I had one of those days this week where between morning appointments and my Japanese class, I didn’t have anything to eat between breakfast and dinner, so when I got home about 4, I was hungry. I suspect many of you have experienced this kind of hunger – knowing that the body is ready for sustenance. There is a naturalness to this hunger – we all experience it.
Hunger can be created, too. Just walk past Schimpffs Confectionery… they have an exhaust fan which wafts the fragrance of their candy making outside… inviting us to desire their delicacies. Flavors of cinnamon and chocolate and caramel…
Food is not the only object of hunger. We are also aware of people who are said to be hungry for power, for love, for wealth, notoriety or influence. In the process of satisfying these kinds of hungers it is possible to wreak havoc on others lives.
The reading from Genesis 2 shows clearly the effect of such a hunger. In this ancient story Adam & Eve are placed in a garden where their needs are supplied. They can eat of any tree, except the one in the center of the garden. At first their hungers are satisfied both with the garden and their relationship with God with whom they walk in the cool of the evening.
But over time the one forbidden fruit creates in them a new hunger – for that which they can’t have – a hunger spurred on by the serpent. The false hunger of the forbidden works on us today as well. For example – when our boys were little I would occasionally tell them that they could do any activity they wanted but they were not to scratch their nose. Suddenly scratching their nose was the one thing they needed and wanted to do – that prohibition produced a hunger to do it.
But this is not the only hunger Genesis reveals. The serpent sows the seeds of another hunger in saying “when you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God… knowing good and evil.” This desire to be like God is a hunger that runs through the history of humankind. It is often misunderstood as a hunger for power, for immortality, for knowing all, controlling all. God’s power comes not from great might, but from steadfast love. The serpent lied to Eve, and in the process helped to manufacture a hunger.
What are our created hungers? They can be seen is the hunger for the latest IPhone, the biggest & best house, the new car, the latest fashion trend… The other night we saw a 60 Minutes news story about a guy who hungered for the adrenaline rush that comes with danger and thrills. He reveled in skiing down a mountain and parachuting off a cliff. His friend had died on one of their adventures.
These and other hungers are deep, and often never satisfied. We want love, respect, power, wealth, to having a place or in society, to feel connected. These hungers are not new – they are at the base of the temptations in the Gospel story. Following Jesus’ baptism he was led into the wilderness – traditionally a place of danger, and struggle, where God can be met. In the wilderness for forty days (bible speak for “a long time”), Jesus grappled with who he was and the path set before him.
We see in Jesus’ interplay with the devil those human hungers that Jesus had to face. In fact many interpret the story itself not as a historic event but as a summary of those temptations that would be there throughout Jesus’ ministry: temptation for ease, control, and power.
First turn there stones into bread – here the temptation is to use his power & position for himself. Don’s grandfather once remarked on an acquaintance that “He started off to do good, but instead he did very well!”
The second test is symbolized by suggesting Jesus throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. This is testing God by using the promise as a shortcut to fame and power.
And finally there was the offer of all the dominions of the world if Jesus would offer worship to the devil… the hitch was that in return for control of the world, he would need to abandon the essence of who and whose he was.
In each of these temptations Jesus quoted a passage from Deuteronomy, the so-called “fifth Gospel.” One does not live by bread alone, but also by the word of God: hunger for God, Jesus tells the devil. Do not put the Lord your God to the test: hunger for spiritual maturity. Worship the Lord you God, and serve only him: hunger for right relationship.
In his time in the wilderness, Jesus was confronted with his hunger, both physical and spiritual. He chose to keep God at the center of his life, rather than putting himself above God.
Lent, we are told, in the invitation during the Ash Wednesday service, is a time to prepare by a season of self-examination, fasting, and centering ourselves in God. It is a time of retreat from the world to examine our lives and our choices. It is a time to look at our hungers, to see if they are misplaced, and to right ourselves, or as the church uses the word, to repent (to turn to face God) so that we are in right relationship with God.
Over centuries the church has developed practices that assist us to examine our hungers and to use these practices to help shift the center of our life from ourselves to have God in the center, which provides us with the ability to withstand the trials, temptations and misplaced hungers of life that are all around us.
We have this period of 6 weeks offered to us yearly as an opportunity to focus on where we are in our spiritual journey and to take specific steps to move towards where we want to be. They are not necessarily dramatic changes or actions. But sequential steps that allow us to be centered more and more in God and less and less in self and ego.
And it is of this journey of centering ourselves in God that the mystic Julia of Norwich wrote: “He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”
And the result of that is her most recognizable quote “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.”