Hunger for Jesus’ Love Lived Out In Community
I don’t know about you, but I am hungry for some wonderfully spicy and fragrant Jamaican food that we will soon enjoy during Coffee Hour! Maybe hunger for those Jamaican delicacies is what got me thinking of hunger as a way to describe what unites two remarkable pieces of scripture, Ephesians 4:1-16 and John 6.
This is the second of five weeks when we will be read through the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus uses hunger for bread as a metaphor for offering himself as living bread for the life of the world. The chapter began last week with Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5,000 people on a Galilean hillside with 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish. Today, in the Gospel reading, we heard how the crowds, hungry for some more of that miraculous food, have followed Jesus to the other side of the lake. “Sir, give us this bread always,” they ask him. Then Jesus tells them that he himself is that bread for which they truly hunger.
Hunger is not explicitly mentioned in today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, but I think that there is an implicit hunger for community that Paul explores in this amazing passage. Ephesians 4:1-16 is a rich description of how the Church is meant to function as Christ’s living Body in the world.
There are three hungers that Paul speaks to. The first is the hunger for unity. Seven times Paul repeats the emphasis of one: One body, one Spirit, one hope in our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Paul can emphasize our unity with one another in Christ, because he is speaking implicitly to our longing for connection, for belonging. Paul goes on to point out that our unity is in Jesus Christ. We are not only united to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, together we, as the Church, literally make up Christ’s living Body in the world. Jesus is our head and collectively we form his Body.
And here’s another point of contact between John 6 and Ephesians 4. Jesus speaks of himself as the bread who has come down from heaven to give life to the world. He is the real bread for which we truly hunger, the only bread that will truly satisfy and fill us to eternal life. Jesus – the person, who taught and healed and performed miracles and who died upon the cross. Jesus – the bread of heaven – which we eat at Holy Communion. Jesus, whose Body we become as he fills us and uses us as his Church, his ongoing representation of himself. Our hunger is not only for Christ, but also in Christ to be truly connected, truly one.
The second hunger Paul speaks to in Ephesians 4 is the hunger for giftedness. We all hunger to be useful and to have something of value that we can contribute. The same Lord who came down from heaven to be the bread that gives life to the world – the gift of his flesh upon the cross – then ascended into heaven, as Paul writes in 4:8, to make captivity itself captive. The greatest gift that Jesus gave us is to set us free. Jesus has gifted us in so very many ways. One of the gifts – and the one Paul focusses on here in this passage – is the gift of leadership. Some he called to be Apostles, some prophets, some teachers, some pastors and some teachers. Today we might say that some Christ called to be ordained, some he called to be lay leaders: wardens, Vestry members, members of committee, guild members, and servant leaders of all sorts.
Part of what Paul is implying here and elsewhere (particularly 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12) is that our own individual unique abilities are gifts from God to be used for the benefit of the wider community. We are gifted in so very many ways. One of the gifts we are celebrating today is the gift of heritage. Today those of Jamaican heritage are sharing that gift with the rest of us as a blessing to build us all up in spirit and in body.
What are some of the gifts with which God has gifted you? What are you good at? What are your hobbies? What are you passionate about? What is your heritage? What are you trained in? How might you use some of those gifts, some of those passions and interests as well as the things you are trained in, to contribute to the Body? Paul implies that we are all hungry to make a contribution in order to truly belong. How are you already contributing to the Body of Christ and the work of Christ’s love in the world? Can you pray that you be open to the new ways that Christ has yet to use you?
So, the first two things that Paul implies that we are hungry for, are unity and giftedness. The third thing he implies that we are hungry for is growth. God endows us with each of those gifts for a purpose. Every one of those individual gifts, Paul tells us in what I think may be the most important prepositional phrase in scripture, is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” What the Body hungers for is growth. God didn’t endow us with our unique combination of gifts, interests and talents for our own benefit alone. He gave them to us that we might use them to empower others.
Growth is the goal: growth as individuals, growth as a community, growth in numbers – as each new person is invited, welcomed, joined and nurtured in the community of faith, growth in leadership, growth in mission and ministry, and growth in maturity. The Body of Christ hungers for growth. It is fed by the gifts with which God has endowed each of us.
So, the message I extrapolate today from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and John’s Gospel is to hunger. Hunger not just for the wonderful taste and smell of jerk chicken, curried goat, ackee salt-cod and other delicious Jamaican dishes we’ll enjoy today, but hunger for the unity and growth in Christ that can build us ever stronger and deeper into the living Body of Christ. Hunger for Christ Jesus as the true bread come down from heaven, the bread that gives life to the world. Hunger for the richness of love and community that we can share together in Jesus’ love. Hunger to use your unique gifts and talents and heritage to the glory of God and to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Amen.