Sermon for Proper 13 B
August 5, 2012
As the rock poet Bruce Springsteen sang:
Everybody's got a hungry heart
Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don't make no difference what
Ain't nobody like to be alone
Everybody's got a hungry heart
When we are wandering and lost
on the lonely days of life
and the confusing paths we often take
we are left wondering if our hunger will ever be satisfied.
God’s ancient people Israel were fans of Springsteen.
Who knew, right?
In the book of Exodus, the Hebrew slaves
are liberated from anything that robbed them of life,
most especially Egypt’s massive economy
and its abuse of foreign workers.
But after crossing the sea into freedom
they discovered freedom felt lonely.
Liberation was risky.
Emancipation was harder than being stuck in the past.
They knew they didn’t get out of Egypt on their own.
And they knew that Moses guy wasn’t all that great.
Some other mysterious presence was traveling with them
and watching over them
and setting them free from everything that robbed life from them.
But, when they got out on the wilderness trail
and they felt their stomachs rumble,
it got a lot harder to trust that traveling presence.
They murmured, they grumbled, they whined.
You know, anytime I go on a youth trip
like the National Youth Gathering or camp,
my number 1 rule is always: no whining.
It drives me nuts.
So imagine Moses and God having to listen
to all that whining and complaining:
It turns out God was more compassionate and patient
than Moses was, or I would be, with the people.
God heard their grumbling. God listened.
This is the first bit of good news in the story.
God listens to the people.
God hears the cries of the hungry.
God’s heart is full of compassion.
So the second bit of good news
is God responded.
A bunch of quail flew into the camp at night.
Catch them! Pluck them!
Grill them up with chipotle sauce!
Those little quail legs weren’t very big,
but they were succulent and there were plenty.
Then in the morning,
they went out and saw the morning dew on the ground.
And as it evaporated, it left a fine flaky something or other
that was like free toast for breakfast.
They didn’t really know what it was,
so they called it: English muffins.
No, they called it: What is this stuff? or in Hebrew, Manna?
Everybody’s got a hungry heart,
and these people were fed and satisfied,
even if they didn’t know what breakfast was.
But there was just one stipulation,
one limitation, one requirement from the Lord:
Only gather enough for each person for one day.
This is not the God of Costco,
where you buy enough for a 3months at a time.
This is the God of the corner market,
where you stop by every day for each day’s provisions,
and you say “hi” and get to know the store owner.
The wilderness texts of Exodus
are a central image for a life of faith:
God’s mercy, justice, love, and power set us free
to live an entirely new kind of life.
But that new life is a journey of discovery.
It’s a kind of wandering that can feel like
we are lost and lonely and hungry.
Some days of this life of faith
can leave us murmuring and grumbling
and complaining against God or at least
our leaders and our neighbors.
We’re hungry! We’re thirsty!
Doesn’t anybody care about us anymore?
Are we being led on this journey
or are we utterly lost and alone?
Yeah, we can get some food now and then
but is it random food that comes from a heartless universe
or is it a gift of compassion and creative generosity?
That was the lesson God had for the ancient people of faith
and it is ours today:
Do we receive each day’s provisions
as a random occurrence in a cold, empty world,
as a marketplace battle to get the most we can,
or is it all a gift of a compassionate, generous God?
Because if all the manna we collect along the way
to keep us going
is actually a sign, a word, a thoughtfully placed gift
then not only are we being led and watched over and directed
we are also deeply and profoundly loved.
Jesus was hanging out with a hungry crowd.
He had just fed them,
and they followed him hoping not only to get dinner,
but breakfast and lunch and a snack and dessert.
But they missed the lesson that came with the feeding:
Listen to your stomach’s hunger
and let it teach you about your soul’s hunger.
Everybody’s got a hungry heart.
And the food that satisfies our human lives
is the divine presence that fills us up
every moment, every day,
every one, every thing.
Jesus is embodying that gracious and merciful presence
in his very being, his very body,
his words and signs and life and death, and resurrection.
But people risk missing it,
and listening only to the stomach’s hunger
and not to the corresponding heart’s hunger.
And it’s not that the stomach’s hunger isn’t important.
It’s that we are never satisfied with anything,
even a full stomach and healthy body,
if we don’t have full hearts and fed souls.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is known as the incarnation of the Word,
the enfleshment of God’s own purpose and meaning,
the bodily presence of the mysterious spiritual presence.
In Jesus, the material and the spiritual come together,
and cannot be separated,
so that both hungers are satisfied,
and never one without the other, bread and love,
and we are truly filled and satiated and glad.
Like the Israelites,
we tend to be a people who complain,
complain that we aren’t happy and comfortable and stuffed
every minute of the day, every day of the week.
Our insatiable hunger is a symptom
of our fearful or prideful inability
to trust the holy presence that moves with us
through time and space.
Yet, God is more patient than Moses was or I am.
God hears our cries, and gives us exactly what we need:
Daily provisions. Enough for the journey today.
Why did God only give enough manna every day for that one day?
Why did the manna rot if anyone collected more than a day’s provisions?
Because our hunger is only satisfied
when every day our stomachs and our hearts are filled.
Everyday we must learn to trust again
that we do not wander alone,
but journey with the one who loves us
and watches over us and hears us and feeds us.
The lesson of the wilderness wandering
and of Jesus feeding the crowds
is that we learn how to receive everything in life every day and moment,
as a gift from the holy generous giver.
The good news is that every day
is a day lived in God, with God, filled with love and mercy.
Every day God is listening and responding,
providing and sustaining.
Where is your manna today?
What’s falling from the sky into your life today?
Where is your “what is this?” that surprised you?
It can be whatever you understand,
or whatever makes no sense,
whatever is profoundly miraculous,
or whatever is mundanely normal.
“What is it?” It is the bread of life,
it is God’s gift to bring sustenance, joy, and energy to you and me.
It is everything Jesus was about.
It is bread and love.
What is it? It is God’s gift to us!
We are blessed to know this and name it and give thanks for it.
Like so many Olympic athletes,
we can work hard and train and plan for years,
but when that Gold medal comes,
it’s like it dropped out of heaven
and you can’t help but be grateful to the giver of all of life.
I read a story about ranchers in the Texas panhandle
last year in the midst of the long drought.
When it suddenly rained one day,
all they could do was think: It’s like manna from heaven!
These stories aren’t so much about once in a while miracles,
but about the enchantment of our daily lives with God.
I’m not saying there aren’t miraculous things that happen.
I’m saying it is all so miraculous and all from God
that whatever it is we call a miracle
is just a matter of degree or frequency.
Through faith, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
we have a life with God that is never alone
even when we’re lonely,
never empty even when we’re hungry,
never heartless even when we’re hurting.
Eat and drink up all of life’s gifts as gifts from God,
the God who hears and provides
who is the hunger of our hearts’ desire
and the groaning of our souls’ yearning.
Through faith we can live as if
every bite and drink is a sacrament, a holy gift.
So we have this bread and wine from Christ today
to lead us toward the sacred vision of life in God
in all things and all times and all people.
Because the bread that satisfies,
the bread that is Jesus,
is relationship and connection and unity,
divine and human relationship bound together in bread and love.
Everybody’s got a hungry heart,
and our stomachs and souls are satisfied
when we share bread together as a gift from heavn,
giving thanks to God for Jesus
in the Spirit which is so near now.