Sunday, August 09, 2015

Starving People

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
August 9, 2015

Year B, Proper 14: The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Starving People
            If you’ve been in church during the past few Sundays you may be experiencing deja vu since  this is the third Sunday in a row that we’ve had gospel lessons that are, at least in part, about bread.
            We’ve been talking so much about bread that even the super-resourceful and creative Gail Blache-Gill is running out of hymns about bread!
            Two weeks ago we heard the story of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles – or signs, as the Evangelist John calls them – the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.
            You remember: a huge crowd of hungry people – John tells us it was about 5,000 people - gathered around Jesus and his disciples. The disciples were concerned because they had so little food to feed all these hungry people – just five barley loaves and two fish.
            But Jesus blessed the bread and the fish and it was passed around the crowd. And, there was enough. There was more than enough.
            Then last week we heard that most of the crowd was hungry again – or maybe still hungry - for what’s most important.
            They had eaten the bread but they were still hungry – hungry for what Jesus calls the “true bread from heaven” – “the bread of God (is that) which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
            These people are no dopes – they know a good thing when they hear it – they know this bread that Jesus is talking about is better than the manna their ancestors ate in the desert – they know this bread is even better than the miraculous bread they had eaten the day before - and so they say to Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
            To which Jesus replies with more than they or even Jesus’ disciples can grasp, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
            The passage we heard today is all about misunderstanding and conflict between Jesus and the group that John calls “the Jews.” Remember, though, that pretty much everybody in the New Testament was a Jew, including Jesus.
            And, today’s passage probably reflects painful conflicts between a young Christianity and Judaism that were going on near the end of the first century when the Gospel of John was completed.
            So, if you don’t mind, I don’t want to talk about that today.
            Instead, all this talk of bread has gotten me to reflect on all the hungry people who are all around us.
            There are hungry people all around us.
            People call or come by St. Paul’s all the time because they are hungry.
            People call saying they don’t have enough money to buy food for their families – not enough money to feed their children.
            People come by asking, do you have a food pantry – anything at all to eat?
            Sometimes I give them some money or I take them into the back of church and invite them to take items out of our food pantry donations. Sometimes there’s plenty, sometimes there’s not.
            But, you don’t need me to tell you there are hungry people all around us.
            I know that some of our own parishioners are hungry – people on fixed incomes that don’t quite cut it – people who’s food stamps have been cut to just a few measly dollars a month – people who have to eat a lot of pasta and canned foods to make it through the month.
            And, I know that you see the hungry people around us – people begging, people lined up every day at Let’s Celebrate over on Fairview Avenue waiting for lunch, the people who line up once a month on Storms Avenue for Garden State Episcopal’s emergency food pantry that we support with our food donations.
            One of the things I’m so glad to see at St. Paul’s is a growing interest and willingness to feed people.
            I know some of you have made bringing food pantry donations a real priority, a kind of spiritual discipline. I know some have been teaching children and grandchildren why this is important – how there are hungry people who need our help.
            Our monthly Stone Soup Community Supper is starting to come into its own, drawing a diverse group of neighbors and parishioners – probably all of whom have at last some food at home but maybe don’t get to eat such healthy and delicious home-cooked so often.
            In November we will once again host Trish’s Thanksgiving Community Supper – a healthy and delicious feast offered to absolutely anybody and everybody. I hope that many of us will support this amazing event.
            Speaking of Trish, she’s in the process of getting together a group of people who are interested in these and other possible feeding ministries. If you’re interested, please see her or me.
            There are hungry people all around us and we’re getting better and better at filling their stomachs.
            And, that’s wonderful.
            But, you know, in his bread discussion with the crowd, Jesus isn’t really talking about empty stomachs and yeasty bread – as important as that is.
            He’s talking about a deeper hunger and an even more satisfying food.
            I remember one time a woman came to my office and she said in a loud voice, “I’m starving!”
            “I’m starving!”
            She wasn’t talking about an empty cupboard or a barren refrigerator.
            She was talking about spiritual hunger.
            She was yearning for the kind of feast that you and I get to receive here every week.
            The altar guild can tell you we literally go through a lot of bread – but we go through – we receive so much spiritual bread, too.
            Every time we come here we are fed the Bread of Life.
            We are fed just by being in this beautiful place, by saying these beautiful words, by hearing these old and yet ever-new stories.
            We are fed by the music, by the extended hands and arms at the peace, by the knowledge that since we are part of this church we are never really alone, that there are always shoulders to cry on – there is always a place to lay down our burdens, even if just for a short while.
            We are fed by the knowledge of God’s love – and that, no matter what, even when, especially when, all hope seems to be lost, God will never let us go.
            And, we are fed when we reach out our hands and receive the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and souls.
            My friends, we are well-fed here – physically and spiritually.
            And so, just as we are getting better and better at filling the bellies of the hungry people around us, my prayer is that God will give us the courage and the creativity to feed the many spiritually hungry people all around us – the people who often appear to be quite well-fed but who are, in fact, starving – starving – starving – for the feast that we receive each time we walk through the church door.
            There are people all around us starving for the Bread of Life.
            With God’s help, let’s feed them.