St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for 7th Sunday after Trinity, July 18, 2021
“The multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat.”
REDUCED TO THE BASICS, a human being can be described as an intelligent tube. Tubes carry things in and tubes carry things out. Tubes carry things around and back again. And yes, some parts act a bit like wires, but more like chains of spark plugs. If we were machines, we’d be more hydraulic than electrical. Tubes from top to bottom.
The main tube is for digestion and it starts at our mouths. The food comes in and fuels the body. We’re eating several times a day. Eating becomes an event, a meeting, a celebration, a pleasure. We make rituals of eating and some people create lifestyles around the intake of fuel. Down the tube it goes. We have three main times for eating; in some cultures, four. But add snack times and it can be five, seven, twelve times daily chewing with ecstasy. Most Americans eat more than they need. They don’t eat for hunger, but because they like it. We schedule meals for convenience. An American Indian noted that white man is the only one who looks at a clock to see if he’s hungry.
No doubt we need to eat. Go a month or so without food and you’ll die. Most of us go six hours and get weepy. These tubes are so overdriven from the supply side, we know very little about hunger or what hunger is for…
Jesus went 40 days without food. That is physically possible, though it’s an extreme fast that may lead to medical trauma. Why did He do it? The Holy Spirit led Him out into the wilderness and gave Him the assignment. It tested His will, His strength, His spirit and pitted Him against the tempter at the very moment He was the most weak. The temptation was food. “Turn these stones to bread.” One reason for Jesus’ fast, He expressed, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Matt 4:4
Humans don’t always do well with hunger. We’re grumpy at the first sign our tube is empty when signals shoot through our body telling us, “Hungry! Feed me!” Higher thought evaporates. Prayers end abruptly. Conversation lags. Books are dropped. “When’s dinner?” we cry out. Conditioning makes our tubes unhappy any time they’re not bulging with food, like pythons digesting a goat swallowed whole. For us, it’s Chicken McNuggets or the Texas Double Whopper that packs 1900 calories, not counting fries.
So, when the children of Israel, who had been under cruel slavery 400 years, were suddenly free in the wilderness, the first thing they realized was that no one was there to feed them. Food was scarce. The fantastic miracles God performed to get them free were forgotten in that moment, and they raged at Moses. Their tubes were on empty. “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Ex 16:3 God responded with manna and quails, each and every day, for 40 years.
God knows our needs. Our bodies are created to be nourished by things this planet produces in abundance. We are even keyed to seasons, eating fruits in summer, taking grains in the fall, potatoes when they are dug up, and so on. We fight nature to have South American goods flown up so we can eat raspberries all year.
God knows what keeps us going, healthy and strong. But if our basic needs are always met to the full, we may just settle for food, shelter, entertainment, and a little social comfort—to the exclusion of seeking God at all. Drought and famine can come in order to return these intelligent tubes to their Maker with prayers to provide for us again. It’s actually good for our souls that our bodies feel hungry.
Jesus taught a surprising sort of theology. The rabbis and scribes of the Jews derived their moral teachings from the Torah, mostly prohibitions, many regarding personal hygiene. The righteous shall be rewarded with a land filled with milk and honey. Sinners are punished with want. But Jesus taught about God in a different way.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 5:3-10 The Beatitudes, as they are called, follow a pattern. The first three have to do with self-emptying. Poor in spirit: we realize that, as we are, we have nothing to offer God. We mourn over our sins and this fallen world, so far from God’s truth and design. We meekly submit to the will of God. This series of humble acts turns our hearts away from the world, the flesh and the devil—those things we have fed on all our lives. These tubes gradually get empty of the binging and self-gratification we have taken to ourselves. Finally empty, we find ourselves hungry and thirsty.
Now, at each of these stages, Jesus says we are blessed. He makes a promise to every seeker. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. You shall be comforted. You shall inherit the earth. The promise is given so that you might retain hope while distancing yourself from everything you’ve ever filled yourself with, no longer sated with the rich, gooey things this world dishes out. Then you are hungry, not for onion rings, but for God. “I can no longer stomach what this world dishes out. I want the real food, the hidden manna, the bread of heaven, to hungrily take in the word of God, His divine will, and digest that.” To those hungry in that way, Jesus simply says, “they shall be filled.”
After this low point in the spiritual fast, fed with true food, positive character traits, spiritual fruits, come with the remaining Beatitudes. Mercy. Pure hearts. Peacemaking. God pours Himself through us, and comes through us for others. The last step is another surprise. Persecution. This is not a perfect world. The tubes that have gone on the new diet, displaying grace in their new life, will discover: the outer world, still feeding on its empty banquet, can’t appreciate our decision. We overturn their system. We make them feel guilty. We should. Guilt is God’s gift that informs us we’ve swallowed poison.
Food is not evil, but feeding on bad food, entertainment, media, and sensuality—the world’s toxic fiesta—can and will eventually kill. It’s like a herd of elk in Eastern Oregon that discovered how tasty winter wheat is, so they stopped eating everything else. These elk had no way to digest the wheat that filled their stomachs so, filled with wheat, they starved to death. We bite and chew and swallow endlessly, looking for the sense of satisfaction we know we ought to feel. But the things we ingest—TV, magazines, YouTube, video games—can be so empty of real content that, stuffed to the gills, we literally starve to death.
God knows our needs. He should: He made us. He understands that part of our existence requires taking in nutrition. Jesus was born in a town called Bethlehem, meaning House of Bread, and He said of Himself, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” John 6:35 He was called the Lamb of God, and He became our Passover meal. The Tree of Life, denied to us since mankind’s fall, is restored in our new heavenly home and bears fruit for us in every season. To that home, a great part of humanity has gone; “out of great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger nor thirst anymore… And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Rev 7:14-17
We have yielded our bodies to lower things and served sin. Confession recognizes our poverty toward God. We realize how empty and ashamed we’ve felt, and mourn the lost time we might have given to a better cause. No longer willing to serve sin, we turn it over to God as meek servants of righteousness. Hungry and thirsty, we now know that He has the better food.
Jesus saw a crowd of 4,000 people. Some of them were ready, others only felt their tubes get empty. His quiet miracle was noticed by those close at hand, but many people simply ate and left happy. St. Mark noticed and recorded two such multiplication miracles, and what Jesus told the Apostles so they might understand.
We need to eat, but the food we’ve fed on in this world fills only the tube and can’t nourish our souls. It can rob us rather than give us anything. Weakened through stuffing our faces with fast food and junk culture, we have nothing to give. It takes a serious decision, a break with all that we’ve known. It isn’t about how many loaves or baskets of leftovers. It’s not about earthly bread. The bread of heaven is given to us, He whose Body is our spiritual food and whose Blood is our spiritual drink. We don’t live on food alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Are you hungry? Thirsty? I’m not talking about coffee hour. I speak of cleansing our tube of the sticky, rotting undigested sludge of society, media, trash food and culture, and instead to feed upon goodness and eternal wisdom. With full stomachs we can still starve, until we let ourselves become truly hungry and feast on the bread of life.