Imagine this: you should have gone to bed hours ago. Either you missed that sleepy window, or some worry keeps you up, or you went to sleep, only to wake again. In the dark of your home, or in the humdrum of a hospital room, you flick on the television, and its glow fills the air around you. At 3am, there aren’t too many options for viewing, there are the reruns of a popular show from yesteryear, the syndicated reality series, or someone trying to sell something with their bright eyes and energized flailing of arms. They’re testifying to a life changed by the exercise equipment, they’re giving their witness to the saved produce in their fridge with this one special contraption, they’re lauding the time regained with the meditation books-on-tape.
False gods are like infomercials. They want to make an easy path out of your problems, but first they want your money and your belief and perhaps even your firstborn. Basically what any god except the one made known in Jesus Christ says is this: “if you give me this, that, and the other thing, then I will provide for you whatever it is that you think you want most.”
Isn’t that exactly the question that Jesus faced when he walked in the wilderness with Satan? The tempter said to him, “bow to me and I’ll give you all the power in the world,” and “make God prove that he loves you, throw yourself down from the heights.” It is the same question that the Israelites face in today’s Old Testament lesson, walking in the wilderness as they are, free as they are from the slavery of Egypt and yet, when asked to trust in God for their daily bread, they cry — let’s be honest, we cry, too — for the comfortable-though-destructive habits of sin and starvation.
There’s a deal to be made with the devil when we fall for an infomerical, when we follow the false gods of money, security, notoriety — of any other thing than the God made known in Jesus Christ. We are always asked to give up something, to sacrifice something precious for the sake of this temporary security or fleeting peace that is offered by the latest shiny thing.
This God made known in Jesus Christ is different, because he does not require anything from you before you receive the gift he has to offer. God’s kingdom does not work on credit or on I-O-Us. So let’s look a bit closer at the Gospel text for this morning then, to see where and how we might find this God, and what he has to offer. Maybe we can learn how to see God in the world around us and to receive the gifts he has to give us.
“The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.”
Some people were fed and then they left. They moved on their way. They went back to their lives, back to their own refrigerators, back to life as usual.
Some people stuck around; maybe they spent the night on the ground, and when they woke, they found that the food trucks had left. I wonder if they stayed because they were hoping for an omelette at breakfast, if they thought this might be a new start for them, a way to pass off their daily responsibilities, somewhere that might be a continuing, stable source of food for their hungry bellies. Maybe Jesus was their meal ticket. But when they roused in the morning, Jesus was not there. Their host had left, so some of the people went after him. They got themselves into boats and followed the way they thought he might be.
We are all of us searching for God. Every person is looking, looking, looking — whether they are atheists or nuns, people are made for worship, made to seek a god and to follow it. We’re made to search and to chase for power and control in our lives. We’re wired to feel restless in our quest and distractible in our desires. Our angst and confusion is a deep call for the divine, because no other power or person or theory or method or pacifier can quell this feeling of insufficiency, of gnawing hunger, of disquieted desire.
We might try to quiet the roar of discomfort in our hearts with liquor or with food, we might try to save and keep hold of things to comfort us, we might retreat into ourselves — leaving our communities and relationships with just a blank stare and no response. Even these things become false gods, just like more commonly preached-against evils like the love of money or an addiction to security and insulation from anyone different from you.
Here’s the thing about each of those, and any other thing that draws us from the love of God: false gods can only be used, they can never be enjoyed. They’re made to stuff down the real desires and loves of our lives, to silence the injustice and pain that resides in our broken hearts, false gods numb rather than heal. Only God, the God made known in Jesus Christ, is equipped to heal, to transform, to make new, to feed and nourish and quell thirst and bring new life.
More than eating our fill of the loaves, more than a mercenary exchange of goods and services, the God made known in Jesus Christ longs for relationship, to enjoy your very presence and your very being. God is not too busy to sit with you, God is not too big to be bothered with you, God is not too important to notice you. Indeed, it is God’s joy and delight to be with you, spend time with you, abide with you as the evening falls, stay with you through the night, to calm your heart in the darkest places, to share the glory of the sunrise with you.
This God is the Bread of Life, the food which does not perish, the deepest longing in our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our souls. The casting about that we experience, searching for the next organizing system that will change our lives, the next exercise regimen that will finally transform our bodies, the long list that we’d love if we could just check off one more thing; the deeper desire in us, the hum beneath all this noise, is the longing for God.
More than we need food, and clearly we need lots and lots of food, many times a day, even! More than we need food, we need God. We long for God, we desire God, we are made to be restless for God. We are hungry for God.
Just as the light of the television fills the air around us as we stare at the screen searching for something to soothe our ravaged souls, God fills the air around us, if we would but breathe him in, recognize him, notice his presence.
The last few weeks, I’ve been working on making sourdough. I started with just flour and water, and let it ferment on my kitchen counter to make its own yeast, its own bubbles and leaven. I’ve gotten to the point now that I’m working on the loaves, on baking the bread and learning how to help it rise.
Last week I learned that the bread gets better as you make more of it, because yeast hangs around in the air. As I stir up the yeast in the air with my kneading and raising and baking, more yeast starts floating around, and it collects and lands back in the bread and back in the starter, so that it pollinates itself, it flows around the kitchen and makes each loaf richer, more complex and sturdier than the last.
God’s Bread of Life is the same — the more we eat of it, the more we partake of Holy Communion, the more we ingest God’s Word, the more we spend time in prayer and God’s presence, the more we are concerned with noticing where God is creeping around the corners of our everyday lives, the more we see his fingerprints, the more we sense his presence, the more we are transformed by his breath of life. The more we fall in love with him, this God made known in Jesus Christ.
I end with a courageous and sincere prayer by a mystic from the Middle Ages:
O my Lord, if I worship you from fear of hell, burn me in hell.
If I worship you from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.
But if I worship you for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.
From 5 August, 2018; sermon preached at St. Augustine’s Oak Cliff