Several years ago I watched a movie title “The Hunger Games.” The movie was about a mythical place with a capital filled with rich, famous, and self-centered people surrounded by twelve districts. Each of the twelve districts had a special responsibility to provide certain products needed by the elite people in the capital. The Hunger Games is a dark movie about an annual contest where two members of each district battle to the death with only one survivor. This battle to the death is designed to entertain the elite and intimidate the working class.
As I watched the first movie in the series of movies I began to wonder, “What does the story have to do with the name “Hunger Games?” I suspect it had something to do with the hunger for the basic need to survive. Well, if you get a chance to watch on of these hunger game movies I would suggest you pass it up. The “Hunger Games” are dark and they can only bring you down unless you enjoy watching people attacking and killing each other. Don’t ask me to explain why I watched the first movie. And yet, the term “Hunger Games” could be a metaphor for how we go about living our lives. No! Not as in the movie, but in the struggle to live.
Naturally, the most basic of our hunger games is the process of getting food to sustain our bodies. Feeding ourselves and our families is a basic task in life. It’s part of how Jesus, himself, has taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Eating is, of course, necessary for life. Everyone who has to plan a menu for the week knows it is not always an easy task to plan how to feed our family, even if that family is total of one.
Hunger games! We all know we eat in order to live, but many of us live to eat. I know I do. I look forward to eating certain foods like a good juicy steak or a meat lovers pizza. What is your favorite food? Is it good for you or does it fulfill some other need? Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat?
Deciding what to eat and how much can be a problem. Years ago I remember eating sweets when I felt I had a bad day and I thought I deserved those goodies. On my worst of days I’d sit down with a glass of milk and eat a whole package of cookies. They were a comfort food for me. Eating disorders can develop quickly. All the way from anorexia to obesity our eating can become harmful. It can become a hunger game.
After Sharon and I discovered we were both diabetic we have made our blood sugar measurements a kind of hunger game. “Who had the best sugar count.” There are many problems with eating. Recently, I talked to a woman who fights to have enough sugar in her system. Her blood sugars get too low, which can be deadly if left untreated.
Speaking about hunger for some hunger is no game. There is real hunger in our world and even in Thermopolis. Personally, I don’t worry about where my next meal may come from, but some do. When we say. “I’m hungry,” it doesn’t mean the same thing as those who are starving to death.
I am thankful for those in this town who strive to feed hungry children and families to help them avoid physical hunger. Thank God no one in America need to starve to death. Food banks, food stamps, shelters, meals on wheels, people to people, and other such programs work to feed the people who do not have a hot meal waiting for them at home.
Over the years Peter Vogal has come to tell the story of feeding starving children in central Uganda. These are the children who are literally starving to death. There are no hunger games there. The program he helps with has expanded to include many more than the handful they began with in the early years of their ministry. I believe Peter told us they now feed over six hundred hungry souls each day. As Christians we need to work to overcome that kind of hunger wherever it is found. It’s a matter of life and death. “I was hungry and you fed me,” was a commission Jesus himself gave us.
There are hunger games other than basic eating. Most of us know someone who “yoyo diets.” They eat all kinds of comfort foods that make them feel better, but make them gain weight. Pretty soon they can no longer get into their clothes. The diet begins. They often not only make themselves uncomfortable during the diet, but everyone around them. It’s a kind of hunger game for them. After the diet is over, often they quickly regain the weight, but a few more pounds.
Lest I sound like I’m judging these folks I would point like far too many of us I have struggled with this issue. I know about healthy diets and what leads us astray, and yet, we often don’t eat right. Our culture doesn’t help! All around us are foods, restaurants, and advertisements to try to seduce us into abusing our bodies with food we should not eat, or the amounts we should not consume.
Physical hunger is only one hunger we face. There are far too many people who are starving for affection. Loneliness is a very dangerous form of hunger. We all do some very unhealthy things in the attempt to fill an empty heart. Talk about hunger games. Desperate, many of us have played games trying to overcome this emotional hunger.
There is nothing sadder when someone marries not out of love but out of loneliness alone. Loveless marriages are merely the result of this kind of hunger. Children and youth sometimes do desperate things when they cannot be filled with love at home. They act out in the hope of finding someone who cares. How sad!
