by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
March 24, 2019
Isaiah 55:1-9, Luke 13:1-9
It would be easy to go straight to the traditional interpretation of these hunger-and-thirst-themed passages in the Bible, directly to that righteous-sounding conclusion that we need faith more than anything else, that the bread of life which is the wisdom of God is what we need to fill our empty souls.
She eats too much… She exercises too much… He drinks too much… He works too much… She thinks sex will fill her up… She’s a social climber… He thinks money will satisfy him… He thinks porn will fill him up…
I don’t mean any of you!
They all need God! is the familiar refrain in churches.
Of course, there is truth there for many of us, but it’s a judgmental, superficial way to approach these passages and that’s not what we’re about here.
As human beings, we have so many different kinds of hungers and thirsts. And many of them are going unsatisfied.
Hunger for food causes human bodies to suffer in Central America, Somalia, and North Korea. Hunger for knowledge causes young minds to whither in rural West Virginia, South Central LA, South Dakota, and Mattapan.
Hunger, for a prolonged period of time — hunger for educational and professional opportunities, causes many women and minority folks to lose their confidence. Hunger for freedom causes many unjustly imprisoned people to lose their sense of hope.
Hunger for real friendship causes the hearts of so many children with developmental disabilities to sink and suffer. I truly believe that hunger for family and community, when there is no obvious or available circle to join, causes all kinds of people to turn to white supremacist or other extremist groups who tell them that they are better than the others.
If we always go straight to, You need God! we ignore the nuances of hunger, the complexities of thirst. We ignore history and human difference.
Sara Holland tells the story of her mom saying, Don’t try to tell someone about God if they’re hungry. Make sure they have enough food first.
Unfortunately, Christian missionaries have used food and other necessities to manipulate people in may times and places. In simple terms, they said, Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and if you do, we’ll give you this food.
Not OK. But it still happens today!
I don’t know… I guess if a missionary offered me lobster mac and cheese with bacon, I might accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior…
In all seriousness, thankfully, we are finally admitting the fact that we are in the middle of a serious opioid epidemic, a plague that took my big sister, Sue, a few years ago, and thousands of others all across the country.
What was Sue hungry for? I truly wish that I knew. But there are people out there who do understand addiction very well and can help those in need, if only we would provide the resources for them to do so and the opportunity for people to get help.
At least we are starting a national conversation about addressing people’s addictions in a more-supportive and less-punitive way.
There are other hungers out there, too, hungers I’ll never understand.
Our church website is set up so that, if someone wants to contact me, they can send a message through the site and it gets forwarded to my email address. A few days ago, I received a multipage diatribe, blaming Jewish people for just about everything. I’m not sure why our church was targeted in this way, but the words this person wrote turned my stomach.
Why so hateful? I thought. What does this person really want? What is he hungry for and where does that hunger come from? Fear? Anger? Mental illness? All of those?
Those who study mass shootings say that some of the things that shooters have in common is a lack of emotional support, a lack of friendship and companionship, a lack of perceived respect, a lack of true community.
When we don’t have those things, it can feel like being in a desert for days without water. We become desperate.
It’s like losing someone we love, whether through death or a breakup or just moving. We thirst for her presence, for his touch, for the sound of her voice, for the way they laugh.
We hunger, too, to create a truly magnificent piece of art. We thirst for the ability to make our voices sound better, our coordination to be such that we might make beautiful music for ourselves and others… or to shoot a ball through a hoop.
Many are hungry for parenthood, to have a child to raise and love and guide.
And, oh, yes, we do have spiritual hungers!
We don’t really understand them; they’re less obvious; more complicated; more mysterious; but they’re there.
Earlier in the week as I was creating outline for this sermon, I wrote in this section, Try to define spiritual hunger. As if anyone could ever really do that!
Well, I guess I can make an effort…
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.
It’s true, we do try to fill ourselves with superficial things when what we really need is to be fed with spiritual food. But what does that mean?What is spiritual food?
The easy answer is that that we need spiritual experiences, like praying and singing and walking in the beautiful outdoors, listening to the birds sing, and making art.
But there are a lot of answers to that question. The parable from Luke we heard this morning, the parable of the fig tree, I think holds some answers or at least directions for our thinking.
This guy’s fig tree won’t bear fruit, so he asks the gardener to cut the thing down. The gardener urges patience. Let me put some fertilizer around it, water it, prune it, the gardener says. Maybe it will bear fruit next year. If not, then let’s cut it down.
So we’re hearing mercy. We hearing responsibility and care for that which disappoints us (or those who disappoint us), not just angry reaction.We’re hearing that, when we are cared for, we can bear good fruit.
There’s the owner, the gardener, and the tree itself. Each has hunger and thirst. And each has a role.
And so do we. And I believe that our spiritual hungers will be more deeply satisfied when we fulfill those roles.
Is God calling us to be merciful and patient as a parent or boss or leader? Is God calling us to be intermediaries or caregivers? Is God calling us to bear good fruit and supply fresh water so that others may eat and drink and be satisfied— spiritually and otherwise?
I believe that it is in fulfilling our various callings in this world —physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual — that our empty places become full. It is in the act of serving someone else a cup of cold, clear water that our dryness becomes drenched and our cups become full to overflowing.