Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield


Psalm 145:14-19
John 6:1-14

I have a question for you all this morning. Are you hungry?

You see, this morning's gospel reading on the surface is about Jesus managing to feed over 5000 people with only 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fishes. On the surface it is about food, about eating. When you look at the gospel for what it is really saying though. There is so much more there. It is about teaching and learning, about sharing, about preparing a meal, giving thanks, and satisfying a group of people who were hungering for something more…something deeper…in their lives.

Now many of you who listened to me as Ryan and I were preparing to get married and officially move out on our own this spring, know that my gifts and skills are not in meal preparation. I will clean bathrooms, was dishes, and do laundry until the cows come home, but the stove and I have a love-hate relationship. Ryan is the chef in our house. The son of two parents who owned restaurants throughout his life and grandson of an Italian woman who always has a seven course meal prepared even when she doesn't know you are stopping by to visit, Ryan knows exactly what to mix together or add to things to make a meal truly satisfying. So the other night when I arrived home and asked him what he wanted for dinner, fully hoping that he would tell me he was cooking, it became clear to me that it was time to prove myself. Being a physical education person and a generally healthy kind of guy, Ryan said, "Nothing with a lot of carbs or fat." It was up to me. I ran to one of our cookbooks, studied each of the recipes to find that perfect one, frantically searched the cabinets for the ingredients, ran to the store for most of them, and then began cooking. Then I realized that this was the first meal that I had really cooked since we were married…unless you count making salad or hot dogs in the microwave a real meal…and then I became very nervous. The meal was so much more than just food that I would put on a plate, but rather was a sign of my willingness to grow, my care for our health (and safety), and my desire to satisfy.

Many of you are probably thinking in your heads right now, "Wow, it is really not that big a deal. You put some ingredients together and didn't end up causing food poisoning in the end." But if you think for a moment…if you think about what preparing a meal or having a meal prepared for you means to you and to the people in your life, or if you think about what it means to share a meal with someone or others whom you care about, then it becomes something a bit bigger. A woman named Lindy Black has a website that is provided for struggling preachers, called "Sermon Nuggets." In reflecting on this morning's gospel reading a bit she asked the question about what a meal means. She writes, "What does a meal mean? Hospitality, refreshment, community, sharing, giving, sacrifice, pain, love, and all the rest." There is almost a sacramental quality to it.

Jesus knew what it meant to prepare a meal for people. He knew what it meant to provide for people who were hungry. He knew what it meant not to stress out in a situation where everyone else was nervous and without answers and instead to trust in his abilities and in God to provide. The story of the feeding of the 5000 read this morning is the only account of one of Jesus' miracles, or as the gospel of John characterizes them, signs, that is told in all four gospels. It may be told in slightly different ways, but it speaks to the importance of it all…the importance of Jesus knowing what people needed and wanted more than anything else at that moment…to be fed. And much like the rest of the stories of Jesus' ministry, feeding people takes on a variety of different meanings…and points to something much greater than silencing the grumbling that was in their stomachs after a day of traveling.

According to theologian and preacher, William Willimon, there is a deep importance in this gospel using the word "sign" to describe this and the other miracles that Jesus carried out during his ministry. Willimon writes, "John says that Jesus performed a great miracle, feeding hungry people, as a "sign." It was a sign, something which points beyond itself to something greater and more important than the sign [itself]. The bread blessed and given for the people was a sign that God was among them, not among them as fulfillment of all their hearts' desires, but present as Jesus."

This is another one of those accounts and cases where God did not provide the people everything they wanted perhaps, whether that was a desire for a better house, better social status, more material possessions, or even straightforward answers about who and what Jesus was. The Psalmist in our first reading this morning points to the fact that God satisfies the desires of all people who call on God, satisfies them with justice and kindness…knowing what people need and when they need it most in their lives. And at that moment seated on the grass with Jesus and the disciples God provided what the people needed through the meager offerings of a young child and its miraculous multiplication: food to fill their bodies, a sign that pointed beyond the food to something greater, an opportunity for them to be taught about sharing and community and the amazing gifts of faith.

And the telling of this story in scripture helps us to remember that there is a sacramental quality to sharing a meal together with our brothers and sisters in community, as well as with those who need to know what our faith has done in our lives. In each account of the feeding of the 5000 there is a moment that points to and reminds us of the Last Supper, of coming to the communion table with one another. Each in their own ways, the gospel writers explain that Jesus took the bread, and gave thanks and blessed it and broke it. He then handed it to his disciples to distribute to the crowds. The crowds all ate until they were satisfied, and there were even some fragments left over...enough to fill a basket for each disciple to carry.

In Frederick Buechner's book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC he writes the following about the Lord's Supper. "It is also called Holy Communion because when feeding at this implausible table, Christians believe that they are communing with the Holy One…[God's] spirit enlivening their spirits, heating the blood and gladdening the heart…Christians have nothing for which to be more thankful…Now life can begin again. Exactly…[Christians] are also, of course, communing with each other. To eat any meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic need. It is hard to preserve your dignity with butter on your chin, or to keep your distance when asking for the tomato ketchup. To eat this particular meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other. I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. As for the emptiness that is left over, well, we're in it together, or it in us. Maybe it's most of what makes us human and makes us brothers and sisters." Buechner gets to the heart of what it is that we do when we share not only in communion but in community with one another. We work to help bear each other's burdens, to celebrate one another's joys. We understand that there are people in this community that we would never have encountered otherwise had it not been for the bond we find in our common hunger, a hunger to know God more fully in our lives, to be fed in body, mind, and spirit. It is in this community where we are called to be transformed, to behave differently than we would if we did not know God in our lives. We are called to learn more, to dig deeper, to pray for others and to allow ourselves to be prayed for. We are called to follow the 5000 to the feet of Jesus, to hear the parables, to learn the lessons together, to figure out what it is that we see in this man who was alive over 2000 years ago yet still influences who we are and how we are in this world.

We are reminded in all of this that the signs Jesus carried out while he was alive point forward to all he offered in his death and resurrection as well. Jesus said, "You who come to me shall not hunger, you who believe in me shall never thirst." He certainly fed people and provided drink for them in very real and concrete ways during his time on earth, turning five barley loaves and two fishes into enough food to feed 5000. And yet the reasons we gather in this place are not just because there were miracles and signs that were successfully performed. Rather, through Jesus, God offers us so much more…God offers us forgiveness for our sins, satisfaction when we are truly in need, a community in which to share, the "bread of new life" and "cup of the new covenant" which remind us always of the ways that we are nourished spiritually through worship and sacrament as well as bodily in this community at potlucks and fellowship times. God asks nothing of us in return but to be faithful, and when we are faithful we tend to gravitate toward the things that continually feed our faith as well. We worship together. We teach our children the lessons we have been taught. We pray for those who need to feel God's presence and guidance in their lives. We serve those all over the world whose basic needs are not met on a daily basis and who hunger for the things that knowing God, knowing Jesus in their hearts can provide. We come to the table together in this place, laying our fears, our faults, our differences aside and being reminded that God loves us as we are.

Yes there are a variety of different kinds of hunger. There is the hunger that you feel when you skip your raisin bran in the morning because you are running late, or that approaches near the end of the sermon as you look forward to Sunday brunch. There is the hunger that you feel when you know that God is calling to you to minister in this world, and you are striving to figure out what that exact calling is. There is the hunger that you feel when you haven't been to church in a while, or shared in Communion with your fellow believers, faith family members. There is the hunger to learn more, to grow more in our faith, to realize that there are ways that we hunger that are deeper than just for our physical survival. So then the question remains.

Are you hungry? Amen.