This is the Life
When you hear “Oh, this is the life!” what image comes to mind? Basking on a sandy beach in Hawaii? Barbara, Mona, Jody, Tina and Carolyn just returned from attending the Western Jurisdictional meeting of the United Methodist Women in Honolulu. Mariellen was one of the speakers. Can’t you see them reclining on their beach chairs, wiggling their toes in the sand, enjoying a beverage with an umbrella in it? Oh, this is the life!
What about you? What is “the life” for you? Relaxing in a hammock? Listening to music? Retiring? Watching the A’s beat the Giants?
Nothing you can picture can compare with the life Jesus came to bring us. John 10.10, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to bring us life. What God wants for you is to have life, abundant life. On Easter Sunday, I challenged you to choose life rather than death. This morning let’s look further at the life Jesus brings.
The Greek word translated “abundant life” means "superabundant," "superfluous," "overflowing," "over and above a certain quantity," "a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect or anticipate." God promises us a life far better than we could ever envision. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2.9, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
However, before we begin to have visions of palatial homes, classic automobiles, around-the-world trips, and wads of pocket money, we need to step back and consider what the Bible means by "life." The abundant life is more than physical life, more than flesh, blood and breathing. All we need to do is glance around to know that wealth, prestige, position, and power in this world are not high-priority items on God's list of blessings. Perhaps the most telling biblical definition of life—particularly eternal life—is uttered by Jesus in John 17.3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Note that this definition makes no mention of length of days, health, prosperity, family, occupation—in fact, the only thing it does mention is knowing God!
On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene was weeping in the garden. She had found the tomb empty; the stone was rolled away. She thought it was a gardener who asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She answered, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.” All Jesus had to say, so that she would recognize him, was her name. “Mary”. Can you imagine the tenderness, the compassion, the love in his voice. “Mary.” Jesus affirmed her, gave her special attention, and acknowledged their friendship. There, in the garden, Jesus walked with her, and he talked with her and he told her she was his own. Life, eternal life, the abundant life, is a relationship with God. God reaches out to all of us, reaches out to you, wanting to enter into a relationship with you, wanting to be your God, your Savior, your friend. God reaches out and calls you by name: Mary, Joe, Peter,
Eternal life, the abundant life, is not determined by wealth or duration but by a relationship with God. This is why, once we are converted and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we already have eternal life. 1 John 5.11-12, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.” Eternal life—the life God offers us through Jesus Christ is about quality, not quantity. Eternal life, which begins now in our relationship with God, continues through death. We can’t imagine what God has prepared for us beyond the grave. We take comfort and hope in Jesus’ statement, “Because I live, you shall live also.”
Physical blessings may or may not be byproducts of the abundant life; neither wealth nor poverty is a sure indication of our standing with God. Certainly, God desires that we "prosper in all things and be in good health" (3 John 2), but the bottom line is "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (verse 4), not that we live like royalty.
The abundant life is not static or stagnant. The abundant life is a process. As Peter put it, in 2 Peter 3.18, "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ". The abundant life is a process of learning, practicing, and maturing, as well as failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, and overcoming.
The abundant life is a growing, developing relationship with God that begins now, when you believe, and continues through death into eternity. And, there’s more. Let’s go back to the garden.
After Jesus called Mary by name, and reestablished a relationship with her, notice what was next. Jesus gave Mary something to do! He told her to go tell the disciples. The abundant life is a relationship with God who gives us something to do. I believe every Christian is called to do ministry, teaching Sunday School, teaching public school, working to make the world a better place. An abundant life is a life of service.
Our church is engaged in ministry, very effective ministry, and this morning I’d like to highlight the important role volunteers provide to enable the success of God’s ministry. No church can get along without volunteers. You were greeted at the door this morning by a volunteer. You were handed a bulletin by a volunteer. Volunteers sharpened all the pencils in the pew racks. We honored the choir this morning, a dedicated group of volunteers. Volunteers teach Sunday School, Bible classes, lead Scout meetings, prepare meals. Volunteers go to Louisiana and Mexico on work projects. A group of men volunteer one Tuesday a month to make repairs. We have a host of committees, all staffed by volunteers. Volunteers prepare meals for homeless shelters. Volunteers do a myriad of tasks for memorial services.
Volunteers do ministry. When I was pastor, a member of the Merced church brought an 11-year old boy to the worship service. She discovered that he had not eaten, so she first took him out for breakfast. During the worship service, I extended the invitation for folks to come forward to commit their lives to Christ, be blessed, or pray for a special need. The boy came forward and knelt. I asked him how I could help him pray. He said, “I want to pray for my Dad who is in prison.” Several Sundays later, my wife Eleanor, noticed him and his cousin pouring lots of cream and sugar into cups of coffee during the Fellowship time. She asked if they were hungry, and took them to her Sunday School room where she had leftovers from a class dinner. During Holy Week, one of our church men brought two bicycles for us to give to kids who needed them. On Easter, the boy again came forward to kneel, this time for a blessing. He announced, “Today is my birthday.” We asked him if he would like a bicycle for a birthday present. You would have to look far and wide to find a happier boy with bigger eyes! Notice the ministry the volunteers happily provided: inviting and bringing a neighbor to church, feeding the hungry, prayer, loving a lonely boy, and giving a bicycle.
In the bulletin this morning you will find a yellow form, challenging you to continue moving from spectator to disciple. Will you prayerfully see where you can volunteer so our church’s ministry will prosper.
© 2008 Douglas I. Norris