For most of the year, Jacarandas are pretty quiet and unassuming trees, but come November – my goodness! – what a glorious, purple, joy-filled Advent shout! They make me laugh out loud. I suspect that the Jacaranda tree on the verge outside the house is already older than I’ll ever be and it’s still shouting at the very top of its voice.
They speak to me of promise and prodigality – God’s promise and God’s prodigality. So this is what abundant life looks like. Almost inevitably Jesus’ words start to simmer in my mind – ‘I came that they might have life and have it abundantly’. It comes from John’s Gospel (10:10) and yes, I do know that it’s not an Advent reading but an Easter reading in the year of Luke. It’s morphed a bit this year into ‘I am coming that you might have life and have it abundantly’. Imagine that. Abundant life is coming.
Jacarandas spend all year getting ready to surprise the world with their particular version of abundant life. Disciples likewise are always getting ready, always works in progress with the capacity to learn, mature, reflect, change and grow but, unlike the Jacarandas, disciples have the additional challenge of choice. Disciples can choose whether or not to engage with God’s learning, growing, changing, flourishing abundance agenda – or not. Communities of faith are the same and can also choose to live into and from this vision of abundance that God sets before us – or they can choose not to engage with it. Admittedly, it’s never a simple choice and it is one that has to be continually made and remade. What sort of a choice is it?
The pattern of God’s ways with human dust-born creatures might offer a few clues. It would seem that, from the very beginning, the choice always came back to life and death. This is the choice that propels faithful people on transformative pathways – think of Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, Mary, the disciples (there’s lots – look them up). One thing that these stories have in common is that they all describe people who’ve been asked to stake their lives on possibilities that they can barely imagine and to move towards a future that they can’t see designed by God for God’s purposes.
That future gets described in many ways: shalom, paradise, kingdom, heaven, wholeness, blessedness and, my personal favourite, abundant life.
These are transformative journeys, people are changed and firmly held, correct opinions have to be left by the wayside as imaginations are stretched and hearts break open to the breathtaking scope of God’s plan. Even Jesus goes on this journey as his heart stretches to include sinners and tax collectors, Samaritan women and frequently dopey disciples until, in the end, his heart is stretched wide enough to include the whole world in God’s embrace. Abundant life – for everyone; the whole creation – flourishing. My hunch is that if you ask any congregation to name their values, somewhere close to the top of the list you’ll find the word ‘inclusive’. That aspiration is affirmed in a number of commitments that the church has made over the course of its life.
It takes the form of a commitment to walk with indigenous people, the commitment to being a multicultural church, a commitment to the mutual ministry of women and men. It’s a commitment to live in the ‘messy middle’ as we try and get our hearts and minds around what it means to live into God’s inclusive vision of human flourishing. The mistake that we commonly seem to make is that, once we get to the point of faith or commitment, we assume that we’ve arrived, we’ve reached the destination and all we now have to do is to stay there, keep the doors open and wait for other like-minded souls to join us.
The thing we forget is that there is no ‘us’ anymore or, at the very least, the sorting responsibility is not ours and never has been. The commitment is just the beginning, the heart-stretching transformation will never end until God’s vision is realised. Get ready – abundant life is coming!
Rev. Jane Fry