One day last week I was sitting with two prominent theologians from Saint Michael and All Angels discussing various topics of faith life when we stumbled onto the topic of being fed. Now, in a conversation with two prominent theologians from Saint Michael, I was not quite sure that I was ready to answer such heavy questions. How do you begin to say what it is that feeds your faith life as you go about the task of daily living? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you answer that question in front of two people that have been doing a lot more thinking and praying about faith than you have – if for no other reason than you might be a few years younger than either person sitting in front of you?! Needless to say, I was in something of a quandry. I was faced with a VERY important question and in front of, as I have said before, two prominent theologians from Saint Michael. So what exactly is a person to do when faced with such a heavy question? Stall. Big time. With lots of ums and ahhs as you attempt to collect your thoughts. Don’t worry – you will only lack eloquence for as long as you are talking. I am sure they never noticed.
With all joking aside, I was very interested in the conversation, and I was very interested in hearing what these two theologians had to offer on the subject. After all, as far as I know, both of these persons are deeply invested in their own faith journeys. Both of them have been attending worship for a good part of their lives and have found something about The Episcopal Church that keeps them coming back for more. Perhaps the real question to address here is not how they are being fed; instead, it might be more instructive to look at why is it that they keep coming back to the same church, that offers the same style of worship week in and week out? Is it that they are being fed during those worship services? Maybe. Is it that they enjoy being able to rub elbows with fellow parishioners that are also finding something in the liturgy of the Church that keeps them interested? Probably. But, I still don’t think that is exactly why a person would continue to attend the same type of church for the bulk of his or her life. I think there is something else going on here, and if you are anything like me, you come to worship not because you are looking to be fed. Instead, you come to worship for the same reason the crowd continued to follow Jesus and to seek him out even when he had already travelled to the other side. If you are anything like me, you are hungry. And, I don’t mean the kind of hungry that most of us know relatively well – that peckish feeling that starts as a slight rumble of the tummy. It is the kind of hunger that persists day in and day out. It is the kind of hunger that remains with you no matter how much you do in life – the hunger still does not go away. It is a hunger for a connection to something that is bigger, deeper, more connected to the cosmos than we could possibly imagine. It is the kind of hunger the draws us closer to that source of connectedness. It is the kind of hunger that takes root in our soul and pushes us to come back to this place only to rediscover that the hunger continues to persist and continues to compel us into a different way of moving and being in the world. And then that sound – that grumbling of the tummy – makes itself known in the depths of our soul.
And perhaps it is here that the words of Jesus comes into my own reality as Jesus speaks to me – one member of the crowd curious about when it is that Jesus got here. The hunger in my soul is urging me to dig deeper and to discover the many different ways that I am able to exercise my faith in Christ in the everyday world. Jesus tells me “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.” Jesus speaks directly to me in today’s Gospel reading. He is preaching to my heart and calling my soul to respond to the divine love that is made known to me through the person of Jesus.
The question of the crowd might become the very question on tip of my own tongue as I ask Jesus, “What must I do to perform the works of God?” instead of recognizing the ways that God is already at work in my life, which is rather difficult to do without the support of a community of believers that can help me to recognize God’s presence in my own life and ministry as a child of God. The voices of the community help me to hear the ways that others see me exercising the gifts granted to me through the grace of Christ, and it is here that the author of Ephesians intersects with the Gospel reading when he writes of the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and preachers. The very gifts being named in Ephesians are gifts precisely because they are being given away freely just as Christ gives the love of God away freely. My gifts become gifts when they are shared freely, openly, lovingly with the community that surrounds me, which also means that I am going to need that community to practice those gifts in a way that glorifies God and builds up my fellow members of the Body of Christ. It means that I no longer have to wait for someone to start something new to help me exercise that ministry; instead, I am able to gather a group of friends, of neighbors, of sisters and brothers in Christ to read the Scriptures, to pray for the needs of myself and of others, to celebrate the gifts of my sisters and brothers, and to learn where God is moving in my life precisely because I share community with other people. In other words, I am unified in faith with others precisely because I have gifts to share within the community as one member of the Body of Christ. Without the other members, I am not able to practice my faith in Christ because I need the gifts that the other members have to share and because I am then able to share my own gifts within that community. As I practice sharing the gifts that God has given to me, I begin to understand that it is through the practicing the gifts of ministry that I am working for the food that does not perish, and I am practicing my faithfulness in Christ, the one whom God sent.
I continue to come to worship because my hunger for Christ continues to grow as I dive deeper and deeper into the mystery of faith. I come to realize that I feed that hunger by being one of many members in the Body of Christ each exercising the gifts granted to her through the grace of Christ.
As I enter into the cycle of sharing my gifts and accepting the gifts of others, I have the opportunity to rediscover the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am able to feast on that bread as I share my faith with the community around me, and I am able to invite others to partake of this eternal bread by inviting others to join me in moving deeper and deeper into the mystery of faith. And then, one day, I come to the realization that feasting on the eternal bread is not about creating new programs or running from one thing to another without a second to catch a breath. Feasting on this eternal bread looks a lot more like sitting down with fellow mystics, fellow theologians and discussing our shared life in faith in such a way that we are able to see Jesus in another person. It is gathering with two prominent theologians from my community, sharing matters of faith that are close to the heart in that moment, and walking away with the words of Jesus echoing in my soul as he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”