Monday, July 30, 2018

Sermon for 10th Sunday of Pentecost

Sermon for 10th Sunday of Pentecost (Proper 12B), July 29, 2018

The God of Abundance

The Rev. Rob Hartley

         I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in the small town of Mt. Pleasant on the eastern rim of Charleston Harbor, but I attended grade school and later high school in downtown Charleston.  Each day I would ride a school bus across the old Cooper River Bridge- narrow, spindly and high and scary.  Even then that bridge was old having been built in the 1930’s.  Crossing that bridge each day was, in itself, an act of faith.  The bus would rumble across the bridge and into downtown Charleston.  We would pass through a section of town known as Ansonboro.  Back then, Ansonboro was a poorer section of Charleston.  On the corner of Wentworth and Meeting Streets was a fountain fed by an artesian well right next to the Ansonboro fire station.  The flow was impressive in that it never stopped.  I could imagine the people of the Ansonboro, before indoor running water was available, coming to that well to get water, all the water they wanted.  The abundance of that well was in contrast the impoverishment of the neighborhood around it.

        Scripture makes it clear that our God is a God of Abundance, yet we find ourselves in a world characterized by material, emotional and spiritual impoverishment.  How did this come to be?  We can look at the story Genesis 3 for the answer.  Adam and Eve were created to be in the Garden where there needs were perfectly met.  They communed with God and walked with Him in the cool of the evening, as the story goes.  But this changed when the chasm between God and man came to be as a result of our rebellion and disobedience.  The story goes on with God saying,

cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”…
23 The Lord God sent them out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 

        This morning readings, however, give a foreshadowing of our return to a life under an abundant God.  
·        From 2 Kings we have the Prophet Elisha “Give [the loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain] to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” ·        Verse 17 our Psalm this morning- You [Lord] open wide your hand *and satisfy the needs of every living creature. 
·        In our Epistle reading, Paul writes, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Fullness… Pleroma in the original Geek, from which we get the word Plethora, which means over-abundance. 
·        And finally, from our Gospel story this morning on the feeding of the 5,000, what started with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, and ended, after all had eaten, with fragments that filled twelve baskets.

        Don’t worry, this is not going to be a prosperity Gospel sermon.  The Prosperity Gospel is preaching a material prosperity.  Jesus himself had nothing except what he wore on his back, yet from a Kingdom of God perspective, he is the richest man to ever walk this earth.  So, let’s not get distracted in thinking about material abundance, although God does materially provide us with all that we need.  Here is what Jesus has to say about this in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…31 Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
        From God’s perspective, therefore, what we truly need the most is not material.  What we need is what Jesus comes to give in abundance: abundant grace, abundant love, abundant compassion, abundant forgiveness, abundant self-giving.  As Jesus says in John 10:10, I have come to give [you] life and give it in abundance.
        Do you have the abundant life Christ came to bring to you?  Are you living large in Jesus?  If not, how is Jesus tell you to appropriate the abundant life?
        First is to reset your priorities: We seek after scraps under the table when our Lord has offered us a seat at the banquet.  As we just read from Matthew 6: 33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
        Secondly, if you want the abundant life that Jesus can give, it will require you to walk in fellowship and communion with Him, seek to return to that state when we walked in the cool of the evening with God.  Seek His face. Spend time with him like you are doing right now on this Lord’s Day.  In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
        And finally, of course, there is the Holy Spirit whom Jesus asks the Father to send to us to lead us into the abundant life.   The abundant life is the Spirit-filled life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), the fruit of a life surrendered to the guidance and governance of the Holy Spirit.  We can see what this Spirit-filled life looks like in the life of the Apostles themselves:  Before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the only thing the Apostles had in abundance were failure, fear and faithlessness; after Pentecost, they have an abundance power, purpose and praise for the Lord who has transformed them. 
        So, in conclusion, God is a God of extravagant abundance.  We appropriate the abundant life, the bounty promised to all who follow Jesus, not by gathering scraps under the table, but by taking our place at the great banquet the Lord has prepared for us.  Seek the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world.  Follow Christ, become His disciple, be in union with Him, which is what God desires above all else.  And finally, surrender to the Holy Spirit who lives in you.  The Holy Spirit is the power to transcend the spiritual impoverishment and misplaced priorities of this world, rise above them, and experience the abundant life promised to all of us who are followers of Christ.