Easter 4 A: Life Giving or Life Taking?

Dear Partner in Preaching,

I’m late, really late, with this post and apologize. In light of this, I’ll keep my thoughts brief.

There’s a lot in this passage that is suggestive, even provocative. But what struck me most forcibly this time around is the simple, start, and ridiculously important distinction between the thief who comes to kill and destroy and Jesus, the One who comes to give life.

And here’s the thing: I think that as stark as that contrast seems, it gets really blurry really fast. Do you know what I mean? Take email as a rather small example: I still remember when email was hailed as a time-saver – “we won’t have to play phone-tag anymore!” And, indeed, email is incredibly convenient and helpful. But it also sucks more of my week than I want to admit even to myself. So is it giving life or taking it?

Or consider work. I’ve been blessed to have been given several jobs over the course of my life that I absolutely love. Yet from time to time, I lose myself in my work and suddenly find myself so tired and haggard that it’s hard to remember what I was working at or why…and notice the toll it’s taken on those around me. So, life giving or life taking?

Or our kids. There is absolutely nothing in the world I love more than my children and have for that reason happily sacrificed time, energy, and money to give them many things I did not have. But as they approach adulthood I sometimes wonder if they’ve always been as well-served as I would like to think by these good intentions and so wonder whether I’ve spent too much time worshiping at the altar of “giving our children as much as we can.” (Just for the record, I’ve got good kids who are not – in case you’re wondering – spoiled or entitled, but I’ve also wondered if some of the struggles that you and I may have gone through were really, really good for us even if we didn’t like them.) Life giving or life taking?

Money. So many great things money can do…for us, our families, congregations, neighbors, all those in need. But goodness how easy it is for money to shift from a means to an end, from a gift to be used to a god to be worshiped. Life giving or life taking?

Church. (Yikes, you probably knew I’d go here!) So many wonderful, incredibly wonderful things about our congregations and our life together in the church, and yet I’ve also seen congregations do awful things to each other and fall far short of being the body of Christ in the world. Moreover, I know of too many folks have come to believe that only those things they do at church really “count” with God, as if their vocations as parent, friend, spouse, employee, citizen, may be useful, but not particularly important to God, and this has sometimes been reinforced by their pastors. So…life giving or life taking?

Okay, you get it. It’s hard to know. And it’s not “one-size-fits-all” – what may be life giving to some won’t be to others. And the particular time and circumstances influence how we view these things as well.

So maybe, Dear Partner, the task this week isn’t to tell folks what is life giving and what isn’t, but instead to say two things. First, Jesus wants us to have life – abundant life. (Which, by the way, I don’t think is simply more life in a quantifiable sense but better, richer, more purposeful, and more whole and holistic life.) More than that, Jesus came that we might have life, dying on the cross to demonstrate God’s profound love for us, to assure us forgiveness of sin, and to free us to live in the here and now in joyful service to neighbor. I know our people know that – or at least should know that – but let’s tell them again anyway. Because it’s easy to forget and because, quite frankly, there are so many folks out there promising abundant life but who instead just end up giving us (or, probably, selling us) more stuff.

Second, and as we’ve noticed, what exactly constitutes abundant life for a given individual at a given time and under a set of given circumstances varies widely. But while we don’t have a simple answer, we do offer a simple and profound commitment. We – the church, your congregation – we are there to walk alongside our folks and help them figure it out. Coming to church on Sunday, that is, may become an opportunity to think with others in light of our shared faith what constitutes abundant life here and now for the people with whom we are in relationship.

That’s it, Dear Partner: Jesus wants us to have abundant life, and we’re here to figure out what that looks like and help each other enjoy and share that. If we could say just that much, I think we would have said quite a bit. Thanks, as always, for your faithful proclamation. You are a blessing to more folks than you’ll ever know.

Yours in Christ,