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Hunger and Thirst

Sermon Text - 06.30.2024

Today I want to start out with a little bit of a confession. One of my greatest weaknesses, one of my secret temptations that I struggle with every day - is the candy aisle. Every time I have to run to the grocery store to grab that one thing we forgot - it calls to me. For me, it’s kitkat bars. I love ‘em so much. Sometimes I’m feeling the gummy candies, or maybe I’ll splurge on a Reeses - but the average everyday temptation for me is those yummy kit kat bars. But here’s the problem. I’ll be at work, and Sara will text me - hey, can you grab [whatever] on your way home? Like maybe we need butter or milk or some spice or something for dinner - something. And so I’m driving home, stop off at Meijer, Aldi, Family Fare - they all have candy aisles. But here’s the thing - I’m an adult. I know you’re not supposed to eat candy for dinner, I know that. And I don’t want her to find out. So I eat it on the way home. Let me ask you the selfish question - have you ever eaten something in the car so you didn’t have to share it with your family? That’s peak dad-move right there. It’s terrible. That little cubby in the door is just chalk full of candy wrappers, exposing my hidden shame. But here’s the problem - she catches me every single time. You know how? Well two reasons - first, I am terrible at deceiving my wife, and I don’t want to get better at it. But also 2.) I am not as hungry at dinner. 

If I get home, usually if I time it right - it’s dinner time. And I am a hungry growing boy. I can put away a big dinner. You know that old dieting advice - eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper? Well I got it a little mixed up, I eat breakfast like a king, lunch like an elephant and dinner like a two ton whale. I love dinner. Except when I come home with a yummy kit kat in my belly. I’m full! I’m not going to eat as much and it shows. I don’t want to eat the healthy meal with my family, because I’m all full of candy - which while delicious is not exactly going to keep my body healthy. You ever hear that phrase - “You are what you eat from your head to your feet”? Well, I’m probably 10% too much kit kat. 

Today we are continuing our summer series through the beatitudes. If you want to open up your bibles, we’re going to be in Matthew chapter 5, and if you want to look it up ahead of time, we will also be jumping back to the book of Amos for a little bit. Now, as we’ve been discussing - Matthew chapter 5 is a list of blessings. But.. they’re not normal blessings. When we think blessings - most of us think GOOD things. Like congratulations! You graduated, you’re having a baby, you got a new car - what a blessing! But what we have seen over the past few weeks is that the Beatitudes feel like backwards blessings. Jesus emphasizes all the wrong stuff. Blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn - and what we have found when we scratch under the surface a little bit, and I’ll just give you the big teaching right now, what we have found is that is it not actually Jesus who is upside down. Jesus is not actually backwards, but through these teachings Jesus is flipping us right-side up. We are the ones who are backwards. These teachings are not just a list of “good for you’s”, these blessings are the key to living the life God calls us to live. 

And so today, I want to dive into verse 6. It says, [read it]. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. So let me ask you the obvious question - what do you hunger and thirst for? And I’m not talk about kit kat bars anymore. This has nothing to do with tummy rumbles. This is about the longing of our heart. In our lives we all have a deep inner desire for something. Do you hunger for recognition? For attention or fame? For wealth? Or just financial stability? Do you hunger for attention? Love? Affection? Do you hunger for more vacation (or a nicer vacation)? Or maybe just rest? Do you just wish you weren’t so tired and beat up all the time? What do you hunger for in your life? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.

And actually, in my bible (I’m using the New Living Translation, which is really great - but there are lots of really good translations out there) but in my bible there’s a little asterisk. And down at the bottom, I have a note. And if you see that, usually what it means is that the original text, in the greek, in the original language it was written in, it’s a word that has multiple meanings. And so I look down in my notes at the bottom and it says in chapter five, verse six, another word could be “for righteousness.” Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. And it got me curious, so I went and did a little research into the greek. The word in Greek is dikaiosunen and it’s true - it translates both ways - “justice” or “righteousness”.  And this happens all the time in the bible - some people try to get all mad and pit one translation against another, looking for inconsistencies or something to attack. But what’s actually happening is we are being invited into a deeper level of understanding. We do this all the time in English without even realizing it. I have done it already in this message with the word “hungry.” I’m hungry for kit kat bars because I want to eat them. I’m hungry for attention or stability or love - not because I want to eat those things, but because I long for them. So if you ever have a friend or an internet troll or whatever attack the bible by saying, “well it’s inconsistent or has multiple definitions” or whatever, you can respond by saying, “actually this helps us dive deeper and better understand what they meant when they said it in the original language.”

