July 10, 2005
Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
I want you to think about the word, “Abundance.” It means many things. Having been in Kansas for a while now, I have come to understand how that word is used in terms of the harvest. In an agrarian society, people hope to have abundance when it comes to the harvest. That also helps with the Biblical understanding of the word. There’s was an agrarian society, and the Bible has a lot of similar references and illustrations. (Jesus said of spreading the gospel, “The fields are ripe the harvest.”)
In our world, we tend to think of the idea of abundance in terms of having a lot of “things” – particularly a lot of money! That idea has made it’s way into the Church. There are some preachers who say that God wants us to be rich. They are part of what has been called the “prosperity gospel” movement. You’ve probably heard them before. My brother and I sometimes like to “make sport” of some of them when we’re together. But it’s really not funny! There are those who preach that if you will give of yourself – usually to their “ministry!” – then God will make you wealthy. Too often the only one that gets any “prosperity” is the preacher himself! (A lot of hurting people get hurt more!) Actually, I do believe that God wants us to be rich. But that doesn’t mean rich in “things.” God wants us to be rich in ways that are not so outwardly visible.
Not long ago we were having a program on Mission. We were hearing about some of the people in Central America – people who we would call “poor.” Actually, we would call them way beyond poor. But speaker that day was telling us about the joy these people had! They live simple lives, having almost nothing, but they worship and they praise God and they are joyous. They have abundance!
Our world can’t fathom that! In that heart wrenching scene in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” where Scrooge’s fiancé is letting him go because of the change in him she can no longer accept. “Once you were poor and content to be so…” she said, “But now you measure everything by gain.” Isn’t that like so many people in our world? They measure everything by gain? We even joke about it! When I was a kid, we used to say, “I don’t want to be a millionaire, I just want to live like one!” (Comedian Steven Wright once said, “I just want to have the chance to prove money can’t make me happy!”)
In our culture, we do tend to measure everything by gain. And sometimes I think the worse thing we measure by gain is the quality of life. We say when things are going well and we are prosperous, that “Life is good!” And when we are going through difficult times, we say, “Life is not so good.” Then too often we translate that to our faith, and we take that ‘well trodden road’ where we think that if we are doing well then God is happy with us. And when we’re not doing so well, God must be unhappy with us. Then, like the comforters of Job, we think we must have done something wrong, and we’d better find out what it is, and why God is unhappy with us. That’s when we need to remember the state of those people in Central America who live in poverty beyond our imagination, but whose faith would shame ours!
(Do you know Tony Campolo? I’d better ask “Do you like Tony Campolo?) Tony once said, “I’m said I’m sick and tired of people who come to Church groups and they stand up and “share” (or is it “brag?”) saying that the Lord has been good to them. They got a raise, the kids are doing well in school, their investments have doubled, and all the dandelions are gone from their lawn!’” (I added that last part!) “Just once,” he said, “I want to hear someone get up and say, ‘I lost my job, my kids are struggling in school, and my investments all went bad, but I count it all as joy in knowing the Lord!” That’s the way the Apostle Paul talked!
Now, I’m not suggesting that having abundance in things is wrong, or that God doesn’t bless us in tangible ways in this life. I’m not saying that. I am suggesting that what God considers abundance is so much more than just the “things” of this world. “Consider the lilies of the field.” Jesus said. “They neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!” Abundance in God is measured not so much in terms of earthly things, as it is in relationships – relationships with each other, and the relationship we have with God. That’s where he wants us to find our abundance. (Look at the abundance in this room!)
I love this passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus said of his sheep, “I have come that they may have life and have it more religiously.” No he didn’t! He said, “I have come that they may have life more abundantly!” I think that means an abundance of the joy of living!
This is one thing I think we Christians need to be reminded of all the time! God wants for us a life of Joy. I often quote the very first statement in the Catechism. If you learn any of the Catechism with me, you’ll learn that first statement! And maybe that’s not so bad. Because the first question might be the most important of all! The first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is, “To glorify God and (what?) Enjoy him (how long?) forever.” Many Christians live as though the answer to that is “To serve God, and learn about him forever.”
