Sunday, March 25, 2018

God of Abundance comes on a Palm Sunday

This sermon was preached during the Harvest Festival Celebration of the United Methodist Church in Sinamar Norte, San Mateo, Isabela.

We are celebrating Palm Sunday. We welcome the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. This Palm Sunday is an appropriate time to celebrate the Harvest Festival. Pero, do we only celebrate Harvest Festival if we have a good harvest? Paano kung lugi tayo? Paano kung wala tayong ipagpapasalamat? Do we need to level up our celebration.

Let us pray.

Palm Sunday is a time that we recognize Jesus as a king. As we wave the palm, we are shouting together with the crowd Hosanna. We are recognizing Jesus as king with an expectation of what he can do for us.

We read in the Gospel, the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem riding a colt and welcomed by the palms. This image reminds us that Jesus arrives as a King. What kind of king? King who will give them a better life.

The story of Palm Sunday is much like our story today. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people were shouting Hosanna! Hosanna! Because they are recognizing the arrival of a king. In verse 10 we read, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” a kingdom is coming. The people are expecting a new kingdom from this coming king. With that arrival they are also expecting something from this king. What are you expecting from your king? Every election, we anticipate a new leader. We expect that leader will bring in change for the better. We expect the leader to improve our current situation. We expect them to make our life better.

The people are expecting deliverance from this new king. The people of Jerusalem at that time is under the oppressive rule of Rome. Most of them live a miserable life. They do not want their current living situation. Mahirap ang buhay. Kulang na ang pagkain, mahal pa ang mga bilihin. Mataas ang presyo ng pagkain pero napakamura ng benta ng palay. Walang pera ang mga tao. Walang makain ng tama. Nagkakasakit na ang mga bata. Walang pambili ng gamot. Kulang ang budget. Walang pera. Just like Jerusalem, we currently live in a broken world. A world living in scarcity. Early on we are shaped by a theology of scarcity, we need more.

The people are shouting Hosanna. Hosanna means, “save us.” The people are recognizing that there is a new king coming to save them. Save them from what? Scarcity? A life that is miserable. We want to be saved by a king from this frustrating life.

And so as we welcome this King, we expect he will turn things around from a life of scarcity to a life of abundance. That is a reason for us to celebrate. Why not.

Kung wala kang pera, at panahon na ng sweldo – that is a reason for celebration. If for the longest time there is famine and drought and now it is harvest time – that is a reason to celebrate. And so we have every reason to celebrate the Harvest Festival. As we celebrate the Harvest Festival, we give thanks to God and celebrate the bountiful harvest. But do we celebrate a bountiful harvest because we want more harvest than the previous one? Masaya ba tayo kapag madaming pagkain dahil sanay tayong isa lang ang ulam. Gusto nating tikman lahat kaya kukuha ka ng madami at baka maubos agad. Masaya ba tayo kapag merong bonus sa sweldo dahil kulang na kulang ang sweldo natin. Masaya ba tayo kapag ka magaling na tayo dahil nga ang hirap magkasakit. Masaya ba tayo kapag madaming tao sa midweek service dahil madalas ay wala? Are we happy if we have something extra because most of the time we have nothing at all? If we are only grateful to God because we received something we do not usually have, then the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem is a reminder that we must go beyond the reasons for our celebrations.

The story of the triumphant entry of Jesus reminds us that the reign of Christ is far greater than any the mind of man could ever conceive or plan. The people looked for someone to fight their battles in the present day world. They expect a savior who will save them from the difficulties, struggles and all the negativities of life. But God is more than that. God will deliver us not only from worldly troubles but will set us free from the sins of this world. 

This is the promise of God. Jesus said in John 10:10, I came that you may have life and have it abundantly. Also, when we say abundance of God, we do not simply mean lots of material things. Abundance comes from the Greek word perissós an adjective that means "all-around, excess" – properly all-around, "more than" ("abundantly"); beyond what is anticipated, exceeding expectation; "more abundant," going past the expected limit ("more than enough . . . "

Abundance does not mean material wealth. It does not mean being rich or having a lot of material things. Abundance means fullness. It also means all around. It is fullness in all aspect of life – physical, mental, spiritual, relational with other humans and with nature. Michael Schult, a Methodist pastor, described abundant life as characterized by love, relationships, beauty, justice, compassion and simplicity. Abundance is beyond our expectation of life.

Palm Sunday reminds us of the expectation of the people that the king will make things better for them. But God works beyond our expectations. 

Traditionally, the Harvest Festival is the celebration of the good things and bounty that we received from God. Nagpapasalamat tayo sa magandang ani natin, dahil may promotion sa trabaho, yung mga estudyante, dahil nakapasa sa next level, grumadweyt sa school at natanggap sa college. Dahil gumaling sa sakit or dahil nadinig ang ating mga panalangin.

But what if we are sick? What if we did not have a good harvest? What if we live a miserable life? Do we still have an abundant God?

We must level up our understanding of the harvest festival. Yes, the Harvest Festival is a time of gratitude and thanksgiving for the blessings that we receive but we must level-up. “LEVEL UP”

The Harvest Festival is no longer just a time of thanksgiving for the abundance we receive. It is a time to celebrate the abundance of God. It is a time to celebrate and say we have more than enough. This is the theology of abundance. The Festival is a declaration that we don’t need more and we have more than enough. It then becomes a time to worship a God of abundant grace.

