Feast or Famine

Ephesians 3: 14-21       Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

John 6: 1-21      July 26, 2015

So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets!

Prayer:  O God, help us please, to trust in your continued abundance that we find in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

At the tender age of 16, I began working for McDonald’s in my hometown of Pekin, Illinois.  I worked there for 41/2 years, from 1976 to 1980.

Right in the middle of all that, in 1979, McDonald’s came out with the Happy Meal.  And you know, the Happy Meal wasn’t anything complicated.  Back then, it was a hamburger or cheeseburger, an order of fries, cookies, and of course, a toy prize, all packed in a fun circus-wagon themed box, with a soda on the side.  And, the toy wasn’t anything much to talk about either… it was some cheap little plastic trinket that was different every week.

If you were a kid and your parents got you a Happy Meal, well, that was just about the best moment that there ever was, right?  You bought happiness! And, that happiness, that contentment with life, that joy would last, maybe for about a minute and a half.  The ‘happy’ that you could buy at Mikey D’s was fleeting… except for Mikey D’s itself, which is why Ronald McDonald is always smiling, on his way to the bank, 25 billion Happy Meals later!

Here in our day and age, we get duped into thinking that contentment comes in moments like getting a figurative Happy Meal.  Since when have you ever heard a young adult coming back to his parents saying, “Gee, Dad, remember that Happy Meal you bought for me?  That’s where I found lasting contentment and lifelong joy.  I knew if I could just have that Happy Meal, I would be content for a lifetime, and I am.  Thank you.”  No one says that… (http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/illustration_search.asp?keywords=contentment&imageField2.x=0&imageField2.y=0, retrieved July 24, 2015).

… But isn’t it true that we sort of wish it was that easy?  That’s sort of the way it is with people… we want our contentment to be simple, easy to get, inexpensive to buy, convenient, and on our schedule.  We want the good things in life, our blessings, our joy to come from things that are visible, tangible, physical, and often instantaneous.

I think Jesus faced this very human quality in the crowd following him.  John tells us right up front why they were following him—because they saw the signs, the physical healing that he was doing for the sick.  When the five barley loaves and two fish put food in their belies, it was food that was easy; it filled their belies for temporary contentment.  Jesus even had to get away from the crowd because they were so impressed with his power to provide easy food.  They wanted, by force, to make him their king!  Their leader in the flesh!

Then John tells us that Jesus physically walked on the water… miraculous and incredible as that sounds, the disciples still saw that as a physical miracle.

And, just a few verses later, in verse 26 and 27, Jesus went to the other side of the sea, but the crowds followed him there.  When they caught up with Jesus, he criticized them for looking for him not because they saw the spiritual power of God, but because they ate their fill from the physical loaves and fish!

You see?  Might our human craving for the convenient, the easy represent the famine in our lives?  Physical healing, food in the belly, a king/leader in the flesh who can even walk on water… all these smack of a physical, materialistic focus.  None of these will provide real sustenance or real spiritual contentment.

That’s why I think Jesus’ reason for doing all those things is different.  Does he feed the 5000 simply because he can?  Because he has miraculous power at his fingertips?  Does he feed them because he’s their king and wants them to know that he’s on their side?  Does he walk on water to be impressive?

Or, does he feed them because he wants to show them how much love and compassion God has for them?  Does he walk on water because 

he wants them to learn about the power God has to strengthen inner lives?  Perhaps the point John is making in telling these stories is to show truths about God.  Jesus shows where true sustenance and power come from—God.

I think Jesus wants them [and us] to make the metaphorical jump—just as they were able to feast on the food that was enlarged to feed all of their physical hunger, so he wants them to learn about feasting on God whose love is enlarged in Jesus himself, enough to feed all of their spiritual hunger and the entire world’s spiritual hunger.

 Indeed, after Jesus criticizes the followers for seeking him because they ate their fill, Jesus teaches them to not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which Jesus himself will give [to them] (John 6: 26-27).

This is the feast!  When you have God in your life, “you are strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,” as Paul says.  When Christ dwells in your heart through faith, you are feasting on the food that endures for eternal life.  When you take in God’s word, all other pulls in life for contentment and meaning in life can easily fall away.  When you are rooted and grounded in love, that means you are growing toward comprehending the fullness of God and God’s presence in your life!

And, God is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine!  That means you can place your trust in God to feed you what you need.  You can rely on God’s wisdom to speak to your need.  You can be content in what God provides because God provides to overflowing what you need.  Remember what Jesus taught?  “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6: 33).

When our focus is on God, and when we come to God ready to receive those riches, we will experience the feast of abundant spiritual sustenance that endures.  Anything else leads to spiritual famine, like the fleeting contentment of a Happy Meal.

Sharing in God’s feast of abundant spiritual sustenance offers more than a glimpse of God’s purposes for us and is a profound analogy for the dynamics of church.  I think one of the goals here at Christ Church, and maybe it should be a goal of every church, is to constantly provide opportunities for each of us to feast upon God’s spiritual presence for lifelong joy and spiritual contentment.

We do this in worship, certainly.  In worship, we find our faith imbued and bolstered.  In worship, we find ways to be with God that translate into being with God beyond these walls.  In worship, we are fed with word and sacrament, and we find hope to live in this world amid its messiness.

We also feast upon God’s presence in education, too.  There’s a great deal to be said for increasing our knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith that helps us apply it and live it in our daily lives.  It is in education that our faith gets formed and re-formed.  That’s why we have an emphasis on Faith Formation here at Christ Church.

And, faith formation opportunities aren’t just on Sunday mornings, but occur in our small groups, in our committees, and in our events and activities.  It is here we can discover an interactive and permeable community of people on the journey with us whose faith perspectives help grow our own perspectives.

With faith formation, we can grow more competent in sharing our faith perspectives with others, especially our children, whether in faith formation classes, or at home, or out there in the world.  We can learn about other’s needs in the world, or about systemic or cultural issues affecting our lives.  We can better reflect on what our ancient texts say and apply their meaning in our lives.  All this, and much more happens with faith formation.

Friends, I believe worshiping and engaging in faith formation opportunities is feasting on God’s abundant resources for spiritual contentment and life long joy.

I encourage all of us, everyone of all ages, to share in this abundantfeast, to learn about where the famine might exist, and to have the wisdom to know the difference.  Amen.