Fourth Sunday in Lent 2006

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on March 26, 2006. 
Based on John 6:4-15 (IV Lent, Year B).

Every time I drive past a McDonald’s, the boys plead with me to pull over so they can get a Happy Meal. If you have kids, you know all about Happy Meals – and the persistent nagging they bring out in our children. But for those not familiar with them, they’re specially packaged kids’ meals that come with a plastic toy inside. And the power of a cheap plastic toy and overpriced processed chicken is amazing. Within a day the toy inevitably winds up on the floor of the mini van or the family room; forgotten and broken. So, perhaps they should be renamed “Temporarily Happy Meals.” Because the joy lasts only until the toy breaks, the boys get hungry again, and we pass yet another McDonalds. 

As adults, we too fall into what I’ll call the “Happy Meal Syndrome.” We see something we want, and, believing it will bring us great joy, we go out and get it. And the new sofa, or new car, or new pair of shoes, or new relationship does fill us with joy, temporarily. But the delight is passing and soon forgotten; the happiness is fleeting and we are again left with the same hunger for joy and fulfillment. And then, like a child passing the next McDonald’s, we pass the next store window or open the next catalogue, and the whole cycle starts all over again. 

In this morning’s gospel, we hear the famous story of the feeding of the 5,000. With five loaves and two fish Jesus feeds the masses. Jesus miraculously takes away their physical hunger but, just as miraculously, the mere presence of Jesus feeds their spiritual hunger. And it’s a wonderful reminder that the only thing that can really satisfy our deep hunger; the only thing that can fulfill our innate longing is authentic relationship with God. Nothing else comes close. And so it’s no coincidence that Jesus goes on to proclaim to the assembled crowd, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” Jesus alone sustains us on this journey of life and faith. Nothing else comes close.

This Lenten season, as we focus upon our spiritual lives and seek ways to be nurtured by God, we must ask the question, how do we put ourselves in position to be fed this bread of life that is Jesus? The first thing we need is to be open and receptive to the divine presence. Fine. But practically speaking how do we do this? Jesus himself points the way as he looks at the large crowd that had gathered. He tells his disciples to “Make them sit down.” In other words, stop running around, stop talking, sit down, listen, and be ready to receive this bread. We need, sometimes, to be told to sit down and still our hearts. So, sit down. Sit down so that you may be fed. Listen so that you may be fed. Be still so that you may be fed. For it is only when we cease our endless flurry of activity that we may be fed; that we may be in position to receive the bread of life.

When it comes to our souls, there is plenty of junk food out there. Things that taste good going down but never fill you up. Things that seemingly offer you joy but cannot sustain you. We spend our lives chasing these things. Ephemeral things, temporary things, fleeting things, “Happy Meal” things. And we wonder why we feel so unsatisfied; why life feels like something burdensome to “get through” rather than something to be lived and savored. But Jesus offers us this wonderful secret: if we eat of this bread that is Jesus Christ, we will live forever. This meal, this bread of life, this literal and proverbial communion with Jesus, holds the key to fulfillment and is the source of our salvation. 

But even when we claim to know this, we don’t always act as if it’s true. I think we’re sometimes afraid to put all of our trust in God. That maybe this living bread won’t be enough to sustain us in the wilderness that is the human condition. That perhaps the supply will run short and there won’t be enough for us when we really need it. But the feeding miracle says something else about Jesus: with him the abundance of this bread of life is unlimited. There is even bread left over. It is a supply that will never run short. A supply that goes beyond human expectation and understanding, as we see in Jesus’ initial dialogue with Philip and Andrew.  They find a boy with five loaves and two fish. “But what are they among so many people?” they ask. They doubt Jesus’ capacity to nourish – 

both physically and spiritually. And we often do likewise. We doubt Jesus’ full capacity for love, grace, and nourishment. Which is always foolish because, Jesus, as he shows in this miracle feeding, has an unlimited capacity of love and mercy. “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost,” Jesus says at the end of the meal. Even if we continue to doubt God’s capacity to feed and nourish us, Jesus will still gather us up. He leaves no fragment of bread behind and he leaves no child of God behind. Even in the midst of our doubts and lack of trust.

In a sense, Jesus is the ultimate “Happy Meal.” He doesn’t come with french fries or a cheap plastic toy. But faith in Jesus Christ does bring us a sense of joy and wonder that is everlasting; an enduring “happiness” that doesn’t fade or diminish. Even when the toy breaks. 

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006

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