What does it mean to have a heart for abundance? In North America and Europe, abundance is usually marked by the accumulation of things. Are any of you familiar with the comedian George Carlin? He can be rather crude, but he has this great monologue on stuff… He talks about accumulating stuff… and how we work to get more stuff and we work to look after our stuff and we buy a security system to protect our stuff and we are still afraid to leave town for fear someone will steal our stuff, and we need bigger and bigger houses to put all our stuff in… he goes on for quite some time… but he ends with these rather profound words, “And when you die, your stuff becomes someone else’s junk.” If you’ve never seen George Carlin’s rant on ‘stuff,’ I encourage you to do so.
These last 6 weeks of pandemic has demonstrated that our ‘stuff’ isn’t the heart of abundant living… it’s our relationships. Most of us are longing things to go back to normal, even though we know that the old normal is not going to be the new normal. We are not wanting to go back to normal so that we can go buy things, but because we are longing for connection, with family and friends and with nature. We are looking for the abundance that is not dependent on where we live or how much money we have.
This pandemic has demonstrated that after basic needs of food, clothing and shelter have been met, no amount of money can buy human connection. Nothing can buy us the abundance we are looking for.
In this passage from the Gospel of John, the sheep know that the Shepherd really cares about them and offers what they need–good, abundant, green pastures to eat in. They recognize this Shepherd who takes care of them as they hear his voice. (WDS)
Let’s listen to the story as it is written in John 10: 1-10:
10 ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
This passage has sometimes been interpreted to mean that the only way of connecting to the sacred is through Jesus… which doesn’t align with what we know of Jesus, who preached and practiced a very expansive understanding of the realm of God and who was welcome there.
This passage has sometimes been used to justify the prosperity gospel… that belief that affluence is God’s will for people who believe in God. A transactional sort of God. And yet, attractive as that idea is to some, is it really what we know of God? If Jesus is the closest thing we know of God, we know that he preached of good news to the poor, not the rich.
By many markers, I have an abundant life, both in terms of having my financial needs met and by a rich faith life and a vocation that allows me to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. But sometimes, like the events of the last few weeks, the ‘thief’ has destroyed my peace of mind, my sense that good triumphs over evil and that we are born for blessing, not for cursing. So much sadness in Nova Scotia over the past two weeks.
The crash of the military helicopter put me in a bit of tailspin… my father was in the air force, all three of my brothers-in-law were in the navy, my nephew is in the army, we live just one street over from Shearwater… and I had met Abbigail Cowbrough, the young sub-leftenant, she was a friend of my nephew’s from cadets. I was feeling stuck in the valley of the shadow of death, not walking through it. I am usually pretty resilient, but this past couple of weeks have been challenging.
Yesterday as I was writing this reflection, I remember something that the Rev. Dr. Shelley Finson wrote several months before her death from breast cancer.
Shelley was my academic advisor the first few years I was a student at the Atlantic School of Theology and she was a formidable woman. She was highly intelligent, vigorously honest and demanded the best from us. She and her partner Dianne wrote:
Today we anticipated joining friends in a celebration. However, events of last evening and this morning (nausea, vomiting and dizziness) have made the trip an impossibility. As we lay in bed reflecting on our circumstance and greeting the day, some musings, that we decided to share with you, came to the fore.
- Kindness does not exist if suffering comes that we might learn from it. We don’t believe that we are given suffering in order to learn something, in order to grow or to evolve. Suffering is just part of the reality of being human and living within an “incomplete creation.” That is all! Who wants to live in a universe or with a god that would include violence as an aid for learning. Not us!
- Simple acts of kindness from caring friends and family continuously fill depleting wells of aching souls.
- Hope often needs to be reconfigured in order to fit changing realities.
- When the road is cluttered with obstacles that block our way to hope’s possibility, sometimes we are just grateful that we can find the road to hope.
- Positive energy, thoughts and prayers can be sustaining.
- Gratitude deepens for small things that often become larger in meaning.
- When one door shuts, often a crowbar and several friends are required to open another door.
- What does it take for us to arrive at hope? A listening ear; persistence; and refusal to stay in disappointment or be defined by our circumstances.
Shelley and her partner’s hope lay in relationship. relationship with one another, with God and with an extended family of friends. That’s the kind of hope we are called to live… and when your hope is floundering, perhaps I can shore you up… and when my hope is on the rocks… you can show me the way. That’s the kind of hope that those first disciples practiced after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This next scripture shows us the value the early Christians, some of whom had to gather in secret and isolation, placed upon supporting one another “abundantly.” Listen to the story from Acts 2: 42-47:
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
Remember, it was not safe to be identified with Jesus at this time. They were probably hiding the fact that they were followers except in their homes. They became family to one another, regardless of the ties of ethnicity and the social constructs of their time. And yes, somehow, in their worship, prayer and sharing meals, there was something so compelling about them that the community grew and grew.
I am so grateful to technology right now. If this had happened even 10 years ago, I don’t know how we would have able to remain connected to one another. And not just connected to each other, but reaching out beyond our church building to connect through time and space. And even as I love technology, I get nothing out of trying to hug my computer… and for those of you who live alone, I can only imagine what it’s like not to have any human touch. One of the things that I love about technology is the ability to reach out and ask for help.
As I said earlier, I have been really struggling this week, so yesterday I posted a request for pictures/quotes etc. that meant resurrection to you. So many people responded… there was an abundance of photographs… and each gesture touched me and healed a little piece of my heart. Here is just one, out of FORTY, taken by Kathleen Cameron, in her words, “Some Mayflowers I found near my grandmother’s old home… The official flower of the province is “a symbol of the resilience of all Nova Scotians and an inspiration and reminder that beauty can thrive amid adversity.”
Thanks be to God for each one of you and for the challenge and opportunity of being church. Amen.