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Sermon: "Abundant Life!"

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on May 11, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A (RCL): Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last Saturday, I had the honor and privilege of assisting at memorial services for two of God’s children. One had lived a mere nine years and the other’s life had spanned almost nine decades. As I heard more about the quality of life my young friend Andrew had known, I turned to my clergy friend before her homily, and said, “A short but full life was his.” And later that day, I reflected upon the life of the older, a parishioner of Immanuel, Jean Schnedl, whose life was full of teaching, who was led by the Holy Spirit to share that same Spirit with others, and to do good works through intentional outreach. That provided me a moment of clarity to see the more true sense of ‘fullness of life.’

In the tenth verse of the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to John, Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

So what does full or abundant life look like? The Greek word that we translate as ‘full’ or ‘abundantly’ is perissos – which means ‘more than sufficient’ or ‘over and above what is required.’ It can also mean 'out of the ordinary' or 'superior'. So the life that Jesus offers us is something totally extraordinary, quite unlike anything else we can experience. It is a life of fulfillment, completeness, and joy.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” What God desires, is for his children to live a life full of happiness, peace, and a genuine friendship with God. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, writes about the fruit of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control[1], to which we might also add purity, humility, modesty, faith, character, wisdom, enthusiasm, dignity, optimism, confidence, and honesty. This is the life that Jesus offers us. This is what it means to have life in all its fullness.

The Old Testament refers frequently to the abundance of God’s “steadfast love,” and the God of Israel is consistently described as “abounding in steadfast love.”

In the Old Testament, especially in Proverbs, an abundance of material possessions, or wealth, can be referred to as a gift from God[2], or a reward for piety[3], righteousness[4], hard work or good planning[5]. But those texts also acknowledge that an abundance of wealth could be gained through unacceptable ways[6], and the prophets regularly condemned those who had accumulated their abundance at the expense of others.

The New Testament attitude toward material abundance is best characterized by Jesus’ parable of “The Rich Fool,” which is preceded by the warning, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”[7]. Material abundance is far less important than having “life” and having it “abundantly”[8].

One miracle story that is shared by all four Gospels is that of the feeding of the five thousand.[9] A seemingly small amount (five loaves and two fish) becomes an abundance of food for a great multitude (with twelve baskets of scraps left over). Thus, Jesus redefines abundance; when you share what little you have, it turns out to be more than enough.

Certainly the Twenty-Third Psalm today gives us a good example of the provision our Lord is ready to give us: “You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.”[10]

The abundant life that Jesus offers us is life full of all the things money can’t buy. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy more patience, peace, joy, love or self-control. These things come from God, who is the giver of all good things. The Bible says, "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."[11] All we need to do is ask God for these gifts.

Let me point out that the "abundant life" is free from the things that could harm us.

Just as love, joy, peace, self-control are marks of the abundant life, so the opposite to that is selfishness, vengefulness, hatred, lust, being unable to forgive, envy, jealousy, fear, drunkenness, sexual immorality, discord, anger, dishonesty, greed, gossiping, slander, pessimism and despair.

The more these negative qualities are a part of a person’s behavior, the further they are from the abundant life God wants them to experience. But the Good News is that God can remove all of these negative characteristics from a person’s life. God is greater than our sins. God leads us for mercy’s sake in truth and grace, that we might be set free from these harmful habits which prevent us from living life in all its fullness.

If we struggle for example with a hot temper, it’s no longer an excuse to say, ‘This is who I am and I can’t change that.’ God can change us, if we open ourselves up to the power of his Holy Spirit to change and transform us into the people we were created to be. God is inviting you and me to experience "Abundant Lives".

It is God’s desire that, as his children, we discover what happiness and satisfaction in life looks like. But sadly, many people and I think that too many of them may be Christian, still miss out on this abundant life. Perhaps, they do not believe that such a life is truly available to them. Notice in John 10:10 that Jesus did not say, ‘I come that some may have life, and have it abundantly’. We are all invited to discover this abundant living. It is available to all God’s children, no matter what their circumstances may be in this life.

Many assume that abundant life depends on circumstances, or fate or luck, or their bank account, or their status in life, or their health. But wealth, power, status, and worldly pleasure have nothing to do with living the abundant life.

Abundant life is not:


  • a life of comfort and ease;


  • it dependents not on outside circumstances, but more on how we respond to certain circumstances; and


  • it is not necessarily obtained quickly. It may take time for us to know abundant living, because it is a process that often takes time. We might have to change! That could take the most time.


How might we know if we are living life in its abundance? A good description of Abundant Living could be (and this list is mine, so it is very subjective):


  • When we learn to live each day in the Light of Christ;


  • When we can look back on the past, without it ruling our present;


  • When we are filled with faith, hope, and love, and live without anger, greed, guilt, envy, or thoughts of revenge;


  • When we are secure in who we are, so we are at peace with God;


  • When we love the unlovable, give hope to the hopeless, friendship to the friendless, and encouragement to the discouraged;


  • When we can look back in forgiveness, and forward in hope, with gratitude to God; and


  • When we recognize, develop, and use our God-given physical, mental, and spiritual abilities to the glory of God and for the benefit of the world.


There is no secret or magic formula. God graciously gives life to all who seek it, and lavishes life upon us abundantly. "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives, and everyone who searches, finds; and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."[12] Jesus said "If you...know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"[13] If we have said “Yes” to Jesus, then we have already received eternal life, and so to receive “abundant life,” all we need to do is ask God to help us grow into the fullness of life that is offered us. Jesus said, "So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."[14] Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

I will admit to you that I experienced a bit of sadness when we had no baptisms at either the Great Vigil or on Easter Sunday morning. But beginning last Sunday, we are baptizing new Christians on each Sunday in May and on into June.

Today we will baptize Emily Laura Akins (at the 11:15 a.m. service) and welcome her into the household of God as the newest and latest Christian here at Immanuel. We extend to her the invitation that we all have received and have accepted, to step into this life of abundant peace and grace in Jesus Christ. We will seal Emily by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and mark her as one of Christ’s own forever. So keep your eyes open, watch, see, listen and hear, for the Body of Christ is growing here at Immanuel before our very eyes. There is much abundance in this place, because of this place, shared in and through and from this place!

We all have visions of the many good works that have begun and continue in this place, and we all have hopes for the potential abundance of ‘grace upon grace’ that guides and directs, that guards and protects, and that sustains us each and every day. And, if we are truthful, we all hope that at our funerals, people will turn to each other and say “What and abundant life! Surely our friend lived in the fullness of Jesus’ teaching!”

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us now, and we are called to that abundance which is life, and to share this life abundantly with others now, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Let us rejoice and be glad in that!

AMEN.





[1] Galatians 5:22

[2] Deuteronomy 8:18

[3] Proverbs 3:9-10

[4] Proverbs 15:6

[5] Proverbs 10:4

[6] Proverbs 13:23; 21:6; 28:20

[7] Luke 12:15-21

[8] John 10:10

[9] Matt 14:15-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:3-14.

[10] Psalm 23:5

[11] James 1:17

[12] Matthew 7:7-9

[13] Matthew 7:11

[14] Mark 11:24