Read the John text here: John 10:1-10
Read the Acts text here: Acts 2:42-47
Abundant Life: Giving It All Away
Jesus says, I came that they (You! We!) may have life, and have it abundantly. Fantastic! Wonderful! What good news! But… what exactly does it mean? The word “abundant” means to have a lot of something – “like an abundant harvest of grapes.” Or we talk about someone who has lots of things has having an “abundance” of stuff. But how can you have abundant life? The prosperity Gospel folks have latched on to this passage and have interpreted it as meaning that Jesus is saying that God wants us to have lots of stuff, material possessions, wealth, money, fancy cars, big houses. For them that is what “abundant life” is: a life of comfort and ease and wealth. But it is hard to square that with the picture of Jesus on the cross – naked, tortured, bleeding, stripped of every worldly possession; or Jesus’ teachings and parables on wealth – like the Rich Man and Lazarus; or Jesus’ words to the Rich Young Ruler or Zacheaus; or Jesus’ teaching that those who would save their lives must loose their lives. Abundant life is not to be found in stuff, in wealth or possessions – ok, then what?
The first lesson for this weekend from the book of Acts is instructive in helping us come to an answer for this question. After being commissioned by Jesus to “Go into all the world sharing the Good News of Jesus” at the Ascension the disciples go back to their locked room and do nothing. Suddenly without warning the winds and tongues of flame of the Holy Spirit drive them out into the public square on the Feast of Pentecost and they begin sharing the Good News. Peter preaches the sermon of his life and out of it all the Holy Spirit creates community – the church. This community is described in these last few verses of Acts:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need…
This is what Jesus is talking about when he promises “abundant life;” This is what Jesus means when he promises “Eternal Life” or the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” all of which have come NOW into our midst. They are not for some delayed future time – they are for NOW. And the marks of what Jesus means by “abundant life” are right here in this passage.
At the core of this text Jesus lifts up the gift of community! In our very hyper-individualistic society we often either dismiss or ignore the biblical focus on community. But at the root of God’s gifts and promises to us is the gift of community. It is into the community that we are baptized and it is through the community that we experience the presence and love and grace of Christ in our daily lives. As we gaze into the heavens looking for a sign – like the disciples at the Ascension – Christ is there besides us within the life of the community. And what marks a community of Christ? These things – a focus on the teachings of the Apostles – that is the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ; Fellowship – that is, spending time being with and caring for one another; “The breaking of Bread” which is Luke’s code phrase for the celebration of Holy Communion every time the community meets together; and prayers – the community praying for each other constantly.
And then there is that awkward final phrase about giving away all our possessions and having everything in common. Is Luke serious? I think so. Again, think of Jesus’ teachings – he tells the Rich Young Ruler to sell all he has and come and follow; after lunching with Zacheaus, the tax collector offers to give up all he has accumulated. But of course it isn’t practical for us to go to this extreme, is it? Perhaps not, but it does call for us to ponder and pray about what this might mean for us. And I think that it does raise a couple important issues. 1st – It is all too true that many of us worship our wealth and possessions – they have become the primary idol in our society. This passage calls on us to take an honest look at our idolatry of wealth and possessions and to pray that God would help us to find ways to give up this idolatry. 2nd – It raises issues of stewardship. The money raised within these early church communities were used to further the proclamation of the Gospel and to help and support those in need. Do we support the ministry and proclamation of the Gospel through our community in a manner that is appropriate in relation to the blessings we have received from God? Are we doing enough to feed, clothe and assist those who are in need? Or do we give the left-overs to God?
Lastly, it reminds us of this teaching of Jesus: Then he (Jesus) said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. Here is the answer to the question about “abundant life.” What is abundant life and how do we experience abundant life? It is found in giving it all away. As we give of ourselves – as we give our lives to others in the community and in the world – others who are also beloved children of God – we find that God gives more and more to us. More what – Things? Stuff? Money? Nope! More forgiveness – more love – more grace – more hope! That is where we find abundant life. If we are looking for it in the stuff we accumulate we are looking in the wrong place. Open your eyes and see Jesus the Good Shepherd who is the door to abundant life and receive from him the gift of community!