Click on video to listen to sermon
Recently I watched the film the Hundred-Foot Journey, and the main character Hassan talks about cooking with his mother who passed away and how the smells of certain foods remind him of her. He said that “food is memories.” Food is full of memories, especially on this Thanksgiving Holiday; some are good and some are not as wonderful. But food is full of memories for each of us.
One of my favorite memories of food was a thanksgiving about 15 years ago now. I have been going to my Aunt Beth’s house for Thanksgiving for the last thirty years. And my Aunt is an excellent cook and takes pride in her thanksgiving meal—getting a fresh thirty pound bird, making homemade stuffing and my favorite, sauerkraut and Kielbasa—so good.
Now, there have been many thanksgivings but the most memorable year was when my aunt was busy preparing the stuffing and was chopping away and in the midst of her preparation she accidentally cut the tip of her finger off. We don’t know how but she lost it in the stuffing.
My poor aunt was in so much pain from the cut and the whole family was in pain over not having edible stuffing at Thanksgiving. Years later we still laugh about how no one was brave enough to eat the stuffing that year just in case it was contaminated since my aunt did not have enough time that day to prepare a new batch plus go to patient first.
Yes, that was a memorable thanksgiving but what I love about that year is that even though the stuffing perished (literally); the love and work that went into making that meal and the love of our family and friends that gathered to eat it--that is what is remembered.
That might not have been the best thanksgiving meal but it is full of memories that still endure. Food gathers us into a community--on this holiday it might be with a community friends or family or maybe alone but celebrating the holiday as a country unites into a greater community. Food gathers us.
Food is what gathers the crowd in the gospel today. This crowd is familiar. This crowd of about 5,000 men that were previously fed by Jesus with five loaves of bread and two fish traveled together across the sea to find Jesus for more food.
It is not the miracle of feeding so many with so little that captivates these men but the potential of being fed to their fill once again. Jesus knows that they are physically hungry but he senses their desperation for something else too—they are seeking something they are even unsure of or don’t know how to describe.
That is why Jesus does not shame them or reprimand them for traveling to see him for more to eat. Because he knows that they did not just cross an entire sea for more bread and fish. That what they are seeking is beyond physical hunger and Jesus would be able to recognize this because he knew what it meant to be hungry—he spent 40 days in the desert with nothing to eat. He knows that earthly food will not be enough to sustain these men or subside their hunger for something greater.
So Jesus says to them, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
This is not about shaming or reprimanding or dismissing their physical hunger—on the contrary. He meets these men where they are— both physically and spiritually. Jesus knows the desperation it took for them to work to get there. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
Jesus is pushing the crowd to expect more—not more bread or more physical food but to expect more and to seek more out of their relationship with God and also out of themselves so that they will experience peace for eternity. He’s challenging them yet guiding them on how to live a life filled with food that endures. What does this look like for this crowd and also for us? Piety? Faithfulness? Trust? Belief? All of the above?
Jesus us tells the crowd to Work for this food— to work is to believe in Jesus Christ and to believe is to trust that God—who sent his son to die on the cross for our sins because of a wonderous love for us, to trust that God is ever present in our lives and in the moments of desperate hunger. The work of believing and trusting in Jesus involves us filling our lives with food that supports and feeds that belief and trust in Christ.
Jesus says work for the food that endures for eternal life—work for healthy relationships that support and encourages our relationship with God and our faith life, work for time in prayer that can provide calm and self-reflection, work for food that gives us confidence and peace to share the Good News of Christ in the world.
Work for food that feeds our relationship with God that allows us to trust, believe, to hope and to remember. Because that is the relationship that endures forever.
Food is memories and Food is what gathers us together. It is what gathers us today—to partake in the holy meal at God’s table. It is how we remember the love and sacrifice given and made by Christ. It is through our participation in the Eucharist that signifies our work of trusting and believing in Jesus. Jesus says today, “I am the Bread of Life.” I will fulfill all your hunger. “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” That is the food we believe and trust in because the bread of life sustains and never perishes.
Food is filled with our memories but it also filled with hope and love for our continual relationship with one another and with God. And as we gather around many tables today and eat meals prepared by those we love let us give thanks for the hope we have been given in the bread of life by Christ and the opportunity to work for food that does endure and sustain and gives meaning to this life. Amen.
The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton