I have been invited by the “Daily Word” team to offer a few final “Daily Words” before my last days as your Rector. As some of you know, a few years back, Church Publishing published my book, “Bits of Heaven.” It is a collection of devotionals appropriate for the summer months and as summer is upon us, I thought I would pull a few of my favorite passages. I hope you enjoy them and if you do not yet have a copy of the book, you can pick one up at St. Martin’s Gift Shoppe, Amazon or other online book sources.
Each meditation includes a title, a Scripture, a meditation, a probing question of sorts and closes with a prayer — either from my pen or that of those much better and wiser in authoring prayers.
Let us continue to pray for one another and I pray that we all — all of us — have a blessed summer. May it, indeed, be a little bit of heaven.
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
So grateful to be
Fourth Rector, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
Hungering for Something More

“... He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:2-4[1]
With what do you feed your deepest hungers?

A real treat for me during my childhood years, as I imagine it would be for most youngsters, was a trip to the State Fair or traveling circus. I remember a wide variety of experiences enlivening the senses, but cannot leave out perhaps the most memorable – the food. It was food we did not eat on any normal basis – corndogs dipped in ketchup, thick salty pretzels slathered with mustard, funnel cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar and, of course, cotton candy in a wide variety of colors.

Cotton candy must be one of the most unusual of all sweet treats – a moment of sweetness on the lips and tongue, but with no nutritional value to feed the body and no substance to feel one’s hunger. Additional bites might bring a sense of carbohydrate overkill, but cotton candy will not really fill the tummy.

Cotton candy may also be one of the most metaphoric of the food groups – for there are many, many experiences in life that may give momentary delight, but do not really fill our deepest needs. On the surface, we see this played out rather liberally in human culture – healthy eating shifts to gluttony, social drinking to alcoholism, sexual experimentation replaces authentic intimacy or a healthy work ethic gives way to voracious ambition.

Note, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with food, drink, sex or work – it is when any of these are transformed as a “food source,” so to speak, for the soul that things clearly get out of whack.

We know that after Jesus’ forty days and nights, He was hungry. So, when the Tempter makes his first attack to try and sidetrack the soon-to-be-public Messiah, he makes a run at the most obvious – physical hunger. Jesus knows better. Jesus does not play into the game. “No... you know, humans are not nourished by bread alone, in fact Satan, they are really nourished from the words that come from the mouth of God.” That is a showstopper. There is not much of a response the Tempter could make to that and none is recorded.

Jesus was making a profound statement here. He does not diminish the value of physical bread, noting that humans do, in fact, live by such bread; it is just that they do not live by that bread alone – there is a greater bread. Jesus talked a lot about bread. He suggested that we should pray for daily bread; He used bread as the enduring symbol of His body to be offered for the sake of humankind; and He, in fact, called Himself “the bread of life.”[2] By telling His followers to pray for bread to nourish the body, He was naming the vital need that bread is to daily living; but by calling Himself the bread of life, Jesus was pointing the way to nourishment for eternal living.

It is important that we get this juxtaposition. Bread is good, but it does not last; if left uneaten it molds and become useless and, even when eaten, it eventually is completely digested and what remains is waste that leaves the body. When we grab hold of things not meant to last and put them in their wrongful place, then we will, in time, find ourselves not just disappointed, but utterly without nourishment. How many times have we read a news story about someone who seems to, from the outside looking in, have “it all” and yet, they collapse into addiction, destructive behavior or even suicide. It may seem baffling until we really think about it. All the money, power, physical pleasure and fame in the world cannot make up for a life void of the deeper purposes of God.

Cultural philosopher and English columnist, Bernard Levin, named this truth writing about his own nation which obviously mirrors so many others;

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it...it aches.”[3]

Jesus’ answer to the Tempter speaks directly to this ache. We can easily, foolishly, pour away our lives into ventures that are nothing more than spiritual wastelands. There is a wonderful old story that helps us understand this just a bit better.

I have always been moved by the story of a little lad in the early 1900s who lived far back out in the country. He had reached the age of 12 and had never seen a circus. Therefore, you can imagine his excitement one day when a poster went up at school that the next Saturday a traveling circus was coming to a nearby town. He ran home with the glad news and then came the question, “Daddy, can I go?” The family was poor, but the father could see how much this s meant to his boy so he said, “If you will do your Saturday chores ahead of time, I’ll see to it that you have the money to go.”

Come Saturday morning the chores were done and the little boy stood dressed in his Sunday best by the breakfast table. His father reached down in his overalls and pulled out a dollar bill – the most money the little boy had ever seen at one time in all his life. The father cautioned him to be careful and then sent him on his way to town. He was so excited his feet hardly seemed to touch the ground along the way. As he got to the outskirts of the village, he noticed that people were lining the streets and he worked his way through the crowd until he could see what was coming. And there, lo and behold, in the distance approached the spectacle of a circus parade!

It was the grandest thing this lad had ever beheld. There were animals in cages and bands and gymnasts and all that goes on to make up such a show. Finally, after everything had passed where he was standing, the traditional circus clown with floppy shoes, baggy pants and brightly painted face appeared, bringing up the rear.

As the clown passed where he was standing, the little boy reached into his pocket and got out that precious dollar bill. Handing the money to the clown, the boy then turned around and went home. What had happened? The boy thought he had seen the circus when he had only seen the parade!
We do not find cotton candy just at the county fair or circus. It is certainly a nice treat from time to time – just do not mistake it for a real meal and when that meal is done, remember, humans do not live by bread alone, but by feeding on the One Who is the Bread of everlasting life.


A Question to Ponder
In the last meditation, we looked at the hungers that speak to us when we are quiet. Here now, take a moment and ponder with what you feed those hungers. Where can you rid yourself of cotton-candy solutions to bread of life hungers?

A Prayer
I am so very hungry dear Lord,
  so very hungry;
Not for food that settles the stomach,
 but bread that heals my wounds.
I thirst, ah Jesus,
 I thirst,
Not for drink to whet my lips,
 but wine that fills my soul.
I long, my God,
 I long;
Not to be held, or told, or even embraced,
 but to know peace in my heart.
Feed me, dear Lord,
  And fill me Jesus, fill me;
That my deepest need is met,
 perfectly and wholly
In nothing more,
 than You.
[1] Cf. Deuteronomy 8:3.
[2] Matthew 6:11; 26:26; John 6:41, 48, 51.
[3] Bernard Levin, quoted in Nicky Gumbel, “Questions of Life” (Cook Communications Ministries: Colorado Springs, 2003), p. 13-14.
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
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