“Hunger”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 9, 2014 – First Sunday in Lent

Scripture:  Matthew 4:1-11

 

I want to talk today about hunger.

I want to talk today about hunger.  Not world hunger today, not famine and drought and malnutrition and cuts to foreign aid, though God knows those are serious problems, ones we need to talk more about.

I want to talk today about hunger.  Not domestic hunger today, not underemployment and poverty and food insecurity and cuts to food stamps, though God knows those are serious problems, ones we need to talk more about.

I want to talk today about hunger.  The kind of hunger you feel when you’ve been away from home for too long.  The longing you feel when you’re off on yet another business trip, spending yet another night in yet another hotel room.  The empty ache in your belly when you miss the familiar voices of your family—the way they say your name, different in tiny but oh-so-important ways from the way anyone else says it.  The lonely ache in your heart when you’ve been far away for far too long, and the smells don’t smell quite right, and the tastes don’t taste quite right, and the sounds don’t sound quite right, and as interesting as the place where you are might be, all you really want is a cup of your favorite coffee, a plate of your favorite home-cooked comfort food, a seat in your favorite chair, a view of a familiar landscape, a hug from someone you love.

I want to talk today about hunger.  The kind of hunger you feel when you’re walking down a crowded street, or sitting in a busy coffee shop, or riding on a crowded bus, and you’re surrounded by people, and you feel completely alone.  The empty ache in your belly when you realize that no one knows your name, no one knows your story, no one knows who you belong to or where you came from.  The lonely ache in your heart when you realize how much you miss spending time with people who understand you almost without explanation, people whom you understand that way, too.  The longing for someone who remembers that ridiculous outfit you wore for school pictures in second grade, someone who knows the names of all your old boyfriends, someone who was there when you needed a shoulder to cry on, someone who can see past the brave face you put on for the world to the tender, struggling soul within.  The kind of hunger you feel when you yearn to be seen, heard, known, understood, loved.

I want to talk today about hunger.  The kind of hunger you feel when the job you started out liking becomes just punching the clock.  The kind of thirst you feel when you know you’re wasting your time, when you know you’re meant for more than this, when you’d rather do almost anything else, but you can’t quit your job because you need the money to keep up with your mortgage, or your kid’s tuition, or your credit card bills.  The kind of yearning you feel for work that satisfies, that fulfills, that feels like it means something, that matters to you and to the world.

I want to talk today about hunger.  The kind of hunger you feel when you want more than anything to find a partner, but the right person seems never to appear.  The lonely yearning in your heart when you get yet another wedding invitation, and you really want to be happy for the couple, but you don’t have a plus-one to bring along and you’re so tired of going to weddings alone.  The empty ache in your gut when you start to think that you might never find somebody, that you might be alone forever.

I want to talk today about hunger.  The kind of hunger you feel when the world is falling apart around you.  The hollow trembling in your gut when the doctor says cancer or Alzheimer’s or miscarriage.  The pressure in your chest when your spouse says divorce.  The long, empty moment after the phone rings with bad news, and you sink onto the floor, hardly able to breathe.  The yearning to wake up and discover that it was all just a bad dream.  The vain hope that someone will somehow make it all okay.  The desperate longing to go back to the way things were before the carefully-constructed order of your life came crashing down.

I want to talk today about hunger.  The kind of hunger Jesus must have felt during his sojourn in the wilderness.  The kind of hunger that distorts your vision, that makes you see loaves of bread when really there are only tooth-breaking stones, that makes you see escape in the bottle, that makes you see true companionship in a casual fling, that make you see satisfaction in the latest model of car, the best kind of smartphone, the newest dieting trend.  The lonely ache in your heart that makes it seem like a good idea to do something dramatic, something rash, something risky; that makes you think you need to make yourself more marketable, or more successful, or more attractive, because otherwise you will never be noticed at all.  The empty ache in your gut that makes giving in to one who would harm you seem like the easiest, best course of action; that makes it seem like the ends really do justify the means; that makes it seem like a good idea to do whatever it takes, if only that gnawing hunger would ease.

I want to talk today about hunger, because this kind of hunger is, as far as I can tell, an unavoidable part of the human experience.  This kind of hunger—this longing for home, for connection, for relationship; this yearning for meaning, for purpose, for wholeness—this kind of hunger seems to exist within each of us through no doing of our own.  It seems we are almost built for it—designed to yearn, engineered to long, hard-wired to hunger for something beyond ourselves.  We know somewhere deep down that we are not sufficient alone.  Somewhere within us there is an innate desire that we cannot satisfy for ourselves, a longing that lingers, as eternal and as insatiable as ocean waves tugging at the shore.

 

Jesus was no stranger to that deep-seated hunger, and he must have felt it acutely during his forty days and forty nights in the wilderness.  He had just come from his baptism in the Jordan River, that moment when the heavens opened up, and the Spirit descended, and God’s voice called out, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!”  And then, still dripping wet, there he went, driven out to the wilderness alone.  His stomach must have ached for food.  His heart must have ached for companionship.  After a while, those temptations must have started to look awfully good.

But here’s what Jesus knew about that deepest of human yearnings.  That hunger runs too deep to be easily filled.  That craving cannot be satisfied by stones turned to bread, by dramatic demonstrations of bravado, by all the power the world can offer.  That craving cannot be satisfied by food, or drink, or work… by chocolate, or alcohol, or sex… by a new car, a new pair of shoes, a new house, a new spouse, a new title…

There is just one thing that can satisfy that hunger, and it’s not anything we can buy or create or earn or do for ourselves.  There is just one thing that can satisfy that hunger, and that is the thing for which we are created, which is to say, the power by which we are sustained, which is to say, the source and end of all our being, which is to say, Love.

The Love who has known us since we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs, the Love who counts every hair on our heads, the Love whose Spirit stirs in our every breath.  The Love that is the most powerful force in heaven or on earth, the Love that transcends all divisions of class and race and gender and sexuality and religion and politics and geography and language.  The Love that gives us our most fundamental identity, the Love that calls us to a purpose holy and high, the Love that cannot be shaken or destroyed by sickness or failure or decay.

The Love that has itself known hunger, and longing, and yearning, and temptation, and trial, and suffering, and even death.  The Love that has taken all our struggles into itself and turned them into triumph and life and joy.

 

It’s been written that we humans are born with a “God-shaped hole in our hearts,”[1] a longing deep within us that cannot be filled by anything but the God we know as Love.  So, in this Lenten season, we are invited to take a good, long look at our hungers, and at the ways we try to satisfy them with things that we buy or create or earn or do for ourselves, with things that do not ultimately satisfy, but leave us hungrier than ever.  We are invited to learn to see our yearnings not necessarily as problems to be solved, or difficulties to be avoided, or hardships to be escaped, or temptations to be resisted—but as invitations to go deeper in understanding the truest desires of our hearts.

And, in exploring our longings, let us allow them to lead us to the One whose own deepest longing is simply this:  to love us and to be loved in return.



[1] This phrase comes from the 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal.