I am not hungry at present.
I was not hungry an hour ago and likely will not be hungry for the next few hours.
I am not sleepy right not. I was not sleepy an hour ago and likely I will not be sleepy for the next few hours.
I’m not sure we even know what it is to feel truly hungry anymore, not that we are not hungry from time to time, like I will likely be in a few hours, but really hungry, as in we have not eaten in quite a while and not by choice. The kind of hungry we might have to endure for a couple of hours until Dad finally relents and pulls the family car-trip over for a potty-and-food break.
Or the kind we might have to endure for the next day or two, until food shows up, or we can go out and find some, the kind where our systems have slowed down, shut down in some cases in order that what little we can get to eat can last for a while.
We live in the United States and so we do not feel this kind of hunger.
Let me rephrase that. We live in the United States so we are far less likely to feel that kind of hunger. Okay, that’s not right either, how about “We live in the United States and are among the lucky ones so we are unlikely to feel this kind of hunger, but no guarantees.”
We’ll leave it that we have, for the most part, managed to avoid being hungry around here most of the time.
But you don’t have to look too far to find people who know what it is, how it feels, how it weighs on them to know that their children feel it and know it as well.
You have to be a resident of Bennett or Rincon Valley or in their immediate vicinity to get food at Elisha’s Pantry and they do a brisk business every Thursday, serving around 75 families.
75 neighbors who are food insecure, and who live within a mile of us here on the hill.
But we, by and large, are not hungry. I am not hungry at present, I was not hungry an hour ago and likely I will not be hungry for a couple of hours.
So hunger, deep-down hollow feeling hunger is a gap, a distance between us and them, a barrier to understanding, a stumbling block on the road between us.
The same can be said for housing, and clothing, and everything else we label a “necessity” but have gotten so successful that we don’t even think about them at all.
And hey, there’s something awesome about that isn’t there? We’re successful and secure and we don’t have to worry about the same things that other people worry about. So Yay us, legitimately, that is praiseworthy.
So we can focus on other hungers. We can worry about what Elijah suffered through, a famine of the word of God in the land. Sounds like something that is most certainly true. We can worry about how God is being pushed out of the marketplace of ideas by deodorant and microwave meals. We can instead focus on the things that are present realities to us, actual things that are happening in our lives.
Because we’re not hungry, and can’t remember a time when we were.
We’re not homeless and we’re not enslaved and we’re not living at the whim of a warlord and we’re not in prison. There is a long list of real-life worries and traumas that are being felt by the children of God all over the world to which we have only a slight connection, an abstract connection at best.
It’s hard to truly appreciate the breadth and length and height and depth of such problems when they are happening out there somewhere, even more difficult to approach the famine of the Word of God when it is such an abstraction, nothing you can grab a hold of with your hand.
Nothing you can grab onto, that is, unless you speak to someone who knows nothing of the peace that is found in Christ Jesus, who knows nothing of the hope that is possible, the strength that is available, the power that is at work in the world already, just waiting for us all to join in and remake the world in the image of God.
If you are looking for a mission in this world, something that conforms to your incarnation in the image of God, then there is little better than actually going out into the world and meeting the people to whom we are all called to bring the word of God. You might not like what you hear, but then you would understand what it means to be without that thing, that peace, that calling that draws you to this place every week, or every other week.
It is hard to imagine being truly hungry if you never have been and it is hard to understand the spiritual hunger once Christ has filled it with heavenly food, with living water. It even seems wrong somehow to go back into the mire once you have been made clean, to go back into the darkness once you have found the light, but if the word is to be spread, it must be spread by those who have heard it, and embraced its power.
The same thing can be said, by the way, for physical hunger. The people who have food are going to have to part with some of it in order for hunger to be alleviated. We need to get better at this on a global level because some of our food programs actually lock people into dependency, but first, we could at least go out, find the ones suffering, hear their stories and feed their bodies until we can find a solution. If we don’t start there, they likely won’t be around when the solution comes.
