Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
We hear a minute of Bruce Springsteen’s “Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart”:
Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don't know where it's flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
Everybody's got a hungry heart
Everybody's got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody's got a hungry heart
Who remembers this song? And who sang it?
Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart” by Bruce Springsteen: a song about wanderlust
and bad decisions.
It would’ve been equally correct – and even more impressive – if someone had
also know that the phrase “hungry heart” came from the poet Alfred Lord
Tennyson. Springsteen got it from Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses,” in which the aged
hero speaks about his own restlessness and his hunger for new places and
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd 2
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known;
Even if you’re not the wandering type, you probably know what it feels like to
have a hungry heart, to yearn for something you don’t have… a place, a status, a
person, an achievement. You probably also realize how fickle our human hungers
can be. Once satisfied, our hunger finds another goal, and we long for something
The Hebrew people have experienced the miracle of the Exodus. They have
escaped from slavery and outrun the pursuing army of Pharaoh through the Red
Sea waters. But as soon as they get good and hungry, they start grumbling. Their
hunger for freedom is satisfied; now they yearn for the security of their better-fed
oppression. “At least in Egypt we had full stomachs,” they complain to Moses.
“Did you set us free to let us starve to death in the wilderness?
God assures Moses that bread will be supplied, a day’s portion at a time. Sure
enough, in the morning a fine flakelike substance appears on the ground. Instead
of raining down fire, a reasonable response to this ingratitude, God rains down
grace, in the form of manna. “What’s that?” the people ask when they see it. 3
Which is how manna got its name – literally its two syllables mean “what” and
“that.” God has provided them with the bread they need, but they don’t recognize
In our New Testament reading, from the Gospel of John, it is the day after Jesus
fed the 5,000. In a miracle of abundance, Jesus fed the enormous crowd with
nothing but a little bread and fish. Now the picnic is over and Jesus has taken his
disciples to the other side of the lake. But the crowds of people who shared the
meal with him yesterday are not about to let him go.
This is perfectly understandable. Jesus must look to them like their meal ticket. If
he can provide food, who knows what else he can do? Maybe shelter and clothing,
too? In their minds he has the potential to lighten the fundamental burdens of their
lives. Perhaps he can protect them from the never-ending uncertainties that poor
people everywhere and in every time must contend with. Who among us –would
not choose security over anxiety -- even those of us who know where our next
meal is coming from?
Soon the crowd catches up with Jesus and his disciples on the other side of the lake
in Capernaum. There they greet him with a question: "Rabbi, when did you come
here?" It sounds innocent enough, somewhat like saying, "Fancy meeting you 4
here." But it means much more. They want to know more about him. Who is he?
What else does he have to offer them?
Jesus calls their bluff: “I know what you’re up to,” he says to the crowd. “You’ve
come after me because of what happened yesterday when it was time to eat. You
ate your fill, now you think I represent a free lunch. But you’ve missed the point
completely. I am a different kind of meal ticket. I am the bread of life.” In other
words, God has provided them with bread, but they don’t recognize the gift.
Rev. Stephen Shoemaker says that sometimes we need to empty ourselves of
what’s stuffing us in order to recognize what we are truly hungry for. We stuff
ourselves with activity and achievement, but hunger for something that means
more and lasts longer. Churches grumble about worship styles and tight budgets
and membership rolls while the world starves for bread (little “b”) and Bread
(capital “B”) – acceptance, belonging, community, hope.
Can we allow ourselves to be fed as God wants to feed us? Can we refrain from
stuffing ourselves with food that does not last? Can we be content with just our
daily bread – as we pray every Sunday – so that God can replenish us and we
always have enough to share? 5
For the next two months, March and April, we will be studying the Gospel of John
in our Gateway small groups, and exploring it together in our worship services.
We will discover just how different John is from the other three gospels. Matthew,
Mark and Luke want to show us what Jesus did – how he taught, preached, healed,
served, suffered, died, rose from death. John wants to show us who Jesus is – fully
human, yes, but clearly also fully divine.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, John has no birth stories. Jesus was with God from the
very beginning, from the time before creation. The miracle of Jesus, for John, is
not that he was born of a virgin, but that he is from God, and of God, and,
therefore, God. For John, Jesus is the Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the
creative power of God, the divine logos, come to dwell with us as one of us.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t tell parables the way he does in the other three
gospels: no Prodigal Son, no seeds sown on rocky soil, no wedding banquets.
Instead – as you will see – Jesus repeatedly refers to himself using physical images
– I am the gate, the door, the shepherd,” he says. “I am light, I am water, I am
bread.” He says that he is these things, but then he uses the images to point to
something bigger than they actually are.
"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever
believes in me will never be thirsty.” Does he mean it literally? Figuratively? 6
Who is this man who answers questions with riddles, riddles that don’t answer the
questions as much as they lead us ever deeper into the mystery of the divine? Gail
Ramshaw says that “living deeply into the metaphors of the Christian faith is not
for the faint of heart. You need an inspired heart, a flexible mind and even a steady
stomach to read the Gospel of John.”
