Of persons: extraordinary, remarkable, to be far superior—May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47
John 10:1-10

Sermon delivered at Lakeridge Lutheran Church, Renton, WA

Do you know what a “lexicon” is?

Well, seminary-intern—desperate pastor-in-training—that I am, as I tried to prepare this sermon for today I was digging around in a lot of dictionaries and lexicons. Actually—to be honest— I was clicking around in a lot of online dictionaries and lexicons.

You all might know this—but in recent years it was revealed to me: our New Testament was written in an old form of Greek. The most widely spoken language in both the Roman Empire, and the land around Jerusalem etc. where Jesus was hanging out.

And there wasn’t Greek dictionaries back then. In fact, dictionaries weren’t invented until like the 17-hundreds.

So how do we know what words meant? Well, that’s where a lexicon comes in. It is a big old book—or now, website—that keeps track of every single use of a word in ancient texts, and then, through context, basically guesses at a group of meanings.

So, long story short, I was looking up the words in Jesus’ last sentence in our Gospel reading. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I was really curious about the words “life” (ζωὴν) and “abundantly” (περισσὸν).

Now, I know you know it’s Easter season. Easter doesn’t just end after you walk out of church on Easter Sunday. It’s a Season of Sundays—we hear all the stories about Jesus’ Resurrection. So when you hear these words, Life and Abundantly, I know you—my good Christian sisters and brothers—think immediately of the mind-blowing resurrection of Jesus Christ. That downfall of death—the defeat of sin.

When Jesus says “have life, and have it abundantly,” I know you all, in this Easter season, might be thinking about that abundant after-life. And you wouldn’t be wrong per se…

But, when I looked up these two words in that online lexicon, I was surprised.

For starters, that mysterious word—life—can mean quite a few things! It can mean life, in the sense that it means the opposite of death, yes. It also can mean your “way of life” so—customs and culture, also—“living”, as in ,“What do you do for a living?” Your vocation. Also— the substance of life, life giving stuff—like food and shelter and family and meaning.

That’s a lot of possible definitions according to this Ancient Greek lexicon! Now stay with me because I really am going somewhere with this:

John’s Gospel tells us—God came in Jesus so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

 “Life” means so very much, even in English, from the substance of our living spirits, to the simple meals we share with our families and friends, to the very things we do with our lives, our passions, our callings. Ok—keep that in mind.

Now, what about “abundantly.”

I type in the Greek letters {bleep bloop..} and it spits back at me: out of the common, extraordinary, strange. Of persons—it says—extraordinary, remarkable, to be far superior. But here’s a funny thing, this word has a bad sense, at the same time it means: superfluous, useless; somewhat extravagant or eccentric; more than sufficient; surplus, residue; excessive.

This really makes me pause. I think I know what you’re thinking. I’m not talking about any “Prosperity Gospel” stuff. I don’t want you to think the wealthy, those of over-abundant riches, have this “life abundantly” that Christ the Gate leads us to.

Oh no!

We must put together these two words and all their meanings to get at the right idea.

This abundant life from Jesus is strange and remarkable—to an onlooker it might even seem extravagant and superfluous!

 You could say if we put all the meanings together—it’s a life of overflowing culture, happy vocations, and glad hearts—a life of…living! A life that is noticed by others.

That’s pretty exciting—that’s what Jesus came for according to John’s Gospel.

But, what does this life really look like? How do we go about it?

Well, go no farther than our reading from the Book of Acts for a portrait of this life. Remember that book, the Acts of the Apostles? It comes just after the 4 Gospel books. Act’s is the story of the Church: how it grew and overcame challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean around 2000 years ago. The Book of Acts is the Christian church’s family story. It’s the story of Us.

I know sometimes in a service Scripture readings get lost in the shuffle—so, I’m gonna read it again. As I read, think of this overflowing living—

[Acts 2:42-47] [The baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Now THAT sounds like abundant life.

These earliest Christians were not pining away for the glorious here-after. They were living robustly into the promises of life, and life abundantly in the present tense.

Just listen to all the beautiful images used in this passage to describe the earliest Church. We have the “breaking of Bread”—eating, meal sharing—not anything fancy, here, just bread—abundant life giving community. And worship, thanksgiving and joy. That’s prayer, that’s time in the temple.

More than these two—there is awe, wonder and signs! Now, what could be a more wonderful and awe inspiring sign than keeping all money and possessions in common, and giving to those as they have need? This portrait of the church was written long, long before the words “socialism” or “communism” were ever coined. This is the strange and overflowing life that Jesus the Gate opened to us in his death and resurrection.

But, it’s easy to quickly put this life right out of our heads as impossible—just as impossible as Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

It’s not hard to conjure up all the images and ideologies of death, scarcity and foolishness that spew out from our Newspapers, iPhones and TV screens. Endless stories of reckless white police violence and black suffering. Advertisements that ridiculously want us to save more and spend more. Would-be leaders who pander to the lowest level of national selfishness.

How can we have this abundant life if we don’t believe it’s possible?

I don’t have a great answer for you.

I can tell you that this story from John and from Acts is proclaimed today, in this Easter season, for a reason. This ostentatious, happy-hearted life, this having of life and life abundantly, this is an Easter story. Because it’s so beautiful and so impossible, but it’s true.

Day by day, this first Church shared their lives, shared their diverse cultures, enjoyed their meals together at table, with glad and generous hearts praising God, and they had the goodwill of all the people.

This is Resurrection Life. You already have it, and you can re-up any time you like.

As John’s Gospel tells it, the source of this abundance is knowing that Jesus has called your name—that you’ve passed through the Gateway of Christ in Baptism and are already taking part in this life of abundance. In short, this abundant life is the calm and steady knowing that you are loved by God.

And in this knowing, in this faith, you have the power to live.

I know you’all already have the power to be the most diverse church in the ELCA in western Washington!

You already have the power to be a beacon of welcome and life giving prayer and ritual to a city in need.

You already have the power to simply break bread, to have a meal, and see God revealed at your tables.

You already have the power to enjoy all that God has created.

You already have the power to engage your world: your state and your city with voices and votes that are rooted in this abundant and overflowing life.

Allelujah! Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen indeed, Allelujah!

Amen.

 

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