A Deep Hunger, by Rev. Phil Blackwell

A Deep Hunger, by Rev. Phil Blackwell September 10, 2006

generosity, stillness, love – this is what feeds us, what satisfies us,
what fills and fulfills us.  This is the bread of life lived by Jesus
the Christ, the one who still lives in us today. 

Sermon delivered August 6, 2006. 

John 6:24-35


Joseph Sittler was the sage of theological
reflection down in Hyde Park.  A man of deep faith, a good Lutheran, he
was not given to the happy patter that passes for religious talk these
days.  One day he was shopping in a local market, and the young woman
behind the check-out counter chirped, “Have a good day!”  Sittler was
overheard to reply, “Thanks, but I’ve got other plans.”  He took on
life directly with a brooding honesty and a tough hope.


day he had begun teaching his class with the ministry students down at
the University of Chicago when a student rushed into the room late,
sputtering oaths of revilement and revenge against the Divinity
School.  “How dare this institution pretend to reflect upon the holy
when it is dripping with injustice?” he cried.


graciously ignored the insult of the interruption and asked the student
why he was so resentful.  “The dean’s secretary let a PhD. student in
to see the dean before me, though I was there first.”  Ah, the academic
wounds experienced by a lowly master’s student.  Sittler let the
silence extend until it became awkward, and then he said simply,
turning the old aphorism on its head, “I think you are chewing on more
than you have bitten off.”  Chewing on more than you have bitten off.


do a lot of chewing in life.  Anxiously, frantically, manically we chew
away on things that ultimately never fill us, never satisfy our deepest
hunger.   Jesus says the same to the crowd by the sea.  Just the day
before he had fed 5000 people, so they say, with a modest donation of
food, and yet everyone received what she or he needed.  Now they are
back for more.  And Jesus ridicules them, “You are looking for me not
because you saw God’s power in my actions but because you had your fill
of bread.  Do not yearn for the food that perishes but for the food
that endures for eternal life.”  Chew on something that matters,
something that will satisfy the deep hunger we feel.


be honest, some of us literally try to eat our way to fulfillment. 
That is what we are taught, that food will satisfy our cravings, both
physical and emotional.  Some of us get freezer burn because we go to
the refrigerator so often during the day looking for something,
anything, that will fill the emptiness. 


is about time for the Walworth County Fair up in Wisconsin.  Sally and
I have gone to it several times.  It is a great festival, but all the
food!  Chocolate éclairs are the “delicacy” of the fair, and you can
see people eating a half a dozen in a sitting.  Now, I grew up in
Wisconsin so I think I can say this: in Wisconsin “fine dining” is a
quantitative term.  “Gourmet” is a shortened version of
“all-you-can-eat.”  Often we chew and chew on food, hoping to fill the
void in our lives, but it does not satisfy our deepest hunger.


other times we try to find fulfillment in things, possessions,
luxuries.  Martin Marty, in his column of July 25th in Christian Century cites a special advertising section on luxury automobiles in a recent New York Times
The ad trumpets the joy of indulging oneself in luxuries that make you
alive, liberated, brave, creative.  “A $30 Oregon Scientific ‘atomic
clock’ might tell time more accurately than a $30,000 Rolex,” the
author admits, “but no one would ever choose one over the other.  The
kind of person who pays top price for the ultimate product is not
driven by a desire for practicality.  They’re driven neither by hubris
nor by some unfathomable psychosis.”  To which Marty adds, “Nor by a
fathomable sense of humble stewardship and healthy-minded generosity.” 
What desperation there is in the life of someone who would pay $30,000
for a watch that doesn’t tell time any better than a sundial in


Here is an ad from The New Yorker announcing
a new condo/hotel in Chicago, Elysian Chicago on the Gold Coast. 
“Ultra-luxury at your fingertips, the elegant spa and health club, fine
dining and exquisite personal service.  Private residences from $2
million.”  And then they quote Henry David Thoreau!  Thoreau, the man
who built a shack on Walden Pond and lived there in absolute
simplicity.  “Live the life you imagined,” he said, but he never
imagined Elysian Chicago.  “A person is rich in proportion to the
number of things he can afford to let alone,” he wrote.  Just look at
the inflation that “simplicity” has suffered over the decades, from a
shack on a pond to a condo on the lake!  Extravagances do not satisfy
our deepest hunger.


