Like Feeding Cats

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was John 6:35, 41-51

Martin Luther preached to his congregation one day, and he said this:

I wish I could get you to pray the way that my dog goes after meat.

Now, that’s a typical Martin Luther quote. It’s earthy, and just a little bit offensive. But I think I understand what he meant by it. I think it has something to do with the way dogs just go nuts when given a piece of meat. Maybe the dog knows the smell of meat, and knows that if I eat that, it will keep me alive, and boy does it taste good too.

That’s my guess, anyway. I’m not really a dog person, so I’m not sure. If Martin Luther were living my life, I think he’d say something more like this: “I wish I could get you to pray the way my cat goes after the can opener.” I’m a cat person. And I know what cats do when they hear the can opener. Heather and I used to have three cats. And whenever they heard that sound, they all went berserk. They came running into the kitchen, and started swarming, just walking in circles around my feet, until I finally gave them what they wanted. And whenever I used that same can opener to open a can of peaches or green beans, it was so funny – I mean so sad – that they still swarmed around, meowing, even though there was no food for them. But even those disappointments never stopped them…every time the can opener sang its beautiful song, they dropped everything. The can opener was like their religion. It called to them. It drew them. It told them, food is here. Life is here. Come now. And they did.

And reading today’s gospel, that sounds kind of like how God works. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” And he said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” So Jesus is kind of like a can of cat food, and God draws us to him kind of like a can opener. Whenever we hear God’s call, we drop everything and run, because we know that Christ provides everything we need for our life.

Except, we really don’t. We question God. We doubt God. We don’t usually run to God. And I think that’s why Luther said, “I wish I could I get you to pray the way my dog goes after meat.”

Maybe we’re more like Mr. Escher. Mr. Escher was our oldest cat, and when he was about sixteen, he stopped running when I pulled out the can opener. The other two would come, but not him. You know why? He was an old cat, and he was going deaf. Sometimes I would go find him in the living room, wake him up, pick him up, and carry him to his food.

And maybe that’s who we are. If Christ is our food, and God is like a can opener calling us to the food, then maybe we are like deaf, sleepy cats. Sometimes we don’t hear the call, or recognize it for what it is. So sometimes God sends somebody to wake his cats up, tell us it’s dinnertime, and carry us there.

I did that for Mr. Escher for several months. But even though I got him to eat, he died later that year. That food I gave him was not enough to give him life forever. And that’s the big difference between the food I offered, and the food God offers. Jesus said, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”

The bread that God offers is Jesus Christ himself, the very flesh of the Son of God. Martin Luther also preached these two things:

Other people teach and say that God should be honored and borne on loving arms; we, on the other hand, teach that our God should be eaten.[1]

It has been ordained that all the world can have God in no other way than by eating.[2]

The way we encounter God is by eating. And this isn’t just about Holy Communion, although that is obviously a clear sign of this. But it’s more than that. Eating something brings it into us. Eating something makes it part of us. Eating something transforms us. There was a documentary that came out in 2004 called Supersize Me, which followed one man as he ate every meal at McDonald’s for thirty days. He gained twenty-four pounds in that month, and experienced a number of medical issues. What we eat matters! There is more and more evidence that our diet has a significant effect on our mental health as well. We are, in a very real way, what we eat.

And Jesus calls us to eat the living bread from heaven, which is him. That means allowing our relationship with Christ to be as deep and as intimate as our relationship with food. It’s about diving so deep into God that we are like a dog going after meat, that we are like cats swarming around a can opener, that we are like someone who hasn’t eaten for days, and is given a five-star meal. It’s about praying with that kind of urgency and trust. Listening to and digesting the words of scripture with urgency and trust. Partaking of the bread and wine of communion with urgency and trust. It’s about looking with urgency and trust all day long for signs of God.

We are, all of us, hungry people. Hungry for truth. Hungry for hope. Hungry for peace. Jesus says, “Come to me. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven.” Come. Trust. Eat. And bring the others. Those who have become deaf. Those who have forgotten. Those who never knew. Tell them that I am bread for them as well. And show them where the bread is.

I’ll let Martin Luther have the final word today. Luther said this:

We are all mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.

[1] Luther’s Works, Vol. 23, p. 99.

[2] Ibid., p. 119.

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