Homily: Have Life in Abundance

   If there’s one sermon all of us are willing to listen to to the very end it’s this one. And I mean that quite literally.

   In this passage from John, Jesus says that he has come so that his followers — all of us — may have life and have it more abundantly. Life, obviously, is good, desirable, important. How much more so, then, abundant life? There was a time when I had developed a very bad habit. If someone told me of their difficulties, their struggles in life, I would respond, “Well, survival is progress.” But, in fact, survival is not progress. Progress is progress.

   The chance to not simply endure, or even persist, but to thrive; to not simply exist, but to flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted. I believe that if there is one thing that pretty much everyone here today — and those not here as well – desire, even if they can’t name that desire, it’s this. More than that, I believe we regularly make all kinds of sacrifices in the hope of earning or achieving or purchasing this life, and each time we fail it kills us just a little.

   The PBS documentary series, Frontline, in a recent episode about the changing nature of advertising and our culture, shows how keenly we seek a sense of fulfillment and purpose — that is, abundant life — often from the things we buy.

   Advertising in our country has shifted from making promises about the quality of the product to promises about quality of life. It showed how ‘emotional branding’ seeks to fill the empty places that civic institutions like schools and churches used to fill; and although the things themselves may be perfectly useful — a great laptop or pair of running shoes — they can’t provide the abundant life of meaning and purpose that we so desperately seek. Ads even try to convince us that we can achieve abundant life through such things as our choice of a tooth paste or a deodorant.

So here we are, seeking meaning and fulfillment — that is, abundant life — from things in part because we no longer find them in our prayer life or education and reading or especially in charitable works, in doing for others.

   But authentic abundant life flows ultimately from having meaningful relationships. Certainly in our relationship with Jesus and through him. So much of our life is instead about protecting ourselves: giving the impression that we really do have it all together. But we can’t experience abundant life without exposing, even celebrating, those very vulnerabilities we want to hide. We can’t go selectively numb. And in trying to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment, we have so numbed ourselves that we have cut ourselves off from the very things that can allow us to really feel alive: love, and satisfying work and appreciation of both of these as seen in the great works of art and literature.

     So much of our life is caught between wanting intimacy and honesty in our relationships — with each other as much as with God — and yet simultaneously holding back, not risking, not exposing ourselves fully to others for fear that they may reject us. It’s a legitimate fear, of course; people have rejected us in the past. And so we ensconce ourselves in emotional armor, living half-truths and sometimes outright lies about who we are, hoping to protect ourselves from hurt, perhaps all the while knowing that as long as we are not honest about who we are, we cannot trust the love and acceptance others would offer us. After all, would they accept us, we silently ask ourselves, if they really knew us?

It is this very real human condition and dilemma that God embraces in coming to live on earth, taking on our lot and our life in the flesh and blood of Jesus. The man born of woman, born under the law; the one who experienced love and laughter, sorrow and disappointment; the teacher of love and peace who accepted death on the cross, trusting the power of His Father to overcome even death — this one knows the deepest recesses of our fears and insecurities and has embraced them all. And when he is resurrected, he comes bearing the peace he has offered all along, accompanied with the promise that his love is greater than fear and that his new life is greater than death.

Which means that the second thing we need to do is declare this promise. And it is a promise! Abundant life is not something to earn or achieve, buy or barter for. Rather, it is a gift, the sheer gift of a God who loves us enough to lay down his life for us. There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance. And so Jesus comes as the gatekeeper and good shepherd, the one who knows his sheep — intimately and truly — and who calls us by name so that we, hearing the difficult truth about ourselves, may believe and receive the second and wonderful truth about God’s great and victorious love for us.

In fifty years of priesthood, the thing I have most come to understand is that most people don’t like themselves very much, and so they cannot understand how God could ever like them either. And so, proclaiming these two truths, — the truth about how often we search for love and life in all the wrong places and the second truth that God in Christ understands, embraces, and redeems us in love — are the most important messages I can impart to you so regularly. And I call on you to share and to accept this good news, above all. “I have come”, He says, “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”       (David Lose)

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