Hunger is a problem that has two ends, the end we spend most of our time dealing with is the immediate end, the part where people are today. They float by us in the stream and we fish them out, handing a bag of food or two across the table and staving off hunger for another hour or day or week.
They will be hungry again, and soon given the evidence of food programs in Santa Rosa. They will come floating past us ion the stream of humanity and we will fish them out again and again and again.
There is nothing ignoble about this work. It is honorable. Lifeguards the world over practice this trade and we appreciate their efforts but at some point, as we stand there on the banks of humanity watching the lost drift by, saving the few we can reach, at some point at least a few of us ought to walk a bit upstream and find out what keeps throwing the people into the stream.
How do they get to a place where they need food assistance? How do they get into a state where they focus inwardly and cannot hear the word of God? How do they get pitched into the stream gliding by our church and in need of our help, be it food, money or simply our time and understanding?
How do we break the cycle and spare them the indignity, the pain, the trauma of their hunger, whatever form it takes?
Both Jesus and Elisha look out onto a gathered humanity and see the hunger that is present. They each call for food to be given and each of them faces the truth that there is not enough to feed those gathered. But then each of them teaches us a different lesson.
Elisha is a sermon preached to a different people, whose main problem was that folks drifted off, that faith was slippery and sometimes elusive and what was truly needed was a trust in the gracious provision of God.
So that is what Elisha teaches. There is a scripture that says “they shall eat and have some left” and so that is the truth and we should hear it and believe it because it is the word of God. Lo and behold they follow the advice of scripture and everything comes out as promised. The promises of God are proven true and everyone sees and believes.
This is actually a better piece of scripture for our modern times. It speaks of faith and trust and of staying steadfast and allowing the grace of God to make itself known. We face a famine of faith in the world around us and occasionally need reminding that God has already promised to make us whole and keep us whole. Elisha feeds them bread and ears of grain but truly he feeds them with faith.
Jesus teaches slightly different lesson, still rooted in our callings as believers, but still a little different.
Have them sit, have them gather, make them a community. Share within the community and all are fed. Hear the word of scripture and make it true, as the body of Christ.
I’ve heard this scripture explained a number of ways, from “It’s a miracle!” to “When you have a potluck, everybody brings a little and there is always enough!” (that would be the Lutheran explanation) and all of them are true, all of them.
When God promises that there will be enough, then there will be enough.
We often times forget that and try and ensure plenty on our own. But when we try and ensure plenty, there is always a cost somewhere, be it the depletion of our soil from overuse of chemicals, or be it villages which no longer grow their food because they grow our food so they have to go and buy their food and suddenly what was once free now comes at a cost.
We forget that and suddenly fishing people out of the stream is the only option because anything else would make us question the wisdom of our own efforts, the faith we have placed in our own wisdom and whether or not that faith is well placed.
Jesus tosses aside our wisdom. He hears “there is not enough” and replies with the truth. The solution is in our hands when we trust in God, we can make it better when we let faith empower our efforts instead of having faith in our efforts.
We can see the truth of what is needful and find a solution and not just a Band-Aid.
“Come together and seek a solution. Find out what the problem is, know the people suffering, hear them, love them, bring them to a place of healing and I will set them free,” He seems to say. We are called to trust not that God will swoop in and rescue us, sweeping the battlefield clear of our enemy, but that in Christ we are empowered to seek an end to battle itself, to seek an end to enmity as a community in faith.
As a community we face trials and challenges as daunting and frightening as the hunger that stalks the land and it will take our faith and our effort to find a way through, in that order. Faith is the power to make things change, as it has changed us already into a people bound by love and guided by hope.
Our calling as a people is to gather together, guided by faith and seek our path forward as a community, feeding those who are hungry and seeking a solution to their struggle.
I think we will find, as the disciples did as Jesus taught this morning’s lesson, that the power is in our hands when we act in faith; that the truth is on our tongues when we speak in faith and that we never need settle for a Band-Aid when God’s promise to us is for true healing.