Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Abundant Life

This is my upcoming article for The Minister's Corner in the September 27, Shawnee News Star.

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”
       Luke 12:15

“And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
            2 Corinthians 9:8

“’The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’”
John 10:10
            The Discipleship Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version, 1989

            In the spring of 2005, our family went to visit my sister and her family in Greece. My sister, Jill, is married to a Greek and has lived there for many years. My kids were little, and the time change and jet lag were hard on them (and me), but my Greek family and my sister’s friends welcomed and embraced us wholeheartedly.  They took their call of hospitality seriously. It seemed that my sister’s friends wanted to have us over for lunch, or dinner, or an afternoon snack, or morning coffee – you get the idea. They love my sister, so they also loved us. 
            On one of the last nights we were in Athens, we were all invited – my family, Jill’s family, and the whole group of Jill’s friends – to another friend’s home for dinner.  Sitting around this long table, we ate wonderful food.  We talked and laughed. We toasted one another’s health and well-being.  My children were adored and cuddled.  One of Jill’s friends, George Stephanopoulos (no, not that George Stephanopoulos), reached across the table with a pitcher of water to refill a glass and accidentally spilled it on me.  He apologized profusely, and added, “Welcome to Greece.”  That only added to the night’s hilarity.  After eating, we danced traditional Greek dances, and finally wrapped up the party, exhausted but happy. 
            Looking back at that evening, I realize it was one of those moments when I understood a little more what it means to live an abundant life.  As the sample of scripture verses demonstrate, abundance is used in a variety of contexts.  But the word’s meaning is the same, whether it refers to something negative or positive.  An abundance of anything is to have an ample supply.  Abundant possessions; you’ve got a lot of stuff.  Abundant blessings; you’ve got a lot of blessings.  Abundant life; you’ve got more life?  I readily admit that the idea of abundant life challenges me.  I want to define it, but I can’t seem to find the language to do so.  Certainly, it seems that abundant life from Jesus refers to eternal life.  But I don’t believe that Jesus was only pointing toward a life after life.  I also think he meant abundant life right here, right now, in this life. But what does abundant life look like?  We know from Luke’s gospel that it isn’t just about a bunch of stuff, a glut of material possessions.  They may be nice and useful, but having more of them doesn’t equal abundant life.  It seems obvious that an abundance of blessings equates to abundant life, but do those blessings relate solely to us?  Is an abundant life merely a happy, giddy existence?  Or is it something more?
            Maybe an abundant life is similar to the dinner I described.  You are at table, breaking bread, with family and friends.  There is laughter and joy.  But also seated at that table are the “others” of the world.  A person who has been hungry is finally getting enough to eat.  A person whose life has been nothing but hardship and strife is finally laughing.  A person who has experienced only loneliness is now surrounded by loved ones.  A person who has lived in fear and danger now feels safe and at peace.  Perhaps sitting at that table are former enemies, now friends.  Perhaps sharing in that fellowship are people who have been forgotten or ignored.  Maybe gathered at that feast are those whose voices have been silenced, but now are heard. 
            I think that an abundant life is not a just a life focused on the blessings that I alone have been given; instead it is a life where my blessings are shared with others, and theirs with me.  An abundant life is a life that isn’t about momentary happiness, but about a life grounded in joy, trust, compassion, and love.  Maybe, just maybe, an abundant life is one where all are neighbors, and all are welcome at the table.  An abundant life is one where we all share in the abundance of good food, good things, and good works, making us abundantly grateful and abundantly glad to be gathered. 

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