of the hungry and downtrodden; leaders who oppress the immigrants in the wilderness and the workers trying to earn their daily bread.
It’s the hunger of knowing that billions of people on this planet will go to bed hungry, even in this community, despite an abundance of food that they do not have access to.
It’s the hunger that grieves when a loved one is taken too soon, or a diagnoses is poor, or when a relationship breaks down.
It’s the hunger for reassurance in a time when our future is uncertain, when congregations are closing, mission starts are failing, and we’re left wondering if the gospel, if the church is even relevant anymore.
It’s the hunger of wondering if we really are even welcome here in this place or around this table – how maybe our own brokenness is so great that this everlasting life may not include us because of who we are or what we’ve done.
Just like our ancestors wandering in the wilderness, just like our ancestors seeking Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, we have come here today to ask God to feed us, both our bellies and our souls.
“Give us today our daily bread,” we will pray in a few minutes, but not only the bread that perishes, but the food that endues – the bread of life.
And today, Christ tells us that this bread is different.
The bread that Jesus offers is not just the manna that rains from heaven or the loaves that are multiplied on a Galilean hillside, but an everlasting and life-giving bread that can only come from God, that like nothing else reminds us of God’s love for us.
This is the bread that gives us visions of God’s perfect reign come on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the bread that inspires us and spurs us into action to feed those who are hungry like Jesus did.
This is the bread that unites us in communion with saints and departed loved ones at a common table as we wait for the day when we will see each other again.
This is the bread that spans all time and space and is the core of our gatherings, the core of our mission, the life of our church.
Because at this table, Christ’s table where all are welcome, we are given a sign that God has entered into our lives and embraced our brokenness.
And no matter who you are, no matter what your story, no matter what brokenness or hunger you might bring with you, you always receive forgiveness, acceptance, and wholeness – you hear that this bread of life, this morsel you hold in your hands, this is the body of Christ, given for you.
Each day, God provides us with bread, with love and acceptance, with forgiveness and grace, and gives us enough for what lies ahead.
And each week when we gather here at this table, Christ offers us what he offered our ancestors, a bread that will not parish but will bring life.
Bread that will last more than a night, but that we crave to be renewed each day.
Bread that is himself – his own body that unites us into that same body – the church raised up to believe and to live and to serve.
Each week we can come to Christ’s table to find the bread that endures, Christ’s body given for each of us.
And with our ancestors of every time and space we plead, “Lord, give us this bread always!”
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