John 10:1-10, Acts 2:42-47
“I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” That was one of Jesus’ two mission statements. The other is: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has appointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim God’s jubilee year.”
What does it mean to have abundant life? What does it mean to feel joyful satisfaction in all the seasons of life?
In life, there are pathways to abundance and paths to scarcity and desolation. It’s a matter of faith as well as realism – sometimes we can be sitting on a gold mine and perceive ourselves as poor; other times, we appear to have modest resources, but are joyful and content with our lot.
In today’s reading, we see a church that lived by Jesus’ vision of abundance.
The Jerusalem church sought to live by Jesus’ abundant life. Inspired by the coming of the Holy Spirit and the signs and wonders of the Spirit on Pentecost, they expected great things from God and great things from themselves. They heard the message that God’s Spirit was intended for everyone, and that had practical implications: if God wants to save my neighbor’s soul, then I have help out by caring for his or her spiritual and economic life.
This was a honeymoon time in the early church: the early Christian’s faith was spirit filled and holistic. It involved the integration of body, mind, spirit, relationships, and economics. We may not be able to embody this model in the competitive, individualistic society in which we live, but we can chart a pathway of life in contrast to the ways of death that characterize our economics and cultural values; we can be Christians whose love encircles the globe and the neighbor next door!
What was unique about these first century Christians, not much different from us?
First, they joined study and prayer. They took seriously what they believed and spent time trying to understand their new faith. There was no orthodoxy or any creed at the time, but they believed great things about God that led to faithful activities: The first followers of Jesus saw God as life-giving, breaking down barriers, and calling us to new power and possibility through the resurrection of Jesus and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prayer was as real as breathing, and every moment and encounter was a call to prayer. Picking up a book was prayer and so was reaching out to your neighbor or caring for a child or vulnerable elder. They believed our touch and prayer could transform souls and cells alike.
Second, they were filled with awe at a God-filled world: they saw God in the simplest moments of life and believed each moment could be life-transforming. They expected miracles – and accepted them when they happened – because they expected great things when human prayer and action joined God’s will for abundant life. In fact, every day was filled with miracles, because every day God’s mercies were new and God’s creation was lively.
Third, they shared with one another. We don’t know if they sold all their possessions, but they did let go of private ownership as an absolute right. They believed that if their neighbor had a need, it was their obligation to give whatever it took to restore her or his life. They always had enough because they always shared: it was potluck all the time, and everyone had enough food, shelter, and companionship.
This is a tough one for us: we are individualistic even in the church; we worry about our future finances; and we don’t want to share if it puts us at an economic disadvantage. Still, I believe that our first-century parents in the faith were right: if we seek abundance for others, letting go of our strangle hold on our possessions, everyone will have enough. We are all in this together in the body of Christ, and when one benefits, all benefit; when one suffers, all suffer.
Have you noticed that when we let go of scarcity thinking and share generously, our hearts open wide, we feel more joyful, and we worry less about the future? And, somehow, we receive what need to live abundant lives. We become part of an environment of abundance that opens us to new resources for our own and others’ well-being.
We may not be able to fully embody the spirit of the Jerusalem church, described in Acts of the Apostles, but, at the very least, following their example means that no one who is part of our community should suffer from lack of food, shelter, companionship, or medical help, and this should be a priority even as we care for butterflies, pound nails for Habitat, and provide backpacks for the school. When everyone has enough, we all benefit; our generosity leads to gain, not loss, at every level of our lives.
I have come that you might have abundant life! Jesus’ words speak to all of us: there is a path ahead, and it is filled with God’s abundance, and it comes from making a commitment to care for each other as Christ cares for us.
Perhaps, you have heard about a man’s dream of heaven and hell. Behind one door, he sees a great banquet, but people are arguing and moaning: you see they have one arm tied behind their backs and the other arm has a long spoon strapped to it, so long that can’t scoop up the food onto their plates. Behind the other door, he sees exactly the same thing, a great banquet, arms tied behind peoples’ backs, and a spoon strapped to her or his arms that was so long that no one can feed her or himself. But, there is laughter and rejoicing, because each person uses the long spoon to feed their neighbor. Surely this is heaven, and heaven is right here if we want it to be. For Jesus has come that we might have life in all its abundance!