others try to fill the emptiness with noise.  There is nothing more
threatening to us when we are feeling empty than silence.  We just
might hear something more than our stomachs growling.  It could be God
talking.  So, into our ears go the ipod, up goes the volume on the
television, so takes over our free time the visual “noise” of the
internet.  We take out our cell phones and talk . . . to anybody about
anything.  Doesn’t anybody on the Blue Line have an interesting enough

life worth overhearing? We fill our days with sound to drown out the
silent cries of our desperation.


revenge.  That is the headline of the day, every day.  People trying to
satiate their deepest hunger for meaning in life by striking out
against others.  So, Hezbollah captures two Israeli soldiers and holds
them as bait for prisoner exchange.  Israel attacks southern Lebanon
with bombs from its aircraft.  Hezbollah launches imprecise rockets
over the border into Israel.  They kill civilians, including Arabs in
Nazareth unable to hide in time because there are no air raid sirens in
the Arab section of town.  Israel drops more bombs, collapsing
buildings where civilians hide, especially those who have no way to
escape north.  Children die.  Hezbollah sends rockets farther into
Israel.  Israel sends ground troops over the border into Lebanon. 
Fulfilling?  Satisfying?  Is this the bread of eternal life?  Sometimes
our deepest hunger for meaning drives us to do dreadful things.  And it
always fails.


extravagance, distraction, revenge . . . it all was familiar to Jesus
in his own day.  None of this is new.  And none of it satisfies, along
with the hundred other ways we chew and chew on bites of little worth. 
Jesus answers the questions of those hungry for truth with this: “I am
the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and
whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Jesus, the bread of
life, the one who satisfies our deep hunger.  How?  In him we see what
is really important, what is ultimately important, in our lives.  


Greenfield, a good friend and colleague on the board of Protestants for
the Common Good, writes this insightful notion about our gospel
passage: “Jesus is the one who represents – re-presents – what God is
doing always to give life to the world.  God is giving up God’s own
life for the sake of the world, which is what Jesus is doing in his
historical re-presentation of God in the world.  So to believe him and
to believe in him and to follow him is to become like him and like the
God he re-presents in one’s own self-giving for the life of others. 
One participates in the life of Jesus and in the life of God by
becoming, oneself, bread for the world.” (PCG newsletter, 8/4/06)


is good stuff, and it is what Paul means, I think, when he encourages
the Ephesians to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into
Christ.”(4:15)  To grow up into Christ, to “go on to perfection,”
Wesleyans would say, is to live life as Christ has shown us is most
fulfilling.  Simplicity, real simplicity.  Jesus did not even have a
shack on a pond, much less than a condo on the lake, but he was rich. 
We are rich, right now, even if we are living on the streets, even if
the plaza where we spend our nights is Daley Plaza.  Who are those who
are most blessed, the happiest of all people?  Those who hunger and
thirst after righteousness, Jesus tells us right off at the beginning
of his ministry.


It is a
life without luxury except with luxurious sharing.  Jesus demonstrates
in feeding the 5000 that we receive when we give.  Stewardship is not a
fund drive in the autumn in order to underwrite the church budget for
next year; stewardship is a way of life, of daily valuing what we have
and what we share.


It is a
life of stillness, of focus.  Yes, Jesus was pushed and pulled by the
crowds and the clamor of the day, but he was able to respond
meaningfully because he was centered.  He was centered on God and God’s
calling, not himself.  The Church today is pushed and pulled, but here
we are, listening for the still small voice.


is a life of love, not rancor, of reconciliation not revenge, of
creation not destruction.  Listen again to Paul’s opening words of
Chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians.  Here is how we live out our
lives as Christians.  “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling
to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with
patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to
maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”


generosity, stillness, love – this is what feeds us, what satisfies us,
what fills and fulfills us.  This is the bread of life lived by Jesus
the Christ, the one who still lives in us today.  Some of us remember
the traditional words of offering the bread and cup at Holy Communion:
“Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on
him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.”  Jesus Christ, the bread
of life.  The invitation always is here to take Christ within
ourselves.  It is an invitation to satisfaction, to the satisfaction of
our deepest hunger.  Let’s chew on that for a while. 




Rev. Phil Blackwell is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Chicago.  His appearance on this website is in no way mean to imply an association with the Democratic Party.

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