(Due to circumstances, I decided not to share my opening sermon to the series, The Hunger Games. For those interested in reading it, here you go)
You’ve been a Christian most of your life. Showed up on time. Signed up on the bulletin boards to bring food, maybe taught a class or two along the way. Faithful in your tithing. Spent time at Church Camp, doing your best to raise your kids right and be a good person. But, sometimes, as you worship on Sunday mornings there is this nagging hunger inside -“Why don’t I feel closer to God yet?”
You were converted as an adult following a series of Bible studies a friend led you through. It all made sense at the kitchen table. Your friend had such a confidence, a skill as they flipped through the Bible and connected the dots. You were drawn to their boldness as much as you were drawn to the cross. You wanted to feel that way about anything, and maybe baptism was the answer. But now, months later your soul is hungry. You don’t feel any closer to God than when you began that study. Where is God’s peace and presence?
Maybe you’re a seeker, curious about this Gospel and Church. You’ve been burned by communities in the past -opening up yourself to them only to be disappointed by the cold shoulder. Maybe you carry baggage you’re not ready to share with anyone. If Jesus followers ignore you -Jesus probably doesn’t care either. But your soul is hungry for something bigger than your present reality. There’s got to be a greater plan than the rat race you’re in every week. The people all around you seem to think they’ve found it. What does Jesus have to say to me today?
Do any of these descriptions fit you? I’d like to spend some time this month talking about those hunger pains we all get from time to time. We long for something grander -an intimacy like David talks about in. (READPsalm 63:1-8) For many of us, the meal we’re consuming doesn’t look or taste like the Feast in Scripture. When we look at followers of Jesus in the Bible, we hear words like abundance, eternal, banquet. (examples are Jesus in John 6:51, Matt 7:9-12, and Luke 6:23A) When John the Baptist needs a report, Jesus comes back with Matt 11:4-6. (To fit my metaphor, I wish he would’ve said, ‘the hungry are stuffed!’)
How many would use this overflowing imagery to describe our relationship with God today? How many would describe the American Church’s relationship with God in these terms? Most of us struggle with this disconnect -to have the faith of Paul, the perseverance of John, persistence of Lydia. We see this abundant Feast of faith in the Bible while we’d describe our faith as a fast-food meal. And rather than working on our side of things, we come up with ways to justify the disconnect.
Remember the 6 blind men who describe the elephant? Each one touches a part of the elephant and thinks they understand what an elephant is, and Godfrey Saxe’s poem ends with all of them being in the wrong. Sometimes we take a segment, one understanding, of the Great Feast from Scripture and think we understand Christian living.
We say, “The Feast is Only Eschatological.” (Don’t fear this word. All it means is ‘end times’) We’re saying all that abundant goodness Jesus talked about wasn’t talking about the here and now but the sweet by and by. We take verses like John 14:1-4 and 1 Peter 4:13 and think the good life isn’t supposed to be now. Have you met someone who thinks like this? We’re to be suffering servants. Christianity should be one struggle after the next, one fight after another, and then, when we meet Jesus in the oasis he’ll quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. It is a martyr’s feast, actually looking for fights to prove just how faithful we can be.
To justify the disconnect between the abundant feasting of Christ life in Scripture and our faith walks today, some turn those Biblical feasts Spiritual with no Connection to the Physical World. We take verses like the fruits of the spirit (in Galatians) and ignore verses like Luke 6:21. The abundant life is all on the inside. The Feast is a contentedness we develop regardless of our surroundings. We have such a fear of being labeled “Prosperity Gospel,” or “the Health and Wealth Gospel” we swing the pendulum as far as possible and become the “Only on the Inside Gospel,” as if Jesus didn’t care at all about the physical. Some think our souls are all that matter to Jesus. Wasn’t he the Rabbi who fed the thousands? Who healed the physically disabled? Who raised the dead body? Wasn’t he present at creation and said it was good?
To justify the disconnect between abundant life in the Bible and what we’ve got now, some say, “Maybe all that Feasting in the Bible was just Historical Jesus Events.” When Jesus fed the 5,000 in Mark 6, what Tim read earlier, certainly we are to study that in context, and view it as an historical event. To recognize Jesus as the focal point in redemption history and the wellspring of life. But if we leave these words in the past, surrounding them with security glass and hoisting them on a pedestal in the museum, we are not honoring their purpose. These words are meant to be feasted on in the present to impact the future. We place ourselves in the 5,000 -trying to get a glimpse of the Rabbi, to hear his teaching. We sit with the disciples and are cut to the core when Jesus challenges them (or is he challenging me?) “You give them something to eat.” It was John 20:30-31that summed up his Gospel, but so eloquently gets to the heart of the matter for all 4 Gospels, if not all 66 books of Scripture.
And lastly, to justify the difference we see in the Christian life of the first century and the Christian walk we’re on, We take these Feasts, these Abundant Life teachings of Jesus, and turn them into Morality Snacks. We take the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest feast of language since a voice called from the heavens, “Let there be light.” We take those 3 chapters in Matthew and boil them down to morality lessons -reasons to behave and act properly in a broken world, and we miss they are so much more. They are Jesus turning the world upside down, and announcing new creation breaking through the old! Jesus cares more about us than just our morality -he cares about our bodies and souls! He wants us to join in the mission!
All this said, what ends up happening is we argue back and forth about whether the Feast of Christianity is all about being in another world, internal, in the past, or only concerned with our morality. We feel the elephant once and our minds think we’ve got it. There is no room for humility. And what we’re left with is a malnourished Church and a starving World. I don’t know how to say it more bluntly: Christianity has become a system of beliefs instead of a way of life. We want to argue with one another instead of recognizing they touched a different part of the elephant, and let’s get on with the mission of Christ!
We’d rather talk about preparing the meal and all the necessary components that go into hosting a meal, instead of giving up all that pretense and just sitting at the Lord’s Table as a sinner sitting next to other sinners saved by the power of the One at the head of the table. We’ll argue whether the meal was sprinkled or fully marinated, when we’re invited to dig in now! and enjoy the feast everyday. And if the Church is reluctant to dig in at the table, what chance do we have, what motivation do we possess to share our food with the world? To give them even a cup of cold water in Christ’s name?
Are we missing the Feast of Life because our appetites are hungry for the Meal of Religion? When I first thought of this series, I thought I would spend most of my time contrasting the Feast of Christ and the Meal the world offers. But I don’t think that’s where we struggle. Maybe it’s not the meal of the world that is causing problems, as much as it is the meal in front of us. The meal of religion -going through the motions without our hearts -without passion.
Brothers and sisters, this month let’s step away from the Kiddie Table, no longer content with the insufficient meal religion offers and let us feast on Jesus! Let’s look to be satisfied (as John Mark Hicks says) with a loving God who created and nurtured the world for the sake of loving fellowship, who chose Israel as a light among the nations, who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth to redeem the sin, pain, and hurt of this world, and who poured out the Holy Spirit to sanctify and empower a community that they might be dedicated to good works. It begins when we repent of our way and make a change -confessing our sins and then having them washed away in the waters of baptism.