Everybody in the World is Hungry
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom God has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘God gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Once upon a time, an old story goes, a traveler was journeying alone and got lost in the deep dark woods. He wandered for days, looking for something to eat…anything…and he was looking for some sign of help…anywhere. He grew more and more hungry and weary, until at long last, he spotted something…way off in the distance he saw a clearing…and a little house or shop…a sign that he had found someone or something. Aaaah!!! His heart leapt in his chest – perhaps he wasn’t alone after all! He made his way toward it…and as he got closer, he could hardly believe his good fortune. There was a sign out front that said, “Fresh Bread.” Fresh bread!! It was a bakery! What could be better than that for a starving man? A bakery and bread! Thank you, God!
He made his way up to the door and when he got inside, asked the person he met there if he could please have some of that bread. “Oh no,” he was told, “we don’t actually have any bread here…we make signs. We make signs for places that have bread.”
The traveler’s heart sank, his stomach growled…and one felt as empty as the other as he turned away. The sign that he’d seen…it was just a sign. There was no nourishment there…just the advertising for it.
Metaphorically speaking, churches are supposed to be bakeries, not sign shops. Churches are supposed to be places that have bread…or to put it another way, places that are bread. Churches are not supposed to be the equivalent of nice signs about bread…or nice words about bread…or nice traditions about bread. Churches are supposed to be communities where the real thing can be found and is offered up and share…and in the sharing, the bread is multiplied…creating more communities of compassion, learning and love…of justice, mercy and hope…that have something real to pass around, not only for the hungers of those who are already inside the church, but something for the hungers of the world outside too. As Mother Teresa said so aptly, “Everybody in the world is hungry…and not just for bread. The real hunger of the human heart is for the things of the spirit.”
When Jesus said something about bread to his first disciples, they wanted to understand and they said, “What do you mean? What is this bread you are talking about?”
And Jesus said back to them, “I’m the bread. My life is the bread. The God-spirit in me is the bread, and it’s the same spirit that feeds you, it’s the same thing you live on, and it all comes from the same source…it all comes from God. There is nothing else that matters more, there’s no other bread that will ultimately satisfy the hungers of your heart, except this bread of love, grace, forgiveness, peace that my life is all about. You can have this life too…God is offering it to you, too…in fact, I’m passing it on to you…and I’m asking you to pass it to others…and if you do that, you have everything.”
I know that the Gospel of John is just one gospel…and it is the latest gospel…so, I don’t know if this exact conversation happened exactly this way, but I do think this is how the church started. It started in one little place…with one little group…and eventually the message…the spirit…the commitment to love and justice spread around the world. And now here we are…all these centuries later…participating in the ancient and sacred practice of sharing bread among us as a way of naming and sharing the spirit among us, the spirit that was in Jesus…God’s own spirit that wants only to love and heal the world…to bring reconciliation wherever there is misunderstanding, persecution or oppression…including with us, here and now.
And the basic question hasn’t changed…the basic question for the followers of Jesus…no matter the setting, the language, the music or the customs…it’s still the same question: What is this bread? Or, to put it another way, what is it that we, the church, have to offer to the world? Does the good news of God, shown through the life of Jesus, have anything to offer? Is there any real bread in it?
Some churches are wonderful bakeries, serving up what human begins are hungry for: love, learning, connection, challenge, acceptance, healing, growing, seeking, asking, discovering, serving, trusting, naming, acknowledging, forgiving…all given for the fulfillment of God’s dream of reconciliation and right relationship.
But, sadly, some churches can be like that little shop in the woods. They have signs…plenty of signs…but there is no actual bread. There are some Christian churches that have the right words, the right advertisements, but nothing truly nourishing inside. It’s hard to know why. It’s possible that they have lost their grasp on the real thing…once it begins to slip away…for any number of reasons…the focus shifts to the shop itself…too much anxiety on how the shop will be maintained…giving more concern to the sign than what it points to. Hungry travelers may stop by, but they may not find that for which they are hungering.
Jesus says…Jesus promises, actually…that if we ever find ourselves becoming like that…losing our way…losing our focus…Jesus says it doesn’t have to be like that. You don’t ever have to be without bread…real bread…because the bread you want is right here…present and with you…ready for the taking. It is God who supplies it and you can have as much of it as you want…but you have to want it, instead of something else. But, if you do want it….if you want the Bread of Life, it will always be there for you.
I believe Mother Teresa was right. Everybody in the world is hungry…and not just for what the body needs, but, now more than ever, for what our spirits need. And so we break the bread, still believing that the gospel…the good news of Jesus the Christ…has something life-giving to give to the world…something deeply nourishing to offer. And we, the current generation of disciples, are the way it gets offered…the way it gets shared and passed around.
In a few minutes, we will be invited to the table…and each of us will be offered the bread of life as the server says out loud, “This is the bread of life.” It is in this way that we remember that our vocation as the church, as with the church in every place, is to be a bakery…that here, among us…with us…any and all travelers should find the real thing…the bread of life…that everybody everywhere is hungering for. May we receive…and in turn offer…the bread of life. May it be so for you and for me. Amen.