Food For Thought
During this time of pandemic and stay at home orders, we have a great opportunity to think about what’s important in life and how to balance our desire for freedom with our responsibilities to our neighbor and to God’s Creation. What things have we put on hold that we really need back in some form? Are there things we can continue to live without? What changes do we want to see come out of this crisis? Are there things we’d like to do differently, that we’d like our government to do differently? Whatever happens in the next few months, Jesus tells us in the gospel of John that he came into this world that we might have an abundant life. Jesus wasn’t talking about wealth either. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a rich young man to sell all of his possessions. Wealth can actually be a hindrance to an abundant life!
But if not wealth, what else might an abundant life be about? I think Jesus isn’t talking about quantity, but about quality. When I think of an abundant life I think about being happy and feeling loved. I think about rejoicing in the journey of life. An abundant life is not about just surviving, it’s about flourishing. It’s not just getting through the day, but thriving in whatever we are doing. It’s about living life to the fullest, given what we have. This is what God desires for us! But, how can we flourish when so much in life is uncertain? When we are worried about being able to pay our bills? When we’re lonely or depressed? When loved ones are getting sick or dying? How do we flourish during a time such as this? Jesus says that he is the gate. We can find abundant life through him. It’s in this time of fear and uncertainty that we need to turn to Christ to find the abundant life that he promises.
First, we need to trust in the voice of the shepherd (Jesus) that leads us. We need to trust in what Jesus has taught us and in the model of how he lived his own life. We need to trust that if we walk through this gate we will be all right. Second, while Jesus is our shepherd, we are to be shepherds for others and that means we have a responsibility to care for others, to care for Creation, to live and teach as Jesus did, to love our neighbor. Abundant life is found in the act of loving others! Abundant life is not just a promise or a dream, but it’s real and it’s something we can choose. It’s not about life being perfect, but it’s about trusting in love, living with gratitude, living in the moment, and putting relationships, with God and with our neighbors, first.
The early church described in the book of Acts is another image of an abundant life. The early church gathered to teach, fellowship with each other, eat together, pray together, and keep all things in common, giving to those in need. That is a radical image of community, especially in our culture of the lone wolf capitalist who’s supposed to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. It may seem idealized but elsewhere in the book of Acts it also makes it clear that the early church was not perfect. They had disagreements and arguments with each other and yet they still came together in supportive community. They nurtured their relationships and sense of belonging. They acted on behalf of those in need. Their community was participatory. It was a vision of hope and it was blessed. We’re told they had grateful and generous hearts.
We too can have abundant life! We can choose to follow the gate opened through Jesus and walk into God’s kin-dom. We can put our trust in God and give thanks for what we have! If you take a moment to just be in the present, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, and inventory your blessings, there are probably more than you realize at first. And we can nurture our relationships, loving God, neighbor and Creation. God wants us to live full lives, to be who we were created to be – the loved and loving children of God. But we have to get up and follow the voice of the shepherd, to be shepherds ourselves, letting God’s love flow in and through us to the world. We don’t know what the future holds. It won’t be perfect. It might be difficult. But in God it can also be abundant with love and joy!
P.S. This reflection is inspired by the sermon from May 3, 2020, The Promise of an Abundant Life.” A recording of this and most other sermons can be found online at https://phoenixchurch.org/home/phx-sermons/.