“I am the bread of life.” Later in the same chapter John will tell us that Jesus also
says, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Those who
eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living
Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live
because of me.”
A strong stomach, indeed!
Those of you with backgrounds in the Roman Catholic Church might remember
from your childhood catechism classes that, in the Catholic faith, the bread of the
Eucharist really does become the flesh of Jesus and the wine truly his blood. The
result was, however, that many of the faithful avoided the Lord’s Supper (or the
Mass) out of fear of somehow profaning or desecrating the body and blood of their
Lord. 16th century Protestant reformers were disturbed by this response and looked
for a way to recover a sense of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine that 7
affirmed Christ’s real presence but didn’t try to pinpoint how or when that
The result of that understanding, unfortunately, was that many Protestants – then
and now – think they if they don’t understand the Lord’s Supper in the Catholic
way, they don’t believe in the real presence of Christ at all. Holy Communion
becomes a memorial, remembering Christ’s real absence instead of his real
But Protestant belief, including United Methodist belief, is that Christ is really and
truly present at this table with his gathered people. We may not believe that his is
here in the sense that a miraculous physical change has occurred in the cellular
composition of the bread and juice, but we believe he is here. Even John Calvin –
who did not shy away from proving every detail of every theological point he
made – said of the Lord’s Supper, “I would rather experience it than understand
Who is Jesus? He is the bread that feeds us with what we need for life, that
satisfies our real hunger. He is the water that quenches our thirst and never dries
up. He is the door to the Kingdom of God; the light that is the life of the world; the
shepherd that gathers his flock; the gate to the sheepfold. Images pour out of the
Gospel of John in a rain of poetry that cannot be understood but only experienced. 8
Who is Jesus? There are many answers. Lent is a good time to ask that question.
To sit with it, patiently, and wait for a response, a new understanding. Lent is 40
days long, beginning this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, and ending on April 20,
Easter Sunday. The Sundays in Lent don’t count as part of the liturgical season, so
without them, there are 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Lent is a
good time to ask questions and wait for responses because 40 is the number for
Noah lasted the 40 days of the Great Flood; Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai;
the Hebrew people wandered for 40 years in the wilderness; also in the wilderness,
Jesus was tempted for 40 days; and he appeared to the disciples for 40 days after
his death and before his ascension. It is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the
number of the weeks of human gestation, from fertilization to birth. 40 – the time
“Who is Jesus?” We will spend Lent and Easter with John’s Gospel, and he will
give us much to consider as a response to that question. But if that is not the
question that burns in your heart, maybe you will use Lent to ask a different one.
“What am I hungry for?” What is my heart hungry for?” “What is the world
hungry for?” 9
They were in the desert now. The fear and excitement of their flight from Egypt
was over. They had made it to freedom. The long, hard trek through the desert
was ahead. The people grew hungry, irritable, contentious. “Where will we get
bread in a God-forsaken place like this?” they want to know. Then the manna
appears. Even when they are complaining and ungrateful, God cares for them.
This is a story about God caring and sharing.
But it is also a story about people caring and sharing, with each other. Enough
manna appears only for one day’s hunger. The people are to gather only what they
need. Those who tried to grab and hoard the food found that it spoiled. They have
to learn to see it as a gift, and to receive it as a gift, to take only what they need, to
share it equally.
When we see food as a gift, it becomes holy. When we grab and hoard it, we
impoverish others and spoil it for ourselves. We see what happens when we
indulge in gluttony and others starve. The hungry of the world do not sit idly by,
they rise up in anger and violence. When Jesus calls himself the Bread of life,
surely he means that he is a gift, just as bread is a gift, and that he is to be shared,
just as bread is to be shared.
Bishop Will Willimon says that when a person comes upon a piece of bread, gives
thanks for the bread and eats it, that is a meal. But when a person comes upon a 10
piece of bread and takes the bread, gives thanks for it and then shares it, that is a
Even Bruce Springsteen know this is true.
“Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” he sings. And here’s how his song ends:
Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don't make no difference what nobody says
Ain't nobody like to be alone.
Charles Hoffman. “Wonder Bread (John 6:24-35)” The Christian Century, July 25, 2006, p. 19.
H. Stephen Shoemaker. “Hungry For More (Ex. 16:2-4,9-15; Jn. 6:24-35)” The Christian
Century, July 19-26, 2000, p. 752.
Bruce Springsteen. “Everybody's Got a Hungry Heart.” The River. Columbia, 1980. LP.
Alfred Lord Tennyson. “Ulysses.” 1833/1842. SparkNotes.com. Web.
Ginger Barfield. “Commentary on John 6:24-35.” WorkingPreacher.org. August 5, 2012. Web.
Karoline Lewis et al. Sermon Brainwave for August 5, 2012. Podcast. WorkingPreacher.org.
Gail Ramshaw, “Metaphors of the faith.” The Christian Century. July 28, 2009.
William H. Willimon. Sunday Dinner: The Lord’s Supper and the Christian Life. The Upper