WHAT ARE WE HUNGRY FOR?
Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps
Texts: Exodus 16:1-12; Mark 6: 30-44
On the westbound side of Route 22 in Springfield, just past midpoint between Newark and Plainfield is a store called “The Christmas Tree Shop.” It’s one of a chain of stores up and down the East coast. It advertises itself with the words, “Everyone loves a bargain!”
It purports to have all kinds of this and that at bargain prices. For some items, it’s true, and especially for items that focus on particular holidays. For the last several years the napkins we’ve used at the church with cute pictures to match a season have come from there. It’s one of those stores where it would be easy to just keep filling the shopping basket.
As I look for teas I can’t find elsewhere I listen to the shoppers looking for bargains, talking about their bargains, filling up their baskets with probably more than they need. They seem so hungry for bargains. It made me wonder what has fed our compulsive shopping? What are we really hungry for?
The answers to these questions aren’t simple, because the questions themselves are more complicated than they first appear. It’s easy to say just look at the rest of the world and realize how blessed we are.
We didn’t get this way because some beneficent divine power dumped all this wealth on us. We got this way because of a confluence of factors: a new land settled by the most energetic of those who left their countries over the last two centuries, our open immigration policy during the period of settlement and expansion, our Anglo-American heritage of law, westward expansionism on this continent, and some really terrible policies towards our Native American peoples. Throw into the stew the combination of unbridled capitalism and union organizing, and the basic belief that every human being has certain unalienable rights, seasoned however with a dose or racism and the result ends up being the America we know -- or at least thought we knew as we entered the new century.
But something serious has happened to us individually and as a people. I can see some of what I’m talking about in myself just as I see it in others. It’s fed by the “I can pay for it later” mentality that goes with the easy use of a credit card. It’s fed by the “I want it and I want it now” mentality that has developed out of the idea of instant wealth and instant gratification. No one wants to wait for anything. Our driving habits are just another facet of this need we have developed in ourselves to get it in a hurry.
Insatiability and lack of patience has always been around to some point. This morning’s reading from Exodus is an example of the “I want it and I want it now” mentality. Moses has now led the people out of bondage and they are wandering in the wilderness. And they are hungry
Hunger does certain things to people. It can drive them mad – and I’m sure they didn’t think to bring their water bottles with them as well. As the story goes, the Lord rains bread down from heaven, enough to feed each person for that evening alone. There was enough to eat but they were not to take more than they could eat, and squirrel it away for the morning. The bargain hunters among them, taking more than they needed to eat that evening found the excess became foul in the morning.
In the reading from Mark, Jesus the disciples to give the crowd that had come to listen to him something to eat. “Are we to go and buy 200 denarii of bread?” Not an illogical question if we have a limited view of how to share resources. But Jesus has a different plan.
Looking up to heaven, he blessed the bread and the fish and had the food distributed among those sitting on the grass. And there was more than enough for all. In fact, Mark’s Gospel tells us there were twelve baskets of leftovers.
Both these stories present questions of how we live in this world, the world given us by God and the world we inhabit. What do we do in a world where 30 percent of children in developing countries live on less than $1 a day and, according to UNICEF, every 3.6 seconds a person dies of starvation, usually a child under the age of five. Malnutrition may not exhibit itself in the same terrible way as that photo of the dying child in Sudan with the vulture standing nearby, just waiting, but it exhibits itself in many other ways, including here in Monmouth County.
As we look at hunger in Monmouth County, or as the song says, right here in River City, and as we look at the job situation in New Jersey, we need to consider how we really look at the poor. About the only good thing to come out of this horrible pandemic is that so many have been affected that maybe people will understand that the poor are not poor because they choose to be poor -- that is, lazy, spendthrift, and so forth, but that economic forces are so large that they are beyond us.
But all of this gets back to a more fundamental question: What do we really hunger for? And how are we using things to try to satisfy our hunger? Because that is exactly what’s happened. We use things to satisfy our hunger, and we are insatiable because those things don’t satisfy our hunger. Breaking the mold we are living in is difficult, really difficult because it means that we have to go against the grain of our society and its expectations of us.
Obviously, we all need money to live. The stories of the early Christian believers who sold all their property and lived in common serve as models for certain intentional communities today but many of us consider them out of the mainstream. It’s not the way most of us can live, including me. In our world and our lives we still need to satisfy our hunger for something more meaningful than a closeout sale, something that speaks to our souls. The question for us remains how we do that.
As we struggle to find that deeper meaning in our lives, we do not need to do it alone. Our community of faith is a safe place to struggle with questions of faith and meaning in our lives. Here we can ask questions that for which we may not have the answers but may only point to directions. And then we can work out our faith to better understand our hunger and what may satisfy it.
Let us pray: Creator of our souls and our search for understanding, bring us into closer harmony with your ultimate reality so we may better satisfy our hunger for you. In the name of him who fees our hunger, even Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.