What makes life abundant? According to Dictionary.com the adjective abundant means that something is in great quantity, more than adequate, over sufficient - as in abundant water. So does having a great quantity of something mean that we have abundant life? Lots of money? Lots of food or clothes? Lots of possessions?
As I grow older, the notion of abundant life changes for me. As I was thinking about abundant life this week, images from my childhood came to my mind. So let me share some of them with you.
Outside my beloved Aunt Helen's bedroom window at my grandparents' farmhouse was a fig tree. The tree was more of a giant, tall bush than a tree. It had juicy, funny looking fruit that ripened through the summer. I loved them. The smell was fragrant, sweet and could wake me up better than any alarm clock. Sometimes the fragrance was heady and almost overpowering as the figs would begin to ferment in the humid North Carolina summer sun. Life abundant.
Along with the taste of those figs, I can still taste lemon drops that my grandfather always kept in a little box on the table by the old green couch. I can remember the taste of homemade cherry ice cream - my grandmother's special recipe. I can taste the homegrown watermelons brought straight from the field and broken open in the back yard underneath the elm tree. I can even remember the bitter taste of a persimmon before a frost. In those carefree days, life was abundant.
I remember riding in the back of my grandfather's pickup truck and the sound of a rooster crowing before daylight. And if I think really hard, I can remember the sound of the rattling of the wood cook stove in the kitchen that was used in scalding the milk from the morning and evening milkings.
For a child who moved quite a bit and sometimes didn't fit in, my grandfather's farm was a place of acceptance, of belonging, of life abundant.
These images and thoughts about abundant life came to me this week as I have been contemplating the scripture lessons for the third Sunday of Lent. In this passage Jesus is having a conversation with others about a tragic event that has just happened: Pilate, the Roman governor, had killed some Galileans who were making sacrifices at the temple and then he mixed their blood with the sacrifices. Jesus makes this statement in the midst of the conversation: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:2-3)
We could add our own questions, couldn't we? What about the people furloughed and programs cut because of the government sequester? What about car accidents that injure people or take their lives? What about children who go to bed at night hungry, or people around the world, who, years later, still have not recovered from storms? What about countless deaths in mines? What about anything bad that happens to people? In the words of Jesus: Are these worse sinners than all the others? Are these folks being punished? Jesus answered these questions emphatically: No!
As I thought about this scripture, I thought about what it is that Jesus wanted for the people who flocked to hear him preach and teach and heal. I thought about what Jesus wants for all of us. Jesus wants us to experience abundant life, now and forever. This desire for us to have abundant life comes from the deepest longing of Jesus - that we live in deep relationship with God and that we experience forgiveness, love, acceptance and belonging. This longing for us to experience abundant life does not mean that we have everything we want - sometimes we may not even have what we need. It doesn't mean that things will always be "peachy" for us, but it does mean that we have the constant and abiding presence, the direction and wisdom, the endless forgiveness and eternal love of God through Christ Jesus.
In the gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus states why he came to us: "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) As he made this statement, maybe Jesus had in his mind the words of Isaiah: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money come, buy and eat. ... Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good and delight yourself in rich food." (Isaiah 55)
Maybe Jesus could see images that inform us of abundant life, that God sets the table but we have to pull up the chair. Maybe Jesus saw that we have the choice to buy or buy into, and that it is better to commit to take the step, to plunge into what God is offering. Maybe Jesus wants us to eat, partake, experience, taste and savor the goodness of God. Maybe Jesus is inviting us to listen, to pay attention, to tune into God's voice and tune out the competing voices all around us.
Maybe Jesus wants us to seek the Lord by making the presence of God a priority in our lives and to forsake or abandon whatever doesn't work for our relationship with God. Maybe he is suggesting that abundant life comes when we decide what is holding us back from living this abundant life and let things go.
Jesus knew that Isaiah was saying that God is offering a long, sustained, eternal, abundant life. Jesus is reminding us that he came to help us receive and live that abundant life.
So Jesus said the unexpected to those who engaged him in the conversation about the recent tragic event. He said to repent - not because the folks who died needed to repent, but because life is fragile, things happen, tragedy strikes, and the only way we can keep from being angry and bitter all the time is to turn to God's abundant life.
If you read the 13th chapter of Luke, you will discover that Jesus then tells a story about a fig tree and how for years it has not produced fruit. There is discussion about removing the tree since it appears to be useless, but it is decided to leave it for another year and cultivate it and see if it will produce. Jesus reminds us in that story that God is always offering more chances to repent and live life abundantly.
In the abundant life I experienced as a child, things weren't always perfect on my grandfather's farm. My grandmother was very ill, bed-ridden and without the ability to speak. I never knew my grandmother when she was well, and most of my memories of her include her lying in a bed, completely dependent on someone else. The reason we spent so much time at the farm in the summers was so my mother could help take care of my grandmother during the busy harvesting and preserving season and so my grandfather and my beloved aunt could get rest when they could.
The weather wasn't always perfect; the crops didn't always do well. We were often sad because my grandmother was so sick. It was during the Vietnam war and my cousin was in Vietnam. Even with those burdens on the shoulders of my family, life was worth remembering because of God's love and forgiveness, because it was a place of acceptance and belonging and abundant life.
There are people all around us who are in need of abundant living, of feeling acceptance and forgiveness and belonging. Even as we receive abundant life through Christ, we can offer that abundant life to others. Let's do it!
To God be the glory!
On the calendar:
Cross Walk Lenten Lunch Worship Series, March 13, First United Methodist Church. Worship following lunch at noon. Speaker: Laura File; Special Music: Dustin Long. Offering.
UMCOR Early Response Training, March 23, Quiet Dell UMC. Registration 8:30 a.m.; Training 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Coordinators: the Revs. Dan and Sue Lowther. $20 fee includes training manual. Lunch provided by sponsoring church. Registration deadline is March 16. Persons are not allowed on the scene of a disaster without certification that they have received training.
Cross Walk Lenten Lunch Worship Series, March 20, First UMC. Worship following lunch at noon. Speaker: Billee Scott Mick; Special Music: Judy Knorr. Offering.
Fish Fry, with fish, hush puppies and French fries, 4:30 to 7 p.m. March 22, Chapel Hill UMC. Proceeds support mission trips.
Worship and Communion. Holy Thursday, 7 p.m. March 28, First UMC
Jesus, Light of the World. Choir Tenebrae presentation, Good Friday, 7 p.m. March 29, Chapel Hill UMC
Tenebrae, a Service of Darkness by Hal H. Hopson, choir presentation. Good Friday, 7 p.m. March 29, First UMC
Easter Sunrise Service, 7 a.m. March 31, First Baptist Church. Breakfast following service.