A sermon for Sunday, August 1st 2021, at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid. In the news, billionaires race to the edge of space; at the Olympics, Simone Biles chooses health and teamwork over personal triumph; the moratorium on evictions extended through earlier seasons of the pandemic is allowed to expire. In the Gospel, the people fed by the thousands want more from Jesus.
Some people are never satisfied.
Jesus had fed five thousand people with a few fish and some bread, and now they wanted more. “What will you do for us?” they asked. “Moses gave us manna in the wilderness and it came morning after morning. Where is our bread and fish for today?” (John 6:31)
They had witnessed, they had consumed what Jesus could provide, and now they wanted him to dance to their tune. They wanted to own him.
In the wilderness, the people grumbled about Moses, and whether he was doing enough for them now that they were free, now that he had saved them from Pharaoh’s army and from the Red Sea. “Where is today’s bread?” they demanded. And God provided (Exodus 16:2-15).
God rained down quail in the evening and manna in the morning, and the people ate – but were they satisfied?
Jesus told the people, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. … For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. … I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” (John 6:27-35)
When he called the fishermen, James and John, Andrew and Simon Peter, he told them that from now on they would be catching people instead of fish. Their appetite for satisfaction would no longer be bound by the sea but would be caught up in the imagination of God, the revelation of God’s grace to God’s people (Matthew 4:18-22).
From the hillside, he told them, “Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst after righteousness, for you will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
Some people are never satisfied. But that’s the kind of hunger that comes not from want but from envy.
Envy sees a young woman full of grace and power, and demands that she perform for them, as though she owes them her vitality, which is the life of God within us all.
Envy can twist our appetites and our priorities in awful ways.
Envy sees the heavens and instead of being humbled seeks to conquer, to dominate, to crown themselves among the stars.
While down below, hundreds of thousands and more suffer the consequences of climate change, pandemic disease, and the kind of envious and unmitigated capitalism that seeks to profit from everything, at any expense, from peoples’ homes to their health, life-giving water to the air that we breathe.
I wonder how many evictions one trip into the atmosphere could offset.
Yes, there is real hunger here, in this life, in this world; some of you perhaps have known it. Jesus has instructed his disciples already by their resources and their resourcefulness and with their faith, by all means to feed the hungry. And then there are those who are full, but who are never satisfied.
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” Jesus advised them, as they tore into the baskets of bread and fish left over from the night before. (John 6:27; imaginatively, John 6:13)
“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
In her 1939 retelling of Exodus, Moses, Man of the Mountain, Zora Neale Hurston had Moses tell the people,
“This freedom is a funny thing,” … “It ain’t something permanent like rocks and hills. It’s like manna; you just got to keep on gathering it fresh every day. If you don’t, one day you’re going to find you ain’t got none no more.”Hurston, Zora Neale. Moses, Man of the Mountain (p. 252). Amistad. Kindle Edition.
Like manna, God provides for us the food of eternal life: the kind of love and justice, selflessness and peace; the healing mercies that Jesus shed like manna wherever he trod – but we have to gather it fresh every day, and to share it, if we are to sustain it and be sustained by it.
We have to wake up with our faces set to follow Jesus – not for breadcrumbs but for full satisfaction, thy kingdom come; not to own him, nor to bend him to our will, but for thy will be done.
Not for the love of our own bellies, but for the love of God, and of our neighbours.
“No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them,” wrote Paul; “if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” (Romans 12:20)
Only then will everyone be fed. And if the envious are still not satisfied, maybe they just need some more Jesus. “I am the bread of life,” he said. (John 6:35)
And they said, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:34)