Are you being fed?
by The Rev'd Dane E. Boston
A Sermon Preached on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 16, 2015
By the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina
Texts: Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Are you being fed?
The Church has been called a hospital for sinners. In light of this morning’s Scripture lessons, couldn’t we also call it a food bank for starving souls?
And so the question is: Are you being fed?
I suppose I should make clear that that question has nothing to do with Andrella and her wonderful team of kitchen volunteers, or with the covered dish luncheon that we are all invited to enjoy in the Trinity Center after the service. Feasting and feeding together are things that we do very well at Trinity Cathedral. But I’m not asking about physical nourishment and basic sustenance.
I’m asking: Are you being fed?
Now perhaps to some of you the question itself seems a little unseemly—un-Episcopalian, even. I can understand your discomfort. Very often when folks talk about “being fed” by churches, they make that question all about their likes and dislikes, their prejudices and preferences, their tastes and their tendencies. In this sense, being fed—or not—seems to have a lot to do with surface-level concerns: the style and length of the service or the style and length of the singing or the style and length of the sermon. The phenomenon of church shopping—the practice of moving from congregation to congregation sampling and commenting like a restaurant critic making her rounds—turns that question into a justification for moving on to the next place: “Well, I just wasn’t being fed.”
But I don’t mean the question in that sense, either. I am not asking for your thoughts and opinions about the style and length of anything—even though I know that several of you will give me your thoughts on the length of the sermon no matter what. That’s fine. But I’m not asking you what you think. I’m asking you: Are you being fed?
This question rises out of the Living Word of God this morning. After hearing Wisdom inviting the hungry to her feast—after hearing the writer of Ephesians warn that the times are evil and lean; after hearing Jesus tell the crowd “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”; the critical question for us becomes: Are you being fed?
The question is essential because it forces us to recognize our hunger. To wonder and worry and ask “Am I being fed?” means that I cannot escape the uncomfortable fact that I am hungry. It means I cannot deny the inconvenient truth that I am in need. It means I cannot shake or shirk the unsettling awareness that I am not whole—that I am not self-contained—that I am not self-sufficient…no matter how I struggle to prop up a facade of perfection before the face of the world.
Jesus once said to the Pharisees, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Through this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to us: “I did not come to call the full—those who have hidden their hunger behind their own self-righteousness or who have deadened their hunger with their own self-medicating or who have sated their hunger with their own pious pretensions.
“I did not come to call the full, but the hungry—those who can no longer hide their need from others or themselves; those who can no longer dull their pain with alcohol or food, with sex or earthly success, with social prominence or public perfection; those who can no longer pretend to find satisfaction with their own invented answers to their own insincere questions.
“I did not come to call the full, but the hungry.”
So to ask, “Are you being fed?” is, in the first place, an invitation to own and acknowledge our hunger, our brokenness, our sin. It is an invitation to admit that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves—no substance of ourselves with which to feed ourselves. The question “Are you being fed?” forces us to face our deep need, and to look with longing and expectation for our true food.
For it is precisely when our hunger has grown keen and sharp—when our need to be fed can no longer be covered up or ignored; when our yearning, gnawing, longing desire to be filled has caused us to look upon our own emptiness and despair—it is precisely in that moment that we hear the voice of God calling us to turn our eyes from fixating on our lack to behold instead the fair beauty of his bounty.
“Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The young lions lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.”
Wisdom’s table has indeed been set. A better wine than the wine of debauchery has been poured. A better bread than what we could have hoped for in our hunger has been broken and shared.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Beloved, to be fed in the life of the Church is both more active and more passive than we have made it out to be. It is more active because you and I are not meant to sit in solemn judgment like the audience at a play, waiting to be pleased and entertained. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” God is calling us into a dance—inviting us to eat at his table—drawing us into a relationship of mutual abiding.
And yet this is also all much more passive than we tend to think. For we have nothing to bring to the table. We have nothing to contribute to the meal. The everlasting banquet of the Kingdom of God is no potluck—no covered dish luncheon. We come helpless, hungry, and empty-handed. And we find that God has provided abundantly out of the unsearchable riches of his grace. He has given us more than we can ask or imagine. He has brought forth the very best. He has given us himself.
How much greater than our hunger is the surpassing greatness of the feast? How much more glorious than our need is the superabundance of the response? Are you being fed, dear people? The true bread for the life of the world has been broken for you upon the Cross of Calvary. The blood of the new covenant has washed you for the feast. In the waters of baptism you have been clothed anew with shining garments of righteousness, and at this table Jesus our host and our Bread bids you come and feed and live.
“This is the bread that came down from heaven…The one who eats this bread will live forever.”