“Journey to the Table: Hunger”

May 14, 2017


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
May 14, 2017

“Journey to the Table: Hunger”
Matt. 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matt. 5:6

Have you ever been hungry? Not the little pang that tells you it is time to eat… no, the:
• tummy rumbling out loud
• hunger pangs that cause you to bend over
• the unending headache that tells you your body has gone without too long
• you can’t think straight and the only thought is where you can find food
• you can’t smile or respond appropriately to situations or people and you have no energy
• you get emotional, and angry without notice
• you are even willing to eat things you don’t normally choose
My guess is that most of us don’t get this kind of hungry very often. Perhaps we have experienced one or two of these things and we are able to find something to eat. Hunger is not an easy problem to fix, though. One of my pastor friends has a sick dog that is slowly starving to death. He is skin and bones – except for a bloated tummy. You can tell he is miserable.

Have you ever been a metaphorical kind of hungry? Hungry:
• For information, or something to stimulate your mind?
• For friendship, conversation, or companionship?
• For love, intimacy, unconditional acceptance?
• For a listening ear? Hungry to be heard?
• For God?
My observation in ministry is that most of us have experienced or even regularly experience a kind of hunger that has to do with metaphorical hunger. But make no mistake – it is real hunger, longing, and yearning for something that has not been met emotionally or spiritually.

Think how often we use the food metaphor for what we want emotionally or spiritually –
I need some brain food.
We engaged in a meaty discussion.
I need to chew on that idea.
We hunger for truth.
The teacher spoon-fed us this information.
She sure shoved that down our throats.
That concept was half-baked.

So hunger is both a physical state and a spiritual state. Let’s take it a bit farther. To answer the question of physical hunger, we eat food. How do we address spiritual hunger? Ironically, the answer is the same. Food – physical and spiritual food.

“Food is the language of care. It is the thing we do when traditional language fails.” Shauna Niequist said.
• When a person dies, we take food.
• When a baby is born, we take food to put in the parent’s refrigerator.
• When someone has had surgery, we take food.
• If a couple gets married, we eat to celebrate.
• When someone is lying in a hospital bed, we urge them to eat.
“You have to keep your strength up. Eat.” We say. Food is the language of care. When we don’t know what to say or when words are inadequate, we start baking.

As Rachel Held Evans wrote, “The first thing the world knew about Christians was that they ate together.” They gathered in homes – people of all makes and models gathered together to eat and pray. According to historians, the focus of these early meals was not on Jesus’ death. The purpose was on friendship, sharing his stories, developing relationships, building community. They ate spiritual food while they ate physical food.

A couple of years ago, I learned that some new church starts are organized around a meal. It’s an old-new idea. People come together on an evening – it doesn’t matter if it is a Sunday – and they cook together and then they eat. It is an intentional meal where conversation is encouraged and there is a story or a lesson to guide the conversation. There may be prayers or singing. They clean up and then go home. It is a worship experience in its own right. They are called “dinner churches”. Holy food for holy people. Hungry souls filled with holy conversation.

Sure, people eat together regularly. Non Christians can care for one another and make each other good food. But it is Christians who recognize this act as sacred – in fact, sacrament. For Protestants, it is one of only two sacraments. Eating together means something holy – that our physical hunger may be addressed – and more importantly, that our spiritual and emotional hunger is sated. Food is the language of care.

One of my friends posted a picture of her church last Sunday. Children – I would guess later elementary school age – were serving communion. Younger children and adults of all ages were receiving. She put a comment under the picture: “All are welcome. To seek, to partake, to serve. Taste & see that the Lord is good!” The picture captured my imagination. What would it be like to center our communion service on children?
• Would we be worried about the size, shape and content of the crackers?
• Would we be somber and reflective or happy and celebratory… or both?
• Would anyone be concerned whether they were able to/ worthy to/ or accepted as in order to be a part?
• Would we worry about how many cups or how much there was?
• How would we feel if a child served?
• Would our spiritual hunger be satisfied more or less?

When you are feeling starved – either physically or spiritually – the temptation is to gobble up whatever is available. We have probably all done this at one time or another – just stuffed ourselves like hungry wolves without taking a breath in between bites. When that happens, we don’t exhale – we just gorge.

As Anne Lamott says, “nothing can be delicious when you are holding your breath. For something to be delicious, you have to be present to savor it, and presence is in attention and in the flow of breath. It begins in the mouth, and then it connects our heads to our bodies through our throats, and into our lungs and tummies, a beautiful connective cord of air.”

Consider this connective cord of air from head to heart – through the mouth.

Are you hungry? Are you stuffing yourself with shopping, chocolate, another person, alcohol, expensive purchases, or food? Are you holding your breath and stuffing things in without realizing what you are doing isn’t addressing your real hunger?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matt. 5:6 Filled with what?

It seems to me that our hunger – our emptiness – our yearning – can only be truly filled with love…
• Good music
• A long walk with a friend
• A nap with the cat or dog
• Intimacy with our lover
• Reading an inspired book
• A slow sip of hot tea
• Cuddling with a baby
• Singing out loud
• Dancing in the wind
• Meditation
• Volunteering to help a person in need
These are the things of God. Holy food for holy people. These are the habits of those who have hungered and thirsted for righteousness. May you be filled with holy food – connective food that sates head, heart, and soul.