Thus, even if we did not have a successful harvest, even if we are living a medyo gipit na buhay, even if we are sick or even if we have troubles in life. We still have an abundant God worthy to be praised. We do not need more of what we have now, we have more than enough. 

Because we are satisfied with what we have, it allows us to see beyond the superficial. Our situation should not be reason for the celebration. Instead, we celebrate the goodness of God regardless if we had a harvest or not. Even if we have problems. Even if we failed in our goals. Even if we are sick. We celebrate and worship God because of his abundant grace. Amen?!

Now, to be clear. It doesn’t mean that we become complacent and it is okay to live a miserable life. We are saying that we are already satisfied with whatever we have now, thus our situation should not be the basis of our celebration. In the same way, because we worship a God of abundant grace, we must live our Christian life in hopeful anticipation of God’s abundant grace to supply our need. 

While a young, spiritually-indifferent Oxford don, John Wesley met the college porter late one night. The porter was a poor but deeply pious man. The evening was cold, and he was poorly clad, so Wesley urged him to go home for a coat.

“I thank God for this the one coat I possess,” the porter replied, indicating the threadbare garment he was wearing. “And I thank Him for water, my only drink during the day.”
Intrigued by this response, Wesley queried, “What else is there for which you are thankful?”
“I will thank Him I have the dry stones to lie upon.”
“Please, continue.”
“I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.”

Though materially poor, the porter was spiritually rich. By focusing on the priceless blessings he had received from God – physical life, a spiritually-transformed heart, desire and opportunity to serve the Lord – he had much for which to be thankful. As his heart welled up with gratitude, he also sincerely thanked God for the provision of his basic material necessities .We are thankful to God not because of the good things we have already received. We are thankful because of his promise. “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.”

We have an abundant God and that is reason for us to worship him. Part of our worship to an abundant God, we give abundantly. John Wesley taught the early Methodist to be very gracious in giving to others. He taught them to “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” John Wesley was a very rich man but he owned nothing. He earned a big salary but he gave them all to the poor, those in prison, to the sick and to the needy. He gave them to the ministry of the Methodist societies. Why did he do this, because John Wesley believed that he has a very gracious God who can abundantly provide for his needs. Because he believes this, he can confidently give everything he has for the ministry of those in need. He believes that God’s abundance should be shared. He taught the early Methodist that God’s abundance is not only to the physical but in all things, including mind, the spirit, social, relational and the natural world. The acts of mercy like feeding the hungry and visiting the sick are means of grace that Methodist Christians should do in response to the abundant grace we receive.  

We continue these kind of ministries until today. Let me share with you one of the new initiative in ministry of the United Methodist Church based on this abundant God that we serve. This year we are launching the Abundant Health ministry in the Philippines. Let us reflect on these excerpts from the program description.

As a church, we are called to minister to others because we serve a God of abundance.
Thus, as United Methodists, we are committed to creating abundant health for all – a global connection striving for mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Lifesaving health ministries are enriching the lives of people around the world, from South America to Africa, from India to the Philippines and the U.S.

The God of abundance, does not only provide bountiful harvest for our crops or business or finances but also abundance of good health in our bodies physical and spiritual. John Wesley emphasized this holistic salvation from God. “It will be a double blessing if you give yourself up to the Great Physician, that He may heal soul and body together. And unquestionably this is His design. He wants to give you … both inward and outward health.” – John Wesley, from a letter written in 1778 to Alexander Knox, a theological writer.

God calls us to the ministry of healing. We have opportunities to utilize our resources to extend hope to all people, offering them a path to wholeness, joy and abundant life in Christ.

Jesus’ mission on earth was inaugurated by healing (Matthew 4:23-24), and his healing ministries were a central sign that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Luke 7:20-22). Therefore, we understand that continuing Jesus’ ministry of healing is an important part of what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

We believe that God, who is already at work healing, renewing, and redeeming creation, not only calls us to follow the path of Jesus in this way, but will also empower us with the Spirit as we step forth in mission to seek abundant health for all!

In response to God’s abundant grace, we must get involved by engaging in personal, congregational and community health ministries. We can get started by committing to promote Abundant Health activities in your congregation and community. 

We live in a broken world. Every day we see sick people, hungry people, we see homeless people, we see unemployment, we see bankruptcy, we see greed, we see destruction of the earth, and we see scarcity. But the good news, my dear brothers and sisters, is we have an Abundant God.

We do not have to live in fear that what we have will not be enough. We do not have to fear that the future may leave us with nothing. We have a God of abundance that gives us hope. A hope that God will supply all our needs. We have an abundant God that inspires us to respond with a cheerful heart. Psalms 118:29 reminds us to give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His mercy endureth forever.

As we celebrate this Harvest Festival, let us remember that our thanksgiving is not dependent on the bountiful things we have received. We are thankful to the abundance of God who came to this world of brokenness and scarcity. We level up our thanksgiving by responding to his abundant grace in giving back abundantly to His ministries. 

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

My dear brothers and sisters, let us not leave in fear of scarcity and brokenness. We have a God of abundance. We have a king who promises us fullness of life. Wave your palms up high, shout Hosanna in the highest……… and allow the king to enter our hearts. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.