Hunger Games

J. D. Ousley/Sermon—5Aug12/Jn6

“Hunger Games”

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

The young adult novel Hunger Games has been read by millions of people—including, I’m sure many old adults! The film that was made from the book has been watched by millions more.

While the book is a fast-paced thriller, I think that it’s the initial premise of the book that draws people into it. In a future America, children are chosen by lottery to fight each other to the death. They participate in an annual “hunger game.”

The combat takes place on a plot of land filled with hidden cameras. Thus, the fighting can be viewed by the rich citizens in the Capitol of the country. The spectacle is also seen by residents of the poor territories who provide the children. Following the rules of the Games, only one child will survive at the end. The winner will become a national hero and will be supported by the state for life.

Stated this simply, the plot may sound incredible. It’s hard to believe that the rich and powerful could be this cruel. But in the course of history, barbarism is hardly rare. People have done all kinds of terrible things to each other.

Think of early Christian history. Our ancestors in the faith were persecuted in the Roman Coliseum. The first Christians were forced to fight wild beasts and each other for the amusement of the Romans. I imagine that this spectacle was in Suzanne Collins’ mind when she wrote her novel.

And the title, “Hunger Games” seems to refer to the poverty that the competing children come from as well as to the fact that they will have to find food while the contest goes on. Yet readers may feel that it also refers to another kind of “hunger:” the hunger of the elite who watch the games.

The citizens in the Capitol have apparently become so comfortable that they are easily bored. They are only amused by the most extreme thrills. Their inner emptiness can only be filled by the pleasure they take in the pain of children.

The elite’s inner hunger leads us to today’s Gospel. For that text is also about hunger. And it also contrasts bodily hunger with hunger in the soul.

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus advises his disciples that filling the spiritual emptiness is most important. He says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

Jesus also promises that he will give his followers that food: “I am the bread of life,” he says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry…”

Just as God provided the manna from heaven that fed the people of Israel in the wilderness, so the Kingdom of God heralded by Jesus “gives life to the world.” No wonder that in the course of time, spiritual bread in the communion service became the heart of Christian worship.

Admittedly, “the bread of life” can mean different things to different people. Churches have varying interpretations of the sacrament of the Eucharist.

But these differences are ultimately superficial compared to the deeper question that arise as we ponder Christ’s offer of the Bread of Life. We each need to ask ourselves, “What do I hunger for?”

For, from the perspective of faith, life is a hunger game. All of us have souls that need to be fed. Just as everyone needs physical sustenance to maintain their bodies, so we all have to satisfy our inner hunger.

What do you hunger for? When you hear Christ’s promise of the Bread of Life, what do you think he wants to give you, to satisfy your hunger?

One way to reflect on these questions is to remember why we eat in the first place. First, food fills us up; hunger usually comes from an empty stomach. So by analogy, we might consider times when we feel spiritually empty.

Maybe I’m finding that my days follow a dull routine. While things aren’t going badly for me, my life seems to lack energy and purpose. Medieval theologians called this state of the soul, “acedia.” “Acedia” can also be defined as lassitude, boredom or passivity. The citizens of the Capitol might have shown acedia in devising the Hunger Games.

Acedia can be seasonal. I find that I’m especially prone to feel listless during the dog days of August, when many parishioners are out of town on weekends and a lot of church programs are in suspended animation.

To combat my feelings, I try to go out of my way to fill up my days with planning for the fall. I try to work with staff and church leaders to try to come up with new projects.

If I am lucky, when the “school year” begins, I’ll have a sense that I’m making progress in doing the work God has called me to do. I’ll have a full plate–a full agenda that will be a sign of a fulfilling ministry.

A second fact about food is that it gives strength. The fasting rules that the church traditionally advised for holy days like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday said that even though you were supposed to do without normal meals on such days, you were allowed to eat “to maintain strength.” In other words, everyone needs a bare minimum of food to make them strong.

This fact about food suggests another benefit of the Bread of Life. Spiritual unlocks inner power.

In The Hunger Games, the two young heroes end up helping each other, even though only one child is slated to win the contest.

There’s a Gospel truth here. Hunger is filled when we work with others. Christ the Bread of Life gives strength when we take risks and act for values beyond ourselves.

Devoting time and energy to help a friend, for example, can make us feel less tired. Working with others gives us a new, inner energy.

So, on this Sunday just before the Feast of the Transfiguration, let’s take a moment to give thanks. Let’s thank God for the Bread of Life that fills us, and strengthens us, and transfigures us, and helps us to become the persons God wants us to be.

 

And now unto that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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