Sermons

And We Shall Be Taught By God, Rev. Dee Ledger; October 7, 2018

 

Does your stomach growl?

Likely you’ve had the experience of being in a meeting or somewhere important, and your stomach starts to rattle and make its presence known.  A couple of crackers should do the trick, you think, except you’ve forgotten to pack a snack and there are no crackers to be found.  The uncomfortable sensation arises and now besides being hungry, you are a tad embarrassed too.

Hunger is such a powerful feeling, is it not?

Does your stomach growl?

We hunger as human beings for so many things that can frequently seems out of reach or out of our ken.  We hunger for joy, for meaning, for stability, justice, or for someone to finally understand us or put us back together after a devastating loss.  We hunger in hindsight for a chance to “do-over” or to make different choices.  We hunger to see ourselves differently thru the lens of time and maturation.  We hunger for someone to finally care about what happens to us.  Mother Teresa once said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty, than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Even when we feel wanted or needed, we can still deeply hunger for something more, for something altogether different to satisfy us and finally satiate that persistent, unsettling yearning that we struggle to name but that bubbles to the surface unbidden at the most inopportune and inconvenient times, not to mention in the middle of the night.

Can you hear your stomach growl?  Or put another way, can you distinguish between a hunger for God and a hunger for the things of this world?

Jesus in the gospel of John says, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  In some powerful way, John believes that this Jesus will be as food for the hungry soul.  It is not so much that the disciples will never hear their stomachs or their hearts growl again – it is more that this Jesus will help them to recognize their needs and to understand those hungers which keep them bound to unsatisfying, meaningless tasks or hurtful desires and things.

And yet this person, this “Jesus-bread” may not appeal to everyone’s appetite.  John’s Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me . . . He continues… “It is written by the prophets, ‘And they shall be taught by God.’”  They, [and we] shall be taught by God.  And like any good teacher, God’s instruction and response is tailored to the needs of the student before her.  God’s way is not one size fits all.  God varies her approach.  Yet regardless of the approach she uses, God’s food will sustain the hungry soul that comes to her . . .

John’s Jesus refers us back to the prophet Isaiah . . .

“Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!

. . .Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.”    Isaiah 55:1-3

So no one can come to value and listen to Jesus unless God has first drawn that person to God in this particular way.  God draws people in various ways and one question we might ask of our hunger is whether this internal hunger is trying to show us some truth or need about ourselves or our relationships that we may have neglected.  Our many and various hungers can teach us many things: what has become a priority to address for our own well-being, and whether or not we have be unsuccessfully spiritually trying to fill up on empty calories and cheap substitutes.  Asking this question, we learn whether we are letting God reach into those difficult places or yearning and need.

On this Worldwide Communion Sunday, we come together to celebrate at table our shared fellowship in Christ and this spiritual bread that we share as a people of God.  But we also celebrate our basic and common humanity – that we are a people who are not indifferent to the hungers that beset all God’s people.  Amen?  We have a real and present need for embodied love in this world, for justice that honor’s God’s ways, for meaning that is transcendent and lasting, for community, for hope that does not disappoint, and life that is eternal.  We come to this table, symbolic of so many other tables at which we share a meal that does not originate with us or even with the baker or the grain from the ground.  We come together recognizing the shared physical hunger that we have mindful of others for whom food is altogether scare or used as a political tool to control or oppress.

As we come to the table today, I share an African story told by Dorothy Winbush Riley.  I share this story to remind us that God still has many things to teach us.  Please consider its meaning for you, in the context of the larger community, in the context of the Church, in the context of all the “tables” where people still yearn to sit and eat and to receive:

“There was once a remote village called Shango Oba.  The people there had a tradition of celebration and feasting.  Whenever there was a feast, the entire village would gather, sitting cross-legged on the ground.  The elders would carefully divide the food so that everyone had enough.

One young man from the village, Jacob, received an invitation to study at an American University.  He was away for a long time and steeped in western culture.  Finally, he returned home from his studies and the village had a feast to welcome him.

But Jacob was troubled by what he saw – ‘My friends,’ he said, ‘I mean no disrespect, but why do you eat on the ground?’

‘How would you expect us to eat: standing up or sitting in a tree?’ asked one of the elders.

‘No,’ Jacob said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.  Civilized people sit at a table.’

The elders paused to consider this.  If this is what the wise people of America did, there must be something to it.  So the elders decided to bring a table to the village.

The table was just large enough to seat 8 people.  At every festival after the villagers argued about who should sit there.  Some said it should be the young men for they had carried the table.  Some said it should be the women because they had prepared the food.  The elders thought, ‘Such a sense of entitlement, it should be us because age has its privileges.’

Something had happened to the village.

Jacob’s father called him aside: ‘Look, what you have done,’ he pointed out.  ‘In the name of civilization, there is no purpose, unity; or community.’

Later that night, by the light of the moon, Jacob took an axe and chopped the table into many pieces.  He picked up the pieces and laid one piece at every door in the village.  In the morning, he explained to the elders. ‘I want to see peace, unity and harmony return to Shango Oba.’

That very day, the elders decreed to have another feast.

They celebrated the end of the table.” [1]

 

I am reminded of another verse from John (John 4:21-23).

Do you remember?

Jesus takes a woman aside and says: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . the hour is coming, and is now here, when worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth.”

May we who eat here, emphasize and celebrate that which brings us together and our shared humanity before God who feeds all our hungers, who varies the approach, and who ultimately sustains us.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Story adapted from Dorothy Winbush Riley’s Story, “Shango Oba,” in the Complete Kwanzaa: Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest (New York: Harper Collins, 1995) 214-16. Quoted and adapted from Homelecticsonline.com “Table”