Easter 4 | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 30 April 2023 | Acts 2:42-47 |Psalm 23 | 1 Peter 2:19-25 | John 10:1-10

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God of abundance. Amen.

Good morning, friends. It is good to see us all together in one service today, being the church together on this beautiful Fourth Sunday of Easter. We get to share communion all together in one place, and we get to feast together with a potluck too. We are in the midst of a season that celebrates resurrection life, and today we get to celebrate the life Jesus gives us all together.

In our Gospel today, Jesus says he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus is the gate and the good shepherd; others destroy the flock, but Jesus comes not only to preserve life from danger, but to give abundant life. This is why Jesus is here. And so today I want to ask, what does it look like to have life, and have it abundantly?

We’ll look at what abundance is, and what it’s not. We’ll look at the image of abundance in Acts, and a some in other scriptures. Maybe we have our own images of abundance too. And we’ll reflect on why these stories and images matter, and what abundance might mean for us.  

So, what is abundant life? When Jesus says he came that we may have life and have it abundantly, abundantly is περισσός. Abundantly is a good translation of that word; we could also say exceedingly or excessively or to the fullest. There’s a verb form of the same root, περισσεύω, that means to exceed or to overflow.

So I think when Jesus says he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, he means that we’ll have even more life than what we need. There’s a baseline of survival where our needs for living are met; we have food and shelter and enough safety and freedom and connection and meaning that we’re doing okay. And abundance is over and above that.

Having life and having it abundantly means that we’re not just surviving but thriving. We not only have enough of what we need to get by; we have enough to share and enough to enjoy. Abundant life means we have enough to help our neighbors be more than okay, and enough to be more than okay ourselves.

And I want to say that when we talk about sharing in abundant life, it isn’t the same thing as the teachings known as the Prosperity Gospel. These are teachings that treat giving as a magic trick to get rich quick. You may have encountered those teachings in preaching or on TV or in pamphlets that show up in your mailbox and tell you how your gift will be multiplied back to you a hundred times.

I don’t believe that when I give away money, God is going to do a miracle to give me back more money than I gave away. I don’t believe Jesus wants me to have a private jet. But I do believe that the abundant life Jesus dreams for us all becomes possible when we open our hands to each other.

This is what happens with the early Christians in Acts, so we’ll look at that image of abundance. This part of Acts comes right after Peter preaches to the crowd at Pentecost. This is the moment when the small group of Jesus’ followers expands. So we already have abundance in the community itself. They are learning about Jesus in the apostles’ teachings; they are learning about each other in fellowship; they are breaking bread together. 

And at this stage of overflowing expansion, the new believers share what they have with one another. Some of the believers don’t yet have their needs met, and they all come together to fix that. When anyone has more than they need, they give it away in order to bring everyone else up. The image is open hands, tables piled high, awe and wonder.

This abundant sharing comes from a place of wonder. The result is that everyone’s needs are met, but the story doesn’t start with need. It doesn’t start with being worried for those who have less, or with guilt from those who have more.

It starts with awe. It starts with signs and wonders. It starts with the amazement and the mystery of the Gospel. It starts with sharing in Jesus’ resurrected life together as a community. It starts with celebrating together what God is already doing. It starts with joy.

I attended a conference online earlier this year, and a keynote from Bishop Deon Johnson of Missouri has stuck with me. Bishop Johnson talked about joy in ministry, and the way that God calls us to our best and most generous work through joy. Bishop Johnson went so far as to say of church ministries, “If it’s not joyful, don’t do it.” And joy and abundant life are part of the same thing.

In the abundant life Jesus came for, this joy is both where we’re going what draws us there. When we have enough, and more than enough, there is joy. And when there is joy, we are able to see the abundance we have better; when there is joy, we are more free to share what we have in community, as the disciples did in Acts. 

The disciples as a community have enough and more than enough because they help each other. They know each other’s strengths and each other’s needs, and they come together to make it work. They respond in joy to the wonders of this life they share. It’s a beautiful image of life abundant.

Scripture is full of these images of abundance—the lilies clothed in splendor without laboring and the ravens God feeds; the righteous person as a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit and not withering; Jesus’ miracles of feeding thousands with a few loaves and gathering baskets and baskets of leftovers after.

Psalm 23 is another one. With God as our shepherd, we have enough nourishment, we have enough safety, we have enough rest. The table is set, and our cup overflows.

And maybe we have our own images of abundance, our own stories of joy and connection and plenty. Maybe we’ve seen what it means for our cup to overflow. I’d love to hear sometime how abundant life has shown up for you.

For me, I think of the time when Brian and I moved across the country for seminary. We didn’t know what it would be like. We didn’t know how we’d make friends or what our life would look like or whether we’d have enough. And that first night when we drove in, people we’d never met before cooked us a delicious meal. We gathered around a full table in the courtyard of our apartment building, and we ate pasta and drank wine and shared stories and laughed together. And in that moment, we knew we’d have enough and more than enough. We knew what abundant life was, because we were living it together. We were feasting on it together.  

And today when we take communion together, we’ll be feasting on that same abundant life Jesus has for us. And after this service when we eat lunch, we’ll feast together in a different way. Where better to find abundant life than in a church potluck? And maybe in that feasting, joy will call to us as it did to the early Christians in Acts. Friends, I wonder what Jesus’ dream of abundance looks like for you.

I wonder what your stories of abundance are, and your hopes for the future. I wonder what gets in the way of joy and abundance for us, what needs we can meet when we come together, what stories of “not enough” keep us more stuck than we’d have to be. I wonder how we can we receive the abundant life Jesus wants to give us in this moment. I wonder how can we be part of abundant life for our neighbors. I wonder where we are witnessing resurrection life in this season, where joy might be calling us.

Maybe we can start there: by noticing joy. There’s a lot that’s hard right now. But maybe there’s a whisper or a shout of joy somewhere in our midst, and maybe stopping to hear that joy is the start of the life Jesus wants to give us.

So friends, let us tell each other the stories of abundant life we have, and let us make new ones together. Let us pay attention to where the joy of the resurrection life stirs in our community and where that joy might be calling us as we feast together today. Amen.

Paul Cezanne’s ~1890 Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses (in the Public Domain and accessed through the Met Gallery).