This reflection below is actually the sermon I preached yesterday at our Harvest service… a visitor thought it might be useful to other people – I’m not so sure, as I think that the Holy Spirit does a lot of translating and fixing when I actually preach ‘live’ – but in the spirit of receiving advice from an elder – here goes:
“What do you want from God, when you come to church?
For a lot of people, what they want when they come into church is practical support – they associate churches with charity, with ‘love thy neighbour’, and like the many that Jesus fed on the mountainside, they are not wrong – absolutely not. Practical support is a key part of our Christian service to one another and the community in which we live, and it is important that we offer real practical support – food and help, wherever we can. God knows we must start by loving those around us, before we can begin to love God whom we cannot see.
So thank you all who brought an extra offering today, of food for the Foodbank and the Pathway Café for the destitute– it will be well used.
I have, thankfully, never been starving.
I have rarely even gone hungry… but I have sometimes lost my appetite for food because my heart was heavy with grief or trouble. Distracted with cares, or sick with regret or guilt.
What or who can feed the human heart, the human soul?
What do we hunger for – beyond food, beyond the basic needs of survival?
Well usually we human beings hunger for whatever the world tells us we should be hungering for: From a ‘big mac and fries’ – because ‘we’re lovin’ it’; To a fancy shampoo ‘because we’re worth it’; Or a new car ‘for the drive of our lives’; Or a boyfriend or girlfriend because we want our ‘happy ever after’.
We human beings are hungry all the time… not just for food, but for a sense of self-worth, companionship, esteem, identity, purpose, truth, hope… The list goes on. We are ravenous.
And Christ knows that bread will not satisfy us.
Every week at the Eucharist – all across the world, Christians receive a tiny morsel of bread, blessed and broken in remembrance of Christ. And it may seem, to those who are unfamiliar, a very strange and unimpressive kind of meal.
It doesn’t fill our stomachs? But does it begin to feed another hunger?
“Christ is the bread of life”… what does that mean?
“Christ is the food that will satisfy ALL our hungers.”
Do you know that as true? – or do you still wonder HOW Christ will satisfy your hunger? Both of those are good states to be in.
For some people, particularly older people of a lifelong faith, they really know in their soul that Christ is what they really need, the answer to all their cravings, and they are blissfully content.
For others of us, we are still working out just HOW Christ is our bread, how God, in Christ, fulfils our daily needs. That can be hard to understand if we are not sure what our needs are, or if our lives are crowded with the needs that the WORLD tells us we must have!
…I find that people who don’t pray much in a formal way sometimes jokingly ask me to pray for them that they’ll win the lottery that weekend, or that it’ll be sunny on their holiday. Well I always say a prayer for anyone who asks and I will happily pray that God supplies their real needs, and that their holidays are restful and restorative: But I’m not silly enough to specify to God exactly how I think that he should respond to the needs in someone’s life… We often don’t know what’s good for our OWN soul, let alone someone else’s!
But in the Bible we begin to LEARN from Jesus what is good for our soul – and it’s not having everything that the world tells us we should want. Nor is what is good for us the same for everybody… We each come to Christ from vastly different starting places – some of us need gently building up, others need a challenging spiritual workout… every one of us is different – and our paths towards God will all take slightly different routes – sometimes wildly different routes.
I’d love to talk more about that –how God calls us on paths and we are to try to stay on them, but what is a step back for one person and a cause for repentance, can be a step in the right direction for another… and a positive move from where they are right now towards our loving Heavenly Father.
But for now let’s just think about bread from heaven.
…In the Old Testament we are told that when the Israelites came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery and into the harsh environment of the desert… when they were eating manna in the wilderness, that it tasted different to different people: According to their needs, according to their hunger – so they were fed.
But how often do we take time to consider, to remember to think about what our soul’s hungers really ARE, whether they are good and godly, and sit happily in the mind of Christ- and we can ask God for them – or whether they are hurtful and a cause for repentance and we need help from God to turn away from them?
Bring all the desires of your heart before God, and ask him to help you sort through them, to sort the healthful desires from the hurtful… and when in doubt – pray as Jesus taught us – that we may be simply ‘given our daily bread’… given what our soul actually NEEDS to survive – He knows what we need .That may be a nourishing treat, or a dose of Epsom salts!
But let God order for you! – and trust that his vast love for you means that it is good and nourishing for your soul – even if it when it arrives on your plate it looks unappetising and tough. …Give us this day our daily bread –
And then we must give thanks for what we receive.
Because when we pray ‘give us our bread for today’ we are asking, not simply for a loaf, or even more generically for some food… we are asking for food for our lives – for all our hungers.
We are asking for Christ – the ‘living bread in whom all our hungers are satisfied’…
…Many people are called to God’s table, many people come, wanting to be fed… and week by week we always give thanks – that is what the word Eucharist means – ‘thanksgiving’ – we say Grace. Who wouldn’t? Christ gave us his all.
But sadly, many of us leave unsatisfied – because, with our desires daily shaped and fed on earthly offerings, we cannot stomach the bread of eternal life.
But there is no other bread than Christ. No matter how you package the gift in different worship, or trendier wrapping, in ancient chants or rock guitar riffs. There is only one true and living bread and that is Christ.
So what will you do?
Will you receive Christ like a pill or a placebo, swallow it dutifully and go away still hungry, because you do not examine your soul before God to see if it is being fed?
Or will you bring your soul’s hungers regularly before God?
Will you receive Christ once like a rare delicacy… and find He does not compare to the vast choice that the world offers. Will you decide then not to come to eat at his table again – ignoring your soul’s hungers and concentrating on the passing, changing hungers that the world shows you?
Or will you pray DAILY, that God will give you the bread you need…
Will you receive Christ – and find it so unsettling to your stomach, such a troubling change from your usual fare, that you abandon the idea of nourishing your soul – and settle instead for whatever easily digested pap the world serves up, filling with it your heart and mind?
Or are you longing to welcome Christ into your heart… but just a bit unsure of what that means or if you are allowed?
You are allowed.
Christ give himself freely – you just need to realise your hunger – hunger for the love of the God who created you – hunger for the forgiveness of the Lord who is holy and who gave up everything to redeem us sinners – hungry for the hope of the Truth, and of justice, and of mercy… and of knowing Him face to face, and seeing and understanding Him as he does us.
We are all hungry for the bread of heaven – and it is our life’s work to receive Him, right into our heart and soul, and to recognise what we have received. And be thankful.