Tired, Hungry, and Needy

breadA sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 19, 2018.  The scripture readings are Proverbs 9:1-6Psalm 34:9-14Ephesians 5:15-20, and John 6:51-58.

Listen to the sermon HERE

Why is it that food just tastes better sometimes?

After a long day at the beach, you’re sunburned and tired, but no matter what you put on a grill, it tastes better. Or in other seasons (that will be here before we know it)—cleaning out or volunteering somewhere on a chilly or cold day and the soup, the lasagna, the pizza from around the corner— whatever it is, just tastes better.

The food tastes better, I think, for at least three reasons.  It tastes better because we come tired, because we come hungry, and because we come in need.

And it’s those same three conditions that draw us to another table, to another meal, to a meal in which the superlative has less to do with taste than it does with substance.  At this meal, we receive life.  We gain the life of Christ, now and eternally.

Sometimes we come to Holy Communion tired, tired from what the great prayer calls those things “we have done, and those things we have left undone.”  Sometimes, we approach the altar with a feeling of having had a good day, or a good week.  We’ve done our best.  We’ve thought of other people. We’ve shared.  We’ve offered help.

And so we approach the altar tired, needing a little renewal, a little push to keep on.  But other times, we’ve maybe fallen down a lot during the week.  Things have not gone well—we have mis-spoken and we have mis-stepped.  Maybe we’ve even stepped on others.  And so, again, we’re tired, we’re beaten down, and so we almost limp through the liturgy and reach for the table.  We come tired.

I’m tired, this week, of more horrible news of abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, and the continued reliance upon a system that encourages power, greed, and silence. At such times, it’s tempting to champion the Episcopal Church—catholic in worship and theology, but reformed with lay leadership, transparency, shared power, and publicly aired dirty laundry. And yet, we all suffer. Victims look for healing.  And those who are already skeptical of history faith point to the latest news of why they should simply spend a Sunday morning with yoga, the park, and brunch with friends.  [Those interested in Holy Trinity’s Policies and other resources can look here.]

I get tired—we all do—of trying to say to a cynical, over-informed but under-read world, “But our church is different.”  And so, I bring my weariness to the table.

We come hungry for various reasons.  Often we “travail and are heavy-laden,” and we look for refreshment.  We’ve eaten too much of the junk food of the world, and so we look for nourishment, for things are taste like what they are, rather than what chemicals or preservatives have made us imagine.  Some starve for friendship, for healing, for work, for purpose.

Writing about food has grown over the last last twenty or thirty years, and with it the word, “umami” has come into our vocabulary from Japanese to describe a kind of “fifth taste,” beyond sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  It’s a pleasant, savory kind of taste.  It’s brothy, and meaty, and mouth-watering. As the Umami Information Center says, it is “subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious.

I think the Bread of Heaven has a kind of spiritual “umami,” to it.  It fulfills a kind of hunger, offers its own taste, and while it satisfies, it also encourages us to want more, to ask for me, to live for more.

This brings us to the third condition we bring that makes food so good.  If we’re honest, we bring some kind of need to the table.

I say, “if we’re honest,” we acknowledge our neediness.  Sometimes we come already full—full of ourselves, full of resentments (against God or other people), full of thinking, or full of emotion.  Sometimes we can come to the altar full of expectations, expectations for which there is not god big enough to meet.

But Christ feeds us most when we approach his table empty-handed, in the humility of saying simply, “I need.”  How we fill in the blank almost doesn’t matter as much as our saying—our praying—our need.  While our culture frowns on neediness of any kind, here at church, in worship, at this Holy Table, we have a place to bring our need—all of it, whether petty or seemingly insignificant, or overwhelming and larger than life itself.

The Gospel today tells us about a meal, and the first two readings work almost as invitations to the meal.  They speak of wisdom, but it’s a homey, kitchen-table kind of wisdom.  In Proverbs, Lady Wisdom has dinner ready.  “Turn in here,” she says, “ lay aside all the baggage you’ve got.  Leave all that outside, and come in, sit down, eat and enjoy.”

The Reading from Ephesians continues with the added advice of how to arrive at the feast, what to bring, and how to act.  Don’t be foolish. Don’t drink too much.  “Make the most of the time.”  In other words, leave regrets and expectations behind.  Don’t try to run away from the moment, but live—live fully, live woken up, live NOW, here.

One of favorite newer hymns in our hymnal is one that sings of this message of Ephesians:

Now the silence, now the peace,
Now the empty hands uplifted;
Now the kneeling, now the plea,
Now the Father’s arms in welcome;
Now the hearing, now the power,
Now the vessel brimmed for pouring;
Now the body, now the blood,
Now the joyful celebration;
Now the wedding, now the songs,
Now the heart forgiven, leaping;
Now the Spirit’s visitation,
Now the Son’s epiphany;
Now the Father’s blessing,

Jesus says, “I am the living bread.”  The people of his day worried and wondered what it meant to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  The apostle Paul writes that some misunderstood this to the point that there were rumors about the Christians being cannibals.  The Church ever since has tried to place Holy Communion on the spectrum between completely symbolic or completely literal.

St. Augustine put it well when he wrote, “That which you see is bread and the cup, which even your eyes declare to you; but as to that in which your faith demands instruction, the bread is the body of Christ, the cup is the blood of Christ … these things are called sacraments for this reason, that in them one thing is seen, another thing is understood.”  At its most faithful, I think, the Church has lived somewhere in-between, in the middle, in place of faith, a place of “spiritual umami,” the place in which the Real Presence of Christ is Now—not yesterday, not this afternoon, but NOW.

I’ve invited you to think about times when food tasted especially good—after a long day of work or an exhausting project.  But just imagine, for a moment, the feast that awaits us after a life well-lived.  Imagine the table, the tastes, the company, the eternal goodness of it all when we meet God face to face with totality of tiredness, a life of hungering for the good, and a need only for God, who greets with a smile, saying, “Life forever begins now.  Bon appetit.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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