I don’t have the best relationship with malls. They’re usually big, crowded, and full of overpriced merch. In high school I can remember hating the mall because it seemed that everyone wanted to go there and strut around like geese holding hands with their significant other. I don’t get as angry when I walk in to a mall these days, but the habitat of the “mall dwellers” hasn’t changed much. I’ll say this, a trip to the mall is a study in human behavior (a people-watcher’s dream day). Shop till you drop.
We live in a culture of consumption. Shopping is a hobby for some, an addiction for others, and an Olympic sport for those patrons of Black Friday sales. All that we have we get by shopping, and the activity fills some kind of void in us that goes beyond the actual transaction of letting go of some hard-earned money to obtain the things we want or need. Shopping is a booster shot to our ego because it represents independence. It’s our freedom to choose. It reinforces our reign of authority in our own lives. Sadly, this attitude of consumption has made its way into the church.
If you’ve ever been “church shopping” or heard someone use that phrase, you know what I mean. We look around for a church that is in our style, our “price range,” and fits our ideas for what should be convenient and yet socially acceptable [I don’t intend here to downplay the importance of diligently searching to find the right fit for you when looking for the a worship community to belong to. I’m referring to the “church hopper” who is always on the lookout for the newest “fashion trend.”]
I’ve heard some pastors preach against consumerism because it’s not a good thing. Reducing things (especially church things) down to how it meets MY needs and MY convenience is a distortion of reality. But it can be a bit of a mixed message when we design so much of we do around the convenience and preferences of our “patrons.” But are we supposed to reject consumerism altogether?
I’d like to highlight an aspect of faith where we are supposed to be consumers, and unashamedly so. In fact, Jesus himself endorsed this brand of consumerism and told us that we must be consumers if we want to have eternal life. In John 6 Jesus makes this inflammatory statement:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51 ESV)
Now his audience just thinks he’s hinting at cannibalism, which is enough to make them perplexed at best and ready to kill him at worst. But Jesus is making an important point here about how we are to view our relationship with him. He says that he is the living bread, the very substance that sustains life and gives us energy and strength to grow and go through our days. He means that we are to depend on him for our spiritual food just as the ancient Israelites depended on the manna from heaven to feed them every day.
This can be taken in a figurative sense that we go to Christ for our “food” of wisdom, connection and life through his Word. But there’s also a strong connection here to communion. When we receive bread at the Lord’s Table, we hear the words “the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,” reminding us of this truth. As we come and “feed on him in our hearts by faith and with thanksgiving,” we are doing exactly what Jesus told us to do. We are coming to him to get the food that we need to sustain our life.
For me this raised an important question: what keeps me from coming to feed on Christ? When I think about how little I take Jesus at his word, it’s embarrassing. I can’t go more than four or five hours without getting some physical food, but how long do I starve myself between these kinds of meals? Am I afraid to come to him, thinking that I should be able to make it on my own? Am I too proud to ask for help? Or do I not believe the promise that his well will never run dry?
In a culture where most of our insatiable consuming is a habit to be curbed, Jesus invites us to an unreserved continual feast on all that he has to offer us. We can come to his table by grace and receive the spiritual food that gives us life. When we draw near to Christ, whether simply in spirit or by faith at his physical Table, we take him at his word that he intends to be the very bread that we eat.
Chances are you could skip that next trip to the mall. The teenagers will walk awkwardly around the food court the same way they always have. Maybe you could use that time to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8). If you’re like me, you need to be reminded as often as possible.