So to help us understand both parts of dikaiosunen I want to use the example of the cross. Righteousness is all about our status with God. It is the vertical relationship. Love of God. And that is something we cannot earn. It’s never going to be my good deeds. My relationship with God depends completely on HIS action. Jesus came to this earth, died a sinners death on the cross for my sake. He took my sin, so that I have been washed clean. And he has done that for all of us. I can never earn my way to heaven, but Jesus has done it for me. With Jesus I can stand in front of God at the end of all things. He has given me righteousness - it’s that vertical relationship that is a complete gift. Awhile back there was a pastor named Alistair Beggs, I think he pastors a church in Ohio but he’s from Scotland, so he’s got this great thick, scottish accent. But anyways, he tells this story about the thief on the cross. If you’re not familiar, when Jesus died there were two men who died on crosses next to him. One made fun of him and the other asked Jesus for forgiveness. And Jesus told that man - “today you will be with me in paradise.” And Alistair says, “I can’t wait to find that fellow one day to ask him, “How did that shake out for you?” Because you were cussing the guy out with your friend, you never been in a bible study, you never got baptized, you didn’t know a thing about church membership - and yet, you made it! You made it! How did you make it? That’s what the angel must have said. You know, like, “What are you doing here?” I don’t know. “What do you mean you don’t know?”  Well, cuz I don’t know! Well… you know.. Uh… excuse me let me go get my supervisor. And then the supervisor angel comes over, “Son, we’ve just a few questions for you - are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith? Guy says, “I’ve never heard of it in my life.” Well, alright let's just go to the doctrine of scripture immediately and this guys just staring. And eventually in frustration he says “On what basis are you here?” And he said “The man on the middle cross, said I can come.” This is righteousness that comes from God. I can’t earn it - the only way I can stand in front of God is because Jesus said I can come.

So to hunger after righteousness is to long for that. To long for God to wash you clean. If you have sin in your life, we long for something to wash us clean for something to take this burden away so we can stand in freedom. I long for righteousness, I want to have that relationship with God where I finally feel complete and fully satisfied in this life and the next. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Now JUSTICE - that’s the horizontal bar on the cross. That is our love of the people around us. Love of neighbor. When God talks about justice, he’s talking about caring for the poor, the lowly, the hungry, the naked and the sick. He’s talking about accountability and fairness. You ever hear that line “break my heart for what breaks yours”? That’s hungering for justice. Our God is a God who raises up the oppressed, releases the captive, brings sight to the blind, and throws down oppressors. So when we say “hunger for justice” that’s when we say, “God, I want to be on your side.” I want to love and care for the world around me the way you love and care for the world around me. 

To show you what I mean, let’s dive back into the book of Amos. Now I don’t have enough time to really get into it this morning - but Amos is a prophet in the old testament. And I think a lot of people skip over these books, because they can be kind of weird and hard to understand - but we are missing out! The prophets are some of the absolute best books on justice I’ve ever seen. To make a very long story short - in the old testament, the country of Israel had a habit of getting comfortable, walking away from God, and then they get worse and worse and worse at loving their neighbor. And that ticks God off, because he has a heart for the lowly, the humble, the downtrodden - and so he would send prophets to warn the king, “hey! Hunger and thirst for justice or I’m going to squish you like a bug.” Listen to this in chapter 8 of Amos. [read verse 1-2]. So that’s cheerful. Verse 4, [read v.4-6]. Now I’m not going to get into some of the more colorful language, but just trust me when I say God is really mad that Israel is treating the poor, poorly. And this is so important - this passage gives us a little window into the character of our God. We worship a God who lifts up the lowly, who fights for those who are beaten down by the world. We are getting a glimpse into God’s heart, of who he is, and what HE desires for this world. He wants us to hunger for justice, to love our neighbor in practical ways. But it all comes together in verse 11 [read v.11]. Now I know this was written thousands of years ago in a tiny country in the middle east - but can we, right here and now today in Center Church, Byron Center Michigan relate to living in a country that is experiencing a famine of hearing the words of the lord?

Jesus says, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosunen - for justice, for righteousness. And you might be tempted to ask, “well, which one did he mean?” Which one does Jesus bless - loving God or loving neighbors? Justice or righteousness, and the answer (of course) is YES! It’s a silly question! That would be like me asking my children - well which one do you want from me? Do you want me to love you with my heart on the inside? Or with my actions on the outside - with like food and shelter and hugs and stuff? It’s a dumb question! They are two sides of the same coin. [make the sign of the cross] Love of God AND love of neighbor. We hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness. 

The last thing I want to show you from God’s word this morning is the end of the sentence. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, FOR THEY WILL BE SATISFIED. There is a deep truth here that only God can satisfy us. When we think about hunger, and not just for food, but in all things hunger is a drive to fill that void inside us - there is a longing in our lives for us to be deeply filled. CS Lewis put it like this, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” We spend SO MUCH of our lives chasing thing that we think will fill the void inside - and the answer has been in front of us all along. The only thing that can truly satisfy you as someone who was created by God and is loved by God - the only thing that can satisfy you IS the love of God your creator. This actually is a throw back to a couple weeks ago when we talked about mourning. Blessed are those who mourn - BECAUSE they will be comforted. Blessed are those who are hungry, FOR they will be satisfied. The blessing is not the part where we are incomplete, the blessing is that fact that for those of us who live with Christ in our hearts, wholeness is coming. 

