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Holy Hunger

Lent 3, Common Lectionary Year C

Isaiah 55:1-9

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones

Scripture audio file

Sermon audio file

I am hungry.
I had breakfast. I don’t mean that.
I’m hungry in my soul.
As the world has turned this week;
white supremacist terrorism in New Zealand,
so far away, yet touching the lives of people we know and love
with unimaginable grief for killed cousins;
a week in which another black kid is shot to death in the US,
a week in which a devastating cyclone
has left 100s dead, and millions without food, or water, or shelter….
while Prime Ministers are tongue-tied by political posturing,
a week in which truth is bartered and battered
by Cabinet scandals, judicial election probe reports..
I am just so hungry, or thirsty,
… for…. I don’t know….

I just know my soul is starving.
Theologian Sam Wells describes this as a hunger
“that lingers deep, disturbingly,
in the bottom of your soul,
and it doesn’t have a name.”
It’s the sort of hunger that takes on its own life;
it disturbs our sleep and peace,
it provokes frenetic quests
for anything that can assuage it,
if only for a time;
more prayer, more action,
more “climbing the highest mountains,
scaling of city walls,
only to come exhausted to the conclusion,
as the U2 song goes, that
“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

To which, Isaiah says, God has a rhetorical question for an answer:
“Why do you spend your money for that which doesn’t feed;
your energy for that which doesn’t satisfy?”

Well, that’s Jobian comfort.
How did that sound to exiled Israel
in 536 BCE, or thereabouts?
They had no choice.
They got chaff, not wheat to eat.
They had shelter but it wasn’t home.
They had work, but it wasn’t a livelihood, a vocation.
They were co-optees into a system that held them captive
to low grade incessant hunger
for that which has no name.
Their faith in a future was chained
to a present anguish that left no room
for anything approaching a sanctified imagination.

Frankly, then,
a vision of milk and wine
of a bazaar/marketplace where the cornucopia of earth’s bounty
is set before them without price seems more like a cruel joke than a promise!

And that hasn’t changed.
Not for the migrant, undocumented worker
who cleans the gold plated toilet,
nor for the Iranian neurologist who drives your cab to the airport,
not for the hijabi student who wonders
if she’ll ever be allowed to become a teacher,
not for the working family who hasn’t eaten anything not handed out
by the foodbank in months.

There is a deep, lingering, disturbing hunger
in the soul of humanity,
that is crying out for … what?

Not a utopian Neverland of unbridled plenty, that’s for sure.
Our modern world has been trying to offer us that for over a century;

  • unstoppable growth, guaranteed security, democracy without effort,
  • money for no work, leisure with no peace;
    and we are witnessing, we are experiencing
    the emaciation of the human spirit
    that this false nourishment has engendered.

Isaiah’s vision feels a bit too much like
a beer or hotdog advert
promising sunshine, popularity
and no weight gain,
to be trusted.
We don’t believe there’s such a thing
as a free lunch,
not even from God.

But the vision Isaiah casts is but a preamble
to a plea,
an even deeper hunger than ours
at the heart of this text.

In our fast-food hurry,
we skip quickly through it, past it, over it,
so we can listen to the trees
clapping their hands,
and the mountains singing
as the redeemed of the Holy One come home,
our hunger somehow miraculously satisfied without our effort.

We don’t listen, as the text implores…
we don’t incline our ear,
we don’t dwell in the word,
we don’t roll the verbs on our tongue,
we ignore that long-forgotten covenant,
we step politely over the ‘wicked’ and ‘unrighteous’
and roll our eyes at the divine claim
to ineffable mystery,
and in so doing we miss how hungry God is.

That hunger we have for wars to cease,
for hatred to be healed with compassion,
for futures and hopes and dignity
and wholeness
for every child, every woman,
every gender- queer teenager,
every aging senior,
is the hunger God has.

That hunger we have for truth,
and honesty and integrity,
for compassion and care and love
to be the currency of the human economy,
to undergird the civil politics of the global community,
are the very same hungers
that growl and linger in the heart of God.

That hunger we have for
religious harmony in diversity
to replace bigoted tribalism;
for race and skin colour to be celebrated
as mirrors of creation’s
polychromatic splendour,
rather than used as clubs and bludgeons
to protect the white at the expense of the rest,
all these hungers we have
mirror God’s hungering Dream for Her Creation.

And in that lies our hope, our Gospel;
God has put within God’s people
this lingering disturbing hunger
for what God desires, for what God hungers;
this world’s healing wholeness, soon, now.

For this holy hunger
I am so very hungry!
And I dare say, so are you. (images of Mosque, and of New Zealand)
So are these people; we gathered in the rain
on Friday, and wished each other peace,
shared dates and hot coffee with the police,
and promised each other kinship
in the names of God.
So are these people,
turning out around the world
to hunger together and thirst for a world
that can turn away from wickedness,
and let go of the unrighteous,
unworthy mindset of scarcity,
supremacy, might and right,
These people,
hungering along with God,
for this world to turn back towards justice,
towards compassion,
towards connection.

I pray for us then, a holy hunger,
that will only be satisfied by
the generous sharing by us
of the milk and wine of human-kindness,
for the healing of the world,
beginning here, now, at home, in our neighbourhoods.

I pray for us a holy, insatiable thirst
that will be quenched
only when we drink deep from the everflowing streams of God’s justice,
not for our sake, not to protect our interests,
but for the sake of all with whom we share life itself.

I am hungry,
we are hungry.
God is hungry.
for this we fast and thirst.

The psalmist sings,
God, it is you my soul thirsts for,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water;
It is you and your Dream
my flesh hungers for,
more than the night watchers long for the morning.

Let us be this hungry.
Amen.

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