My grandmother Hollerith who lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for most of her married life had this immense kitchen that was the center of life in her house. My childhood is full of memories in that kitchen. My father and I would catch rock fish in the early morning and cook them for breakfast. My grandfather would pick up lump crab meat from the docks and make crab cakes for dinner. As a young boy eating in that kitchen, I discovered that I actually liked salad if it was covered with enough dressing and I confirmed the fact that for me mayonnaise is the least appetizing substance on earth. Apart from the food, what I remember most about that kitchen was the verse from Robert Burns painted around the walls – “Some have meat and cannot eat, Some can not eat that want it: But we have meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.” I loved that verse, I memorized it early on and truly in my memory there was never a meal in my grandmother’s kitchen that was less than a joyful and thankful experience.
With that in mind, I was fascinated to find a little article that gave a bunch of other quotes from some other kitchens. You may have one of these hanging somewhere in your kitchen – “A messy kitchen is a happy kitchen and this kitchen is delirious.” “A clean house is a sign of a misspent life.” “Thou shalt not weigh more than thy refrigerator.” And my very favorite – “If we are what we eat, then I’m easy, fast and cheap.”
In our gospel for today, Jesus wants the folks who follow him to know that they need to be careful what they feed on. They need to be thoughtful about what they ingest both physically and spiritually. The crowd has followed Jesus because he just fed all 5000 of them with a few fish and a little bit of bread. Now they are hungry again and they come looking for more nourishment. But Jesus wants to do more than temporarily fill their stomachs; he wants to feed them in ways that will last. He tells them – “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” What is that food they want to know and how do they work for it? “I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells them. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Get ready! Today is the first of four Sundays in a row where the gospel lesson talks about Jesus as the bread of life, the bread of heaven, the spiritual food of all believers. Think about that – the first of four Sundays. I do not know of any other time during the summer where one theme is so prevalent for so many Sundays. Why? Why did Jesus pound on this one point so heavily? Simply put, because it is a truth that lies at the heart of the faith. All of us have to feed on something both literally and figuratively. We have to find nourishment for our bodies and for our souls. And just as the quality of the food we eat has immense bearings on our physical health, so the quality of the spiritual, emotional and psychological things that we feed on has an immense impact on the health of our souls.
All of us, whether we know it or not have a deep hunger inside of us, a deep hunger that cries out to be satisfied. And Jesus tells us over and over again that he is the bread of life, that he is what we need to feed on, that only in him is their real nourishment. He wants us to know that how we seek to satisfy our deep hunger has huge implications for all of life.
As we sit here this morning more than 800 elected delegates from 109 diocese in the Episcopal Church along with more than 300 bishops are gathered together in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The General convention meets every three years and it goes largely unnoticed by folks in the pew unless there are issues that catch the attention of the national media. At this convention members of the media are swarming. The Diocese of New Hampshire has elected an openly gay and the first publicly non-celibate bishop in the church. The Convention has to decide whether or not to ratify his election. Also, there are several resolutions before the convention to have the church begin to develop liturgical rites for the blessing of same sex unions. Given the recent Supreme Court decision, the recent statement by President Bush regarding marriage and the recent statements by the Pope regarding homosexuality, the Episcopal Church finds itself in the midst of a fire storm of controversy. Powerful forces on the left and the right are present at convention deeply focused on these issues of sexuality. Angry voices are declaring that if the church is not careful there will be schism and we will be ripped apart. The television pundits call these the culture wars and it is an intense and stressful time.
To anyone outside of the church it must seem as if issues of sexuality are critical to Christians. It must seem as is if we have nothing better to talk about, to fight about, to struggle over. The media likes things that are juicy and titillating and what could be more provocative than the combination of sex and religion. To anyone outside of the Church, Christians must seem almost myopic and obsessed with sexuality. And I think that is tragic. Please don’t misunderstand me, these issues are important, they are issues of justice and inclusion, issues of how we understand scripture and authority. They are worth talking about, arguing about, struggling with. We have too many brothers and sisters within the church in immense pain over what the church has to say about sexuality not to take these issues seriously. But let’s be clear – It is not an issue central to the faith. Sexuality is not an issue that lies at the heart of the gospel. .
As people of faith living in the 21 century we have to deal with these issues but we also have to be very careful not to let these issues dominate all other discussions. The world is so very hungry, there are far too many people who are starving – physically starving and spiritually starving to forget our Lord’s command to Peter that we are supposed to feed his sheep. Did you know that in 2001, 25.7 billion dollars was spent in this country on legalized gambling attracting more than 53 million people who made more than 300 million visits to various gambling establishments? If that doesn’t show a real and deep hunger by people for something more to sustain their souls than I don’t know what does. Did you know that the pornography industry in this country made over 12 billion dollars last year? That is more than twice the combined revenues of ABC NBC and CBS. People are hungry, people are starving and they are turning wherever they can, no matter how unhealthy the fare, to find nourishment, trying to satisfy the hungers of their souls.
I am sorry, but given our Lord’s commands and given the immense hunger in the world there is no excuse for any of the issues the church is currently wrestling to split us apart. Regardless of the outcome, we fail our God if we allow these struggles to destroy the strength of our unity. They just are not that important when there is so much other work that needs to be done.
William Temple the great Archbishop of Canterbury during the 1940’s once said, “The Christian Church is the one organization in the world that exists purely for the benefit of non-members.” In other words, the church exists to feed the world not only with the food that perishes but also with the food that endures for eternal life, to feed those who are hungry both spiritually and physically. If we need to gather every three years and argue for a couple of weeks then so be it – I hope and pray that God will be in the midst of our deliberations. But when it is all over, when all is said and done and everybody goes home let’s get on with it – together as one church, proclaiming Christ to a broken and needy world. Amen.