Proclaiming the Word
Satisfying the Hunger
Satisfying the Hunger
I couldn't see her face but I could her voice in the booth behind me at the Chuey's restaurant on Broadway a couple blocks from Vanderbilt University. This 20-something was sitting with a couple others her age telling about some of her recent church experiences. As they chewed on their chips and salsa and awaited the arrival of their meal, I chewed on what I was hearing – or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it chewed on me. This young lady was hungry. She’d visited several churches. I was intrigued because the bulk of her comments were not about the style of service, location, or even the degree to which she was welcomed. She seemed most interested in the sermons. She came to Chuey’s because she was hungry for Mexican food. She visited several churches because she was hungry for a Word from God. Here are a few of her comments: “This one just talked about political stuff.” Of another church, “The sermon had no substance. He talked a lot and made people laugh but he really didn’t say much.” “I went to another where it just seemed like everyone was trying to be "cool. I guess some others are, well, the opposite of that.” “I don't mean to be talking bad about church but that’s just some stuff I've seen.” Her friends applauded her persistence and every now and then one would chime in with, “I’ve seen that too,” or “you’ve got to be kidding me.” She wasn’t hostile to the faith. She was hungry for it. But like the U2 classic, she still hadn’t found what she was looking for.
Part of me wanted to ask if I could join them but instead I just strained to hear their conversation above the noise that was increasing as the restaurant filled with others who were there to satisfy their hunger.
A few minutes later the friend I was eating with arrived and my attention shifted but I haven’t been able to get away from that conversation. Even as I replay it my mind today the irony is painful. This young lady knew she’d walk away from Chuey’s with her physical hunger satisfied. She hadn’t had the same experience with the hunger of the heart in the churches she’d visited. The primary reason was because the sermons were something less than the kind of soul-food for which she hungered. She was giving voice to what Mary Catherine Hilkert describes:
“The ‘anointing of the Spirit’ that is necessary to hear the word includes a desire to hear and be challenged by the gospel. The Christian community knows when that has not happened precisely because the Spirit of God stirs up resistance and creates expectations that have not been fulfilled.” (Mary Catherine Hilkert, Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination, New York: Continuum 1997, p. 85)
Barbara Brown Taylor shares the same sentiment: “Those who listen to us expect more than a history lesson on Luke-Acts plus some freeze-dried stories we got out of a book. They want food for their hearts. They want help for their souls. They want to see Jesus, or at least someone who knows Jesus, and God help us if we offer them less than that.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, “Preaching into the Next Millennium” in Clarke, Ed. Exilic Preaching: Testimony for Christian Exiles in an Increasingly Hostile Culture, 98-99.)
I don’t think my restaurant neighbor is alone. People aren’t looking for “cool.” They don't come to church hungry for a political speech or an experience that is all style and no substance. They are looking for gospel, good news, an alternative story than the one they are living.
Advent is a time when hungry people will show up because the Spirit has been making them aware of an unsatisfied hunger. They will be looking for some substantial soul-food. As much as they can help our creativity, the kind of sermons that feed the soul will not come from pre-packaged, power-point-video-graphics-outline- included-download-now-warm-up-in-the-microwave- and-serve-sermons. The kind of sermons that will feed the soul take time to prepare. They must be born out of our fresh encounters with the old familiar story that has to come alive for us all over again if it is to be worth serving to others. Make no mistake. Advent is the time for us to own, re-own, be captivated by and confident in telling the story of Jesus. Jesus - who came to save His people from their sins – Immanuel, who really is God with us. It’s a time for us to prepare for and celebrate the God who breaks into our existence and transforms it just because He is here. There is much more that can be said about Advent preaching but let me just remind you that what people are hungry for and the One we are called to proclaim are one and the same – Jesus. If we can proclaim Him I am confident that He will keep doing today what He’s always done – save, and satisfy. May God bless your Advent preparation and proclamation so that no one walks away from the feast still hungry.
-Dr. Steve Estep serves as Senior Pastor at Grace Church of the Nazarene in Clarksville, TN