Walking the Path: My Interfaith Journey

A Pagan seminarian's perspective on faith, theology, and facilitating interfaith dialogue.

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A Sermon on John 6: 48-59

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

I am still deeply affected by the events of this week, and I'm struggling to reconcile my feelings around what is going on in our country right now. How larger themes of racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, and hatred have permeated the fabric of our nation so completely. Working where I do in and amongst conservative Christians as a Pagan is a challenging and often times exhausting endeavor where showing up is half the battle. 

I was on call the morning after the election news broke, and in our case, whoever is on call that day delivers the morning devotional in Chapel that morning. I've done a variety of offerings from my tradition and they have all been warmly received, but on this day I wanted to present something that spoke to deeper bonds of fellowship and used common language I knew would connect with my colleagues and yet would remain true to my identity as a Pagan. I presented this piece I had written in my Gospel of John course at Iliff a few years ago:

 

Sermon: John 6: 48-59

 

“May you never hunger...” is a statement that is uttered during a ritual honoring the connective relationship between man, nature, and the Gods. It is a phrase I have said many times as I hand bread to a person next to me and they receive it. In many ways, bread symbolizes life for humanity. In a literal sense, bread can sustain us when we are hungry. The act of grinding grain, mixing it with water, and applying heat is a process that both uses energy and provides energy for the body to utilize. From a spiritual perspective, bread is the embodied representation of deity.

 

But what is the significance of the act of offering something to another? When I reach out my hand to offer bread to another, and by uttering the words “May you never hunger,” I’m not intending to say “I hope you never experience hunger again” in a literal sense because we all experience hunger on a daily basis. In some way I’m saying I hope you will never want for sustenance to sustain you—both physically and spiritually. I want you to always have your fill—your connection to humanity and the divine.

 

John 6:58 states: “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

 

In this statement Jesus is referencing himself as the bread of heaven and the way to eternal life. In a sense, he is offering himself the way we offer when we reach out our hand with bread to another.

 

I want to backtrack a little to the statement of “That which your ancestors ate.” Two Greek terms are used in reference to eating in John 6: 48-59. The first is phago, meaning to eat, devour, and consume. It is a singular destructive action and we see this term in words like phagocyte and phagein. The other term is trogo, meaning to gnaw or chew, and stresses the slow internal process of taking in. 

 

When the ancestors ate (phago) the manna given to them by God in the wilderness, it sustained them in a physical sense. It cured the temporary hunger that is part of the human condition. But it did nothing to sustain the spiritual hunger, or the connection to the divine and to each other. Each person gathered what they needed to sustain their physical form, but this distills each day to a process of gathering and consuming which brings no true satisfaction and fulfillment. 

 

When Jesus says “The one who eats this bread will live forever,” he is using the continuous form of eat (trogo) to delineate the human need for continuous connection and the long, slow process of internalization that is not simply satisfied by a one-time encounter. Additionally, he is offering himself as one offers bread to another around the table of fellowship—building a relationship which is sustained over time. The act of internalization (trogo) provides the building blocks our body uses to renew itself over and over, creating a new and energized body that can focus on the world outside of the individual need to consume. 

 

We are all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how food is one of the first, basic foundational needs in order for us to survive and scale the pyramid to self-actualization. But what if, instead of a pyramid, our needs form a circle that is continuous and life affirming. When we reach a hand out to another and offer bread, we offer physical comfort as well as the connection to each other and to the divine that allows us to become the best version of ourselves. Instead of climbing over each other in an effort to reach the top of the pyramid, we are joined in the reminder that we all have needs—we hunger, we thirst, and we need each other. This is how I take Jesus’ words to heart, and why I feel it is the act of offering himself as the bread that is the connection. So in closing, I say “May you never hunger.” So mote it be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Denora is currently a full-time wife, mother, and chaplain. She is an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force, an avid writer and blogger, as well as a fire spinner. She is an active member of Circle Sanctuary's Military Ministries team and the Lady Liberty League Military Affairs Task Force. She is also the Ecumenical Program Director for Oak Spirit Sanctuary of Missouri.

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