I was just talking about this with a friend this past week. Over the years, religion has given different things to people. For some it gave them a social structure. For some it gave them an ethical code. For some it was a place to volunteer and feel good about themselves. But the thing is you can get all that stuff in other places now. You can get ethical codes from the law, social structures from sports or schools, you can volunteer all over the place. But what we are finding is that none of those things are enough. People are still coming into the church searching for the one thing that is missing from every other place - and that’s Jesus. We are incomplete without our creator, and if we hunger and thirst for God - we will be blessed because we will find him, and he will fill us and satisfy us like nothing else in this world can do. There’s a paraphrase of the bible called “the message” written by Eugene Peterson and he puts it like this. “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” This is not just about loving God and loving your neighbor - but also about the fact that all of those things will bring you a lasting satisfaction you cannot get from anything else in this world. Blessed - for you will be satisfied. You will be whole. You will be complete.

That’s the good news that I have for you today! If you hunger and thirst for God, you will be satisfied! And it’s such amazing good news - because sometimes I look around at this world and I see so much hunger. I see a lack of justice, and a lack of righteousness and it’s so heartbreaking that the world is like this - but Jesus is teaching us, that’s good! It’s good that you feel that way! You should not be content in a world that has a lack of justice and a lack of righteousness! You should be bothered by it, you should hunger for a better world - and then he tells us, “if that’s where your heart is at, if you are longing for righteousness, longing for justice - you will be blessed, because guess what? “God is coming to fill us up.” To set all the wrongs right, to lift up the lowly and bring down the oppressor.

But here’s the problem. I think a lot of us try to satisfy that hunger with other solutions. We feel the void, that emptiness, that dis-satisfaction, and so we try to distract ourselves with other solutions that will not satisfy us. Like eating Kit Kats on my car ride home instead of a healthy meal with my family. So let me ask you this key question - are you dieting on distraction or are you hungry for holiness? I think about Byron Center - this town might not have people starving in the streets or walking ten miles to get to clean water like they do in some places - but we have our own type of hunger and thirst, don’t we? And if not you personally, maybe it’s someone you know. A neighbor. Co-worker, Family member or friend. Byron Center has this cultural element where maybe we can make it look good on the outside, but inside we’re just falling apart. [insert USS smokestack story] How many of us are living lives that are just a brave face slapped on chaos? Are you, or someone you know, feeling like just an empty shell? Because if you are feeling that way - I have great news about a God who can fully satisfy you. This emptiness we feel - it’s not forever, and it’s not the way we are designed to be. 

So my challenge for you today is one thing with two parts. I want you to stay hungry for the cross. Because the cross is both righteousness and justice, it is both the vertical and the horizontal, it is love of God AND love of neighbor. Stay hungry for that love. One thing with two parts - part 1. Turn to God for satisfaction. This is the spiritual side. That vertical relationship. Some of us look for acceptance, we look for something to satisfy the void we feel inside, in all the wrong places. Some of us want to get accepted because of our good looks, because of our money, because of our job, because of our bubbly personality or our volunteering and religious efforts. But if you are hungry for those things, you are just dieting on distraction. It’s like candy before dinner - it might taste delicious, but actually it’s just getting in the way of what your soul really needs. And so maybe in order to focus on God, to turn to God alone for satisfaction, you may need to strip away some of the other things you are trying to fill yourself with. Sometimes you gotta throw out the junk food if you’re ever going to get around to eating the stuff that will actually help you grow. So ask yourself, seriously take a moment of self reflection this week and ask yourself - what are you using to feel filled? Is it a certain vacation? Is it praise in the workplace? Is it recognition or fame? Or maybe you are just filling every moment with the distractions of social media and streaming? What are you using to feel filled that just isn’t working? If you want to stay hungry for the cross, the first part is to turn to God and God alone for satisfaction. 

Part 2, stay hungry for justice. As some of you know, I live up in Grand Rapids. And I would say I live, sort of on the edge of the nice areas. It’s kind of like if you drive one way, it gets really nice, and if you drive the other way - it’s gets a little rough. And so everyday when I’m driving home I see the panhandlers. People on the corners, with cardboard signs asking for help. And it breaks my heart every time. I’ve never really wanted to be wealthy except in those moments where I wish I had more I could give. But it’s very different around here. I think sometimes hunger and need in a community is so obvious. It’s right in front of me. But in some communities, the need is not as obvious. But I guarantee the hunger is still there. So here’s what I want you to do this week. To help you stay hungry for justice - I want you to look at your community. Look at the people you interact with in your life and ask - what are they starving for? What is their poverty of the soul? Maybe people aren’t standing on the corner holding up a cardboard sign telling you what they need - but they still need. A friend to be there when they’re struggling with something at work, or in their marriage. A shoulder to cry on when we admit our parenting struggles and feel like we’re failing our kids. Someone to pray for us and have coffee with us to listen as we process losing our parents or friends to death or disease. There’s all kinds of poverty in the world, and sometimes a poverty of the soul is even harder to spot. So we need to stay hungry for justice, to care for and love our neighbors. Because I promise you the need to be satisfied by God exists in all places no matter how much money is in the bank. We stay Hungry for the cross by (1) finding satisfaction in God and God alone and (2) loving our neighbor.

You are what you eat from your head to your feet, so let’s make sure as Christians we are not dieting on distractions but that we are hungry for holiness. Let’s pray.


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