Too often the elderly linger alone in a rest home, or in their homes without a single soul to love them. They hunger for a kind word, but none come. Often, a kind word, or a listening ear is a cherished gift for many an elderly person. None of us know how many people around us are living quiet lives of desperate loneliness. These people live in a darkness too sad to say.
Now, there is still another hunger we cannot solve ourselves. I call it soul hunger. Many don’t understand they are starving for an intimate relationship with God as they attempt to live without God. The good news is that Jesus offers hope to all who hunger in this way. He teaches, “I am the bread of life. They who come to me shall never hunger.” –John 6:26
Today’s scripture is about Jesus teaching this lesson just a day after he had fed the five thousand. The day before he had been preaching to feed the mind and soul to all who would listen. When the day got too late for the people to go to town to get food Jesus took pity upon them and took time to feed them. Jesus wanted body, mind and soul fed. It was not hunger game for him. As a result he fed the five thousand with a few loafs of bread and some fish.
More importantly, the very next day he offered all who could hear the bread of life that nourishes us for an eternity. In William Barclay’s commentary he pointed out that this scripture is one of the greatest scriptures in the entire Bible for two reasons. Bread is a symbol for the food that sustains life. What Jesus was talking about was clearly more than physical life. “I am the bread of life,” was a phrase Jesus used not in a hunger game, but to sustain life beyond this life. He was talking about an abundant spiritual food for this life and beyond.
Today, we take Holy Communion on the Sunday after “All-saints Day.” All-Saints Day isn’t about perfection but those who have committed their life to a new relationship with their Heavenly Father through his son, Christ Jesus. Yes! It is true some faith communities take this communion so literally they believe the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ. I respect those traditions, although we come from a tradition who believe this bread and fruit of the vine is only symbolic. Even so, all Christian traditions see Holy Communion as eternal. I believe this makes Holy Communion even more real.
Jesus came to be born, lived and died so that we might be given the bread of life that sustains us for all eternity. It’s no hunger game. This gift of the bread of life comes out of our Heavenly Father’s love for us. It comes to us through the sacrifice and love of our Savior, Christ Jesus.
What do you have to do to get this bread of life? First, we need to remember we can’t earn it. We can’t do anything to deserve it. Second, we need to remember we can’t do anything to lose it unless we intentionally throw it away. We can reject the gift but Christ Jesus will never take it away from us. All we must do to eat of the bread of life is accept it after we have confessed we have fallen short of deserving it. Confession is essential to Holy Communion. We partake in it because Jesus offers it as a gift.
Recently, a priest turned a politician away because he was openly pro-choice. I will not turn you away. I have no idea what is in your heart, and what relationship you have with Christ. Taking communion is an intimate meal between you and your savior. It is not for me to judge you.
I once served a small country church that had two basic extended families. On one Sunday in which Holy Communion was to be served the extended family that took communion was away at a family reunion. The remaining extended family grew up in a tradition that believed you had to be without sin before you took Holy Communion. Each and every time they would say they did not deserve communion because they had unresolved sins. Their belief was based on what Paul wrote about how we are to take communion, “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the wine.: I Corinthians 11:28
They believed if everything wasn’t 100% right with others they should not take communion, but they had overlooked an important step. Confession! Yes, we should not take communion lightly. We should stand convicted of a life that falls short of the glory of God. However, I believe they misunderstood the purpose of confession. If we confess our sins, sincerely, then God forgives us without a doubt. Confession in the heart prepares us for Holy Communion. Holy Communion isn’t about perfection. It’s about remembering the gift of the Bread of Life, which comes from the Christ who forgives us.
Finally, I have also known some Christians who believe Holy Communion is not important. But this belief is not of Christ. On that night before he died he invited an imperfect group of apostles to take communion as an act of remembrance of Jesus’ forgiveness and love. We should always desire to come to communion as obedient Christians. As forgiven children of God we can come today to eat of the bread of life and drink of the living water, for which we will never hunger or thirst again. It’s the fit of Christ we are given. It’s no hunger game.
Pastor Paul Grossman