It has been just over two months now since we settled on a mission statement for our parish. I think for the most part, many of us have it memorized. Many of us could remember it if we were asked on the street one day. But the truth is I don’t want us to just simply know and remember our mission statement. I want us to embody it. To live it out. To let it sink in our bones. To let it affect the way we see the world, so that we are looking for ways in which we see people being fed in body, mind, and spirit with the love of Jesus.
While I was at the diner this past weekend, I carried our mission statement with me. I kept reminding myself – Feeding Body, Mind, and Spirit with the Love of Jesus, that’s what we are doing here. But how? Can I see it? And as soon as I started asking myself those questions, I started to see things just a little differently. Suddenly, when Alivia Kubista would bring someone their hot beef special with a smile on their face, and they can’t help but smile back, I realized that she wasn’t just serving hot beef special that day – she was serving joy. And hope. And welcome. Or when the people in the kitchen are working so hard to give safe food that is worth what they paid for, I realized we aren’t just serving two over easy eggs with a side of sausage – we are serving care and compassion with a side of justice. And when I see the people working the people working the diner laughing together and joking around, I realized we weren’t just serving the customers – we were serving each other with love and friendship and relationship.
I learned that feeding people body, mind, and spirit with the love of Jesus can be really fun. And really fulfilling. But, you know, what I also learned. I learned it can be really frustrating too. It can be really frustrating when you run out of items that people have already paid for. It can be frustrating when you could use about five more people to serve the line that is out the door and you learn the next batch of people aren’t coming for hours. And it can be drive you crazy to watch all the food people throw away on their plates. I can tell you, Jesus is the last one on your mind at that point. Feeding people body, mind, and spirit can be…frustrating.
Jesus knows this. He gets a little frustrated in our text today. Jesus has just fed five thousand people with a meager five loaves of bread and two fish. But you know what happens about four to five hours after eating. – you get hungry again. But Jesus had slipped away, off to a mountain somewhere by himself. But that didn’t deter this crowd. They gathered the search party and went to find this Jesus who could feed them all so easily. And when they find him, they begin a very confusing and somewhat funny conversation with Jesus. As is typical with Jesus, he doesn’t exactly answer their questions in the way you would think.
The crowd asks Jesus – “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Simple question. All Jesus needs to say is, “Oh about 11:30, last night. It was really late. I went straight to bed.” But no. Instead, Jesus accuses them of searching him out just because they are hungry again. They are not really there to see Jesus. They are there to get their stomachs fed again.
And that’s what happens, isn’t it? You go and give some money or a sandwich to the guy standing on the highway off ramp holding the cardboard sign. Or you mow an elderly woman’s lawn. Or you send some money into the foodshelf. You feel good about yourself. They feel loved and appreciated. But sure enough, the same guy is in the same spot, still hungry the next day. The woman’s lawn needs cutting again a couple weeks later. The foodshelf needs donations the next month.
Feeding people body, mind, and spirit can be exhausting because eventually…people get hungry again.
A couple of years ago, I was on a mission trip to Denver, CO. We were there to change lives. Not only our own, but the lives of the people we met. There were people in desperate situations there and we thought we could change that. One afternoon, we visited a homeless park. With brown bag meals in our hands, we nervously approached, sat down, and we visited with people who lived there. Some were doing drugs, and drinking right there in front of us. It was an utterly desolately and hopeless place. And eventually, it dawns on me – in an hour or two, we are leaving this place. And these people aren’t. We sit with them, but eventually, we get to get up and leave. In the end, did we change any of their lives? Probably not. Were some of them still lonely and addicted to drugs the next day? Probably.
So Jesus fed these people, but they just keep coming back for more. Because that’s what happens – people get hungry again. They keep coming back so that they can keep getting what they want from Jesus. Too often I fear that is why many people believe in Jesus, so that they can get what they want from him, rather than so Jesus can get what he wants from us. And so Jesus says to them, “Do not work for the bread that perishes. The bread that is digested and goes away, leaving you hungry again. Work for the food that endures for your whole life, which the Son of Man will give you.” What Jesus is saying to them is that he doesn’t want them to just have bread that fills and feeds their stomachs. He wants them to have bread the fills and feeds their whole entire life. A bit of confusion ensues. The group doesn’t know if they themselves are supposed to produce this eternal bread or if Jesus will prove himself like Moses by making bread rain down from the heaven. Finally, realizing that it wasn’t just their stomachs that were hungry anymore, but that their spirits were hungry too, they just cut to the chase. “Sir, gives us this bread always.” And so Jesus comes clean – “I am the bread of life,” he says.
And that is just it. Jesus is the bread of life. And not just any life. Your life. Jesus is saying that this isn’t just about our stomachs; it is about our whole lives. Jesus wants to feed your whole life. Jesus says he is the bread of life; he is the way to fullness of life. And what is the way of Jesus? Jesus is the very revelation of God and his way to life is the way of loving your neighbor. Welcoming those who are unwelcome. Not hating and destroying your enemies – but loving your enemies. Jesus says, “This is the path fullness of life. These are the things that will feed your whole life.”
For example, did you know that one of the recommended pathways through grief…is to go and care for another person. It is to get out there and to help someone else who is in need. That is the way. Because grief…it can just close everything in on you. Sometimes when one person dies, their loved one seems to die as well. I have seen it where a person dies much too young, and their spouse just shut down. They can’t move. They get depressed. That’s what depression is…it is suffocating sadness. But if they can find away to begin to care for someone else, often times a pathway through the grief is found. My aunt lost her husband at a very young age, and she says, “The only thing that kept me alive is that I had two young children that needed me to take care of them.” The pathway through grief is often caring for another human being in need. Which is the way of Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life. When you are dying inside from grief, the way of Jesus, the way of caring for others in need is the bread that leads back to life again.
What Jesus is saying to this crowd is that he can’t just be feeding their stomachs – to feed their whole life. And Jesus wants to be a part of our whole life. And sometimes, we can get so focused on one part of our life, like our growling stomachs or dark grief that we forget about the other parts of life that Jesus is calling us to.
Our mission statement is not just some business slogan. It is not a clever idea or a mantra or pretty words to plaster around the church. It is about what guides us and gives us purpose – and it is about challenging us. Reminding us that being a disciple of Christ was never meant to be easy. There will be days when we will hate this mission statement. And days when we love it.
So maybe it is okay that feeding people can be frustrating. The important thing is that when we do get frustrated, when we do forget why we do what we are doing, why it matters that we feed people when they will just be hungry again…it is important that we not forget that Jesus, the bread of life, is still at work and present in our frustrated feedings, even when he is the last thing on our minds.
Jesus calls us to be people who feed others with the bread of life, but before you feed others, Jesus wants to feed you. Which is what happens up here at this table. We don’t come just because it is snack time. We don’t come just because we missed breakfast. We don’t come for food that will perish. We come to be fed with food that will not perish. We come because we are people who are hungry for not just food, but for hope. And healing. And forgiveness. And in being fed at God’s table, may we be given the strength and energy to be agent of God in giving those very same things to the people of God beyond these walls. If you are hungry for hope and thirsty for a word of forgiveness in Christ Jesus, come take and eat. There is a place for you at this table. AMEN