from the Spring/Summer 2015 edition of Reflections magazine. For more from that issue, go here.
by the Rev. Lera Tyler
In the years before I began elementary school, my father and I were “partners” in the egg business. We fed the hens, gathered the eggs, and secured the henhouse in the evenings. We almost always had lots more eggs than the three of us could eat, so Daddy and I would put aside the extras and on Monday mornings we’d pack them up and make the rounds, delivering what we couldn’t eat to anyone we thought might use them.
This wasn’t a money-making business. In fact, we never accepted money for the eggs. They were (as we thought of it) eggs that we wouldn’t need in the week ahead. We delivered to folks who were considered poor, and we delivered to people who were well off. Everyone was delighted to have fresh eggs – and perhaps more importantly, a chance to visit with my daddy for a while.
I think that it was in these early years that I began to form an idea of what Jesus meant when he said: “I came that you might have life in its abundance.”
We certainly know abundance, don’t we? I’ve driven the 50-mile stretch of IH-10 between San Antonio and Kerrville for 40 years now. It has been transformed from being almost completely a two-lane, rural highway into something quite different. For nearly 30 miles westward from downtown San Antonio, this superhighway is now lined with an almost non-stop row of businesses: storage units, massive service stations, automobile, truck, travel trailer, and mobile home dealerships. You can buy a large variety of fast foods, Starbucks treats, outdoor pottery, building materials of all kinds, and the list goes on and on.
Abundance. Lots of it.
Or is this abundance?
Abundance, as Jesus and his Israelite fore-bearers understood it was having enough to share.
It’s different now because “having” has come to be understood as acquiring what we desire, and for many of us it’s done almost as easily as saying: “Oh, I just have to have that!”
Having and holding on now fills attics, closets and those storage units along IH-10.
When Jesus says: “I came that you may have life in its abundance,” he wasn’t talking about stockpiling.
In the gospel of John, Jesus’ first “sign” was transforming water into wine, and not just wine but an abundance of good wine, more wine than the steward could have imagined possible, more than enough.
Abundance is concrete: it’s visible, touchable, tasteable, smellable grace.
Abundance is a state of mind: understanding that what’s in front of us–what’s been given to us–is enough to share.
While I was in seminary, I spent a summer working in a homeless shelter in Portland, Maine. Three days of the week I had the morning shift in the dining hall. It was crazy. The minute the doors opened at 6 a.m., there was a rush to line up. The first-comers were almost certainly assured of choices: a hot breakfast with eggs, oatmeal, juices, meat, toast. On some days, however, the late-comers would end up with only toast, dry cereal, and coffee. There was a lot of jostling, shoving, pushing, and name-calling. My job was to walk around the room, checking on the tables, anticipating conflicts and quarrels that might occur there or in the line.
Congeniality isn’t a prime attribute of men and women who live and think in a culture of lack. Some tables, however, were more open than others.
One morning as the breakfast line shortened, I sat down with a group I’d eaten with several times. A bit later, one of the table regulars joined us. He was grinning – big time. “Look at this!” he said as he squeezed a place in the middle of the table and placed his tray in front of us.
On his plate were the usual eggs, toast, butter, six or seven containers of jelly – and eight sausage patties! Eight! (Two would have been a surprise.) Whoever had served up, for some reason, chose to be generous.
The lucky guy sat down, grinning from ear to ear. Then he picked up his plate and offered everyone at the table his sausages. In a few seconds, only one was left. It was his – and he was just as excited at having that one as he was when he’s had eight.
He was not just pleased, he was joyful. In this community’s eyes, it was almost a miracle: he’d had enough to share. In a culture of scarcity, he’d given freely.
The so-called “prosperity” gospel claims that if God has given us wealth, God wants us to have it. To a certain extent that is true. The problem comes in what we do with God’s gifts. The problem comes when we forget that we have received enough of God’s goodness to share freely with others.
A life of abundance, as Jesus has given us, is anti-hoarding, anti-accumulating.
Abundance is taking leftovers and spreading a table.
Abundance is gathering up and giving out freely.
The Rev. Lera Tyler is vicar of St. Boniface Episcopal Church in Comfort, Texas. Reach her at email@example.com.
Questions for Study and Reflection
1. Close your eyes and imagine that you are the homeless man in the story. You are sitting at a table surrounded with battered, ragged, hungry people. As you share your eight sausage patties, what are you feeling? A little reluctance? Hoping someone won’t take a patty so you can have more? Or this man’s sheer joy?
Now open your eyes and look around your house; what do have so much of that that you can share? How do you feel about that?
2. What do you have that you can gather up and give of freely. Not just money, not just possessions, but your time, your attention, your experience. Go find a place that needs it and give joyfully.