Writer John Eldredge said that too many people have substituted “Knowing the right things” for “knowing God.” There have been a lot of believers over the years who have emphasized “discipline” in being disciples. They lived a faith that was regimented, austere, and serious all the time. And don’t get me wrong! I believe those things are important. But we cannot forget the joy! We cannot forget the glory and the fun we have in being God’s people! Too many Christians live as though the dour, joyless image of Christianity is the right one. Many people outside the faith believe that about Christians. And they want no part of it!
I remember a picture of Jesus I once saw. It was an unusual picture and I saw a copy of it just recently. It was unusual because in it Jesus was laughing! We don’t often think of Jesus that way. But I think we should! I think it was fun to be Jesus’ disciples. I think he was a joyous person who wanted his followers to be joyous. And I think he still does! That same Jesus says here that “… I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” He said, “The kingdom of God is among you! It’s not something that you get to enjoy in the next life – if you’ve done all the right things in this life.” It’s what you should enjoy right now!
I heard a quote recently that I liked a lot! It was from a theologian who lived long ago, whose name I can‘t remember. But the quote was this. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” That is an incredibly great thought! “The glory of God is man fully alive.” What does that mean? It means God is glorified when we his creations are living the glorious, abundant life he meant for us to live. God wants for us to live lives that are more than just “getting by.” God wants for us “abundance.”
Think of the original relationship Adam and Eve had with God in the garden. They walked together and talked together. It was a close relationship. It was a living, vital relationship. That’s why their “fall” was such a big deal. They didn’t fall from a “ho-hum,” lifeless relationship with God! They fell from this glorious relationship with their creator
That’s the kind of relationship God wants to have with us! But as writer John Eldredge also says, many of us don’t have that. And too often it’s because we don’t look for it! There are too many Christians who just want to do the minimum! There are too many Christians who just settle for the mundane!
I’ll never forget reading the book “Johnathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. Anybody ever read it? It’s about a seagull, Johnathan Livingston, who was kind of a rebel in the flock. Instead of flying around the fishing boats all day long scavenging for food, Johnathan discovered the joy of flying. Instead of using his wings simply to help him scavenge for food, Johnathan spent his days learning aerobatics – loops, rolls, and spins. And he was frowned upon by the flock for such “frivolous pursuits.” One day he discovered speed. He figured out that if he folded up most of his wings except the wingtips, he could dive straight down to near terminal velocity, and still maintain control. He was so thrilled by this discovery, that one day he made the big mistake of showing his fellow seagulls! He climbed as high as he could, folded his wings, and went on a screaming dive through the flock at over 200 mph. For this he was brought before the Great Gull, and he was banished.
You see, Johnathan was trying to tell his fellow gulls that they had such beauty and freedom because they had wings and they could fly – and fly well, and in doing so, truly live. But he was banished because it was the “normal activity” of the seagull world just to use their wings to scavenge for food.
Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more (?) abundantly!” You know this! Jesus came to show us that we are to live this life, and live it well. He came to show us that the kingdom of God is in our midst. Life cannot be mundane! We cannot just seek after the necessities of life. We cannot just use our days gathering the wherewithal simply to live more days. If we do, we’re like the seagull that just uses it’s wings to scavenge food. We can fly. We can fly well! “The glory of God is man fully alive!”
The longer I live, the more I believe God wants us to live this life to the fullest. He wants us to glory in each new day. He wants us to find joy in being his body here on earth. He wants us to laugh and cry and sing. He wants us to love others with great passion. He wants us to use the gifts and talents we have been given for his glory. He wants us to have life and have it abundantly! My hope is that we will discover that abundance together!
Let us pray.
Eternal God, you who have created us to be in relationship with you. Help us to choose to live the abundant life you want for us. Help us to know of your peace and joy that the world craves, that you give so freely. May our “cup overflow.” May our lives be filled with all of your fullness. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.