“Invitation to Abundant Life” – Rev. Tony Romaine – August 2nd, 2020
In my NRSV Bible, the heading for the Isaiah Reading we heard today is “An Invitation to Abundant Life.” And as I was reflecting this week on my message, I came across a troubling statistic. Food insecurity for U.S. households last week reached its highest reported level since the Census Bureau started tracking the data in May, with almost 30 million Americans reporting that they did not had enough to eat at some point in the week leading up to July 21st. 30 million Americans, that is almost ten percent of our entire population who reported not having enough to eat.
But let’s whittle that number down a little, if we took ten percent of MN’s population, that would be roughly 500,000 people in MN alone. But maybe this is still too large to think about, so let’s take Little Falls. Ten percent of our population is just short of 900 people, can you imagine that 900 people in our community statistically do not know where their next meal is coming from! But let’s take this one step farther…Our church membership. Ten percent of our church membership is about 20 people. Which begs the question, what is our invitation to abundant life?
The abundant life that we are being called to is not solely about what we have to eat, as we hear in our Isaiah Scripture, but also includes where we are being called. We are being called to come to a place where we can have milk and bread and cup and not have to pay anything. We are being called to come to the fount of eternal life and to know that there is no price for what we are about to imbibe, only that we must trust, believe, and live as those forgiven and freed. That is the abundant life that we are being called to; but you and I know there is more don’t we!
We are not just being called to trust and believe in the abundant life, but we are being called to live an abundant life. However, to live that abundant life, we must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and that is what brings us to our Gospel message today of the loaves and fish. All too often, when people think of this miracle, they remember the multiplication and how Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into enough food for 5,000 people and then some. And while this is definitely miraculous and not something your run-of-the-mill prophet would be able to accomplish, there is something deeper at work in this passage.
At the beginning we hear the words, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” The “this” Jesus heard was the death of John the Baptist. Jesus was obviously affected by the news and wanted some time to process the loss of his close friend and baptizer. But as he was trying to get away, as he was trying to seclude and reflect, the crowds came because they knew where he was. And so, as Jesus often did, instead of turning away and going farther into hiding, Jesus went ashore and healed the sick and cared for their needs. Moreover, not just that he came ashore, he had compassion for them. Jesus knew they needed something that only he could offer, something that only he could bring them…abundant life!
Therefore, we see that an invitation to abundant life includes more than feeding, it includes compassion, it includes sacrifice, it includes recognizing the needs of others and being willing to go ashore and help them whether sick or dying or whatever it may be. An invitation to abundant life is one that not only covers the basic needs of food and health, but covers the internal needs of caring for someone. Feeding people and clothing people is one thing, but actually doing it out of a heart of care, of a place of empathy, of a place where you recognize that this is an area where your call to Jesus’ ministry can have affect; that is abundant life.
And here is the integral part to our abundant life. Our life can only truly be abundant if it is shared with other people. Are we saved, yes. Are we forgiven and freed, absolutely. But think about what the word abundance means, think about what it means to have or live or be in abundance. Here is a good exercise, repeat after me, abbondanza…this is Italian for abundance. Now I argue you cannot say abbondanza without a spark of joy, without somewhat of a smile, without a sense that your life is filled in some different way. Sure, you can mildly say it, but the meaning changes to just be a word; you miss out on the true meaning of it without the joyful utterance of abbondanza.
Okay, enough Italian for one sermon! But I use this exercise to demonstrate that sometimes we have to use words not just say them. Just like we have to live an abundant life, not just exist. And in order to truly live into an abundance, in order to truly have abundance, in order to truly experience what God is calling us through the prophet Isaiah into, we have to share our abundance with others. But just in case you still don’t believe me, hear these words again from Isaiah, “See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.”
See, God has called you to an abundant life. You are invited to abundance, and you are to witness to the people. Not so that nations will bow down in fear of our mighty military. Not so that nations will bow down to worship at the altar of our economy. But so that nations see how we are a people who have compassion for one another and want to have part of that dream. Nations will come to us and want to be like us, because our God is not some distant ethereal other, but is living and breathing in the work of our hands and feet. Nations will want to come to be a part of us because they will see that the abundant life we live is one where all people are welcomed to the table. And nations will come and want to be with us, people will want to come and worship with us, because they will know that here they will find baskets filled with bread and fish who are compassionate and share in the abundant life.
This abundance does not come without struggle, for we all have unsettled wrestling matches that prevent us from fully experiencing the abundance. We have all been there wrestling with God out of anger, fear, or mistrust. We have all experienced at one time or another a loss of abundance, a loss of life, a loss of trust. But in that moment when we were injured, hurt, seemingly left all alone…what brought us back? An invitation to abundant living! A loved one who would not let us go. A friend who knew just what to say, or knew to say nothing at all. A stranger who stepped outside their comfort zone to be with us. Or God in the form of some sort of angel or another, stepping in to rescue us from despair and give us the bread and fish we needed.
Abundant living is not necessarily pain-free living; but compassionate, caring; loving and sharing, in this life Jesus has called us to live. Abundant living is being in the boat in the middle of the lake reflecting on our pain and sorrow, and yet noticing that there are others who need our help. Abundant living is multiplying God’s eternal love for us to the world so that they may too live abundantly.
You may not be able to help 30 million people, or 500,000 people, or 900 people, or even 20 people…but you and I both know you are thinking of one right now! And if that one person is the only one you invite into abundant living today, tomorrow, this week…then that is one more than yesterday or last week. One more to reduce the statistic, one more to multiply the loaves and fish, one more opportunity for you to live into your invitation to abundant life!
How often have we come to Jesus, come to God and said, “I don’t have enough, I cannot possibly do x,y,or, z!” How many times have we approached our church as a building and said, “We are just a little church, what can we possibly do?” How many times have we gone to God and said, “I am just one-person, what difference can I make?” My friends, we are the loaves and fish, we are the living and breathing bread of life that Jesus has blessed and multiplied. We are the fish that are meant to be shared. We are the disciples of Jesus whom he sends to feed the nations. And when we go forth and follow in Jesus’ footsteps, when we come ashore and tend to the needy, when we actually have compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters who need us the most; that is when all will be fed, none will go away hungry, and God’s invitation to abundant life glorified. So let us RSVP our invitation to abundant living with compassionate hearts, open arms, and baskets filled and ready to share, Amen!