Who could ask for anything more?

Jesus came to give us abundant life. Is your life abundant? Maybe it's in the light you see it.

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Who could ask for anything more?

March 5, 2014 – John 10:1-18

 

What does it mean to you live an abundant life?

            I think to most of us the abundant life means one thing – more.

            It may be more things – more cars, more houses, more toys.  It may be more people – more family, more friends – or at least that the family and friends we do have live closer or that we’re able to spend more time with them. It might be more success – however you define that – more achievements, more awards, more “A”s.  It may be more time – not only more time day-to-day and week-to-week – but more life time, more years in our lives.  If we could live well for many years, that would be an abundant life.

            For most of us, the abundant life means, “more.”  But as abundant as our lives are or are likely to become in this way, there is also the other side of life.  There are losses.  There are limitations.  There are liabilities.  In addition to more, there is less.

            Most of the time we take “less” as a threat.  We fear “less” as a compromise on our abundance, as a limit on our joy.  We take “less” as a loss. When that happens, maybe we rub some dirt on it and get back in the game.  Or maybe we grit our teeth and soldier on.  Those are not necessarily bad things.  They may be good things.  They may be admirable things.

            But most of us – if we are lucky – come to a point when there is no soldiering on.  Or there is no getting back in the game.  Or that there is no game.  We come smack up against life’s limitations.  Because of some loss or because we learn how vulnerable we are, we discover that we can’t have it all, or at least not as much of “all” as we’d hoped for.

            And when that happens, we are inclined to feel as though God doesn’t care or God is asleep at the wheel or God is off someplace else giving the abundant life to other people.  But the promise of faith is not that God always pulls us out of those situations.  Rather it is that God jumps down and gets in those situations with us.

            That’s what I think Jesus means when he says, “I came that you may life and have it abundantly!”  Jesus has freely laid down his life for us so that we can know that, no matter what happens, God is with us – that whether we experience more or whether we experience less, our life is full of God’s love, full of God’s grace, full of God’s hope.

            Around the time of the Super Bowl, I was pleased to hear members of the Seattle Seahawks – including former Badgers Chris Maragos and Russell Wilson –express their feeling that winning the Super Bowl is not the most important thing – having Jesus in your life is.  They spoke with passion and joy about their own faith.  Too often I’ve hear athletes talk post-victory about their faith in a way that seems triumphalist – that God gave them the victory rather than the other team. 

            What I would like in addition is to hear members of the Denver Broncos talk about their faith – not before the Super Bowl, but after the Super Bowl.  I wouldn’t expect this to happen in the locker room moments after the game, with their disappointment so real and fresh.  But I would like to hear them say, “I’m grateful to Jesus for being with me in this time of loss.  In fact, I’m glad for the loss because I feel closer than ever to him.  When I lose, I remember that I can’t do it all myself and that I need Jesus.   Although I’m disappointed for my teammates and for our fans that we weren’t able to achieve what we’ve been working long and hard for, I’m very grateful for God’s love that almost seems more real when I lose or when I fail than when I win or when I succeed.  Because then I know that God’s love is always – always – with me.”

            That’s the kind of speech I’d like to hear.  I don’t know if I ever will.  I don’t know if you could give such a speech.  I’m not sure I could give such a speech, at least right away.  In the moment of our setback or in the midst of our suffering, God may seem to be absent.  But perhaps with some time and distance and prayer, we may come to trust that God is present even in our loss.

            When Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God, after they’d crossed all the “t”s and dotted all the “i”s in the commandments, Moses asked God for a favor – that Moses be able to look on God’s face.  God says, no.  “No one can see my face and live.”  But God does tell Moses to hide in a rock that he will pass by and God will allow Moses to look at the back side of God, after God has passed by. 

I think that’s how we often see God – not in the moment, but after the fact – upon further review.   We easily see God’s presence in the green pastures and the still waters.  We readily feel God’s presence when our souls are fed and nourished.  But when those things are taken from us – when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death – God is not taken from us.  The shepherd is there walking with us.  The shepherd is present with us in the face of our enemies.  The Good Shepherd is there – the One who freely lays down his life for us.

This is what Lutherans call “the theology of the cross.”  That God is hidden – that divine love is not always obvious to us, but is sometimes concealed under the sign of its opposite – that what appears to be rejection is actually love, that what appears to be judgment is actually mercy.  No one expected the Messiah to die.  In fact, everyone knew that death was proof that you were not the Messiah.  But what we claim is that the death of Jesus – his offer of his life for us – is the clearest evidence that he is indeed the Messiah.

This means that when we are at a loss, we are not alone.  And it means that when we think that our glass is half empty, we can trust that it is brimful with the love of God.

So, today we gladly submit ourselves to ashes, remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return, in the trust that this will open our eyes to a greater hope – an abundant hope – and an abundant life in Jesus. 

Who could ask for anything more?