To have life and have it abundantly
At the 13th Assembly, meeting in Adelaide this month, the Rev. Professor Andrew Dutney will be installed as President of the Uniting Church in Australia. The theme for his term will be Life Overflowing. Here he explores the undergirding ideas and theology.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 is a favourite verse for many people, including me. I went to it for a theme for the three years of this Assembly.
The verse is translated in different ways. In addition to the NRSV version that I just used, the NIV has it as, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”, and the NLT as, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life”.
The tricky word to translate is perisson which, used adverbially as it is here, means something like “abundance”: enough, and then more than enough; what’s necessary and then more than that; up to the brim and then overflowing. Life Overflowing: it’s a captivating image of the life that Jesus invites us into.
But I have to be careful with this theme of abundance too. Australians know a thing or two about abundance. We’ve become used to having or wanting an abundance of stuff — an abundance of the things we want as well as the things we need.
Just to hold our stuff, houses have become too big to allow space for backyards. We throw away as much as we can just to replace it with even more.
We’re getting used to living with an abundance of opportunities and commitments too: an abundance of things to do. Time poor and sleep deprived we just don’t have time to be good neighbours, patient drivers, careful listeners, available friends, thoughtful citizens, prayerful Christians.
Australians know about the kind of abundance that leaves us cluttered, bloated and burnt out, at odds with each other and entwined in unjust, unsustainable economic systems.
That’s not the abundance that Jesus offers us. That’s not the “life overflowing” that this Assembly will be celebrating.
We’ll be celebrating the life that overflows within the two-and-a-half thousand congregations, large and small, that are scattered across the continent — worshipping God, witnessing to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and serving the world that God loves so much in whatever ways are available to them.
We’ll be celebrating the life that overflows in the skilful, innovative work of the Uniting Church’s many agencies — in a network that connects to every part of the country, from the most remote to the most populous, among Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, within almost every ethnic, cultural and linguistic group represented in the Australian community, making the Uniting Church one of the largest and most effective agencies for care and community development in Australia.
We’ll be celebrating the life that overflows in our partnerships with churches in Asia and the Pacific forming relationships of mutual awareness, support and solidarity between Christian communities in strikingly different social, political, and economic contexts.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.
The three years of the 13th Assembly is an opportunity to really pay attention to the life into which Christ invites us and to see how this overflowing life heals, reconciles and renews broken lives and communities